Gantz Rules Out 'Political Discourse' With Arab Parties Over 'anti-Israel' Rhetoric

In first televised interviews, main Netanyahu rival deems Israeli Arab politicians 'irrelevant,' predicts Kahol Lavan will win election with 40 seats

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File photo: Benny Gantz, head of Kahol Lavan party speaks to the media in southern Israel, March 15, 2019.
File photo: Benny Gantz, head of Kahol Lavan party speaks to the media in southern Israel, March 15, 2019.Credit: Amir Cohen/Reuters

Kahol Lavan co-chairman Benny Gantz ruled out forming a coalition with Arab-majority parties after Israel's April 9 election in an interview with public broadcaster Kan on Tuesday evening.

In his first televised interview, the former army chief predicted his party would emerge from the election victorious, saying Kahol Lavan would get 40 out of 120 Knesset seats. Gantz, who is seen as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's main rival, gave interviews to three major Israeli networks, which were all aired on Tuesday evening.

Gantz told Kan he "can’t have any political discourse" with Arab parties and that Israeli Arab politicians "speak against the State of Israel." Arab political leaders "have made a big mistake," he argued.

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"When I'll … form a government, I don't intend to cooperate with those who go against the State of Israel," Gantz told Channel 13 News. He said Israeli Arabs "are equal citizens" who should not "follow those who act against Israel. They don't serve their interests and are irrelevant" to any future government. "The day when their leaders present a positive agenda will be the day we could consider them as partners," Gantz declared.

When asked about his party’s positions on the Middle East peace process, Gantz told Channel 12 News: “We’re not ashamed to use the word ‘peace.’” However, he said “there’s no one to talk to at the moment” on the Palestinian side, adding he would “strengthen settlement” in the West Bank.

Gantz wouldn’t say whether he supports a two-state solution for the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, telling Channel 13 “any channel that would let us” prevent “turning Israel into a bi-national state” would be endorsed by him.

On the Gaza Strip, Gantz told Kan that policy “must be consistent. Three years after Operation Protective Edge, the leadership hasn’t promoted any alternative … We have to regain deterrence.” According to him, “it’s not about toppling Hamas.”

Gantz's interviews came a day after a recording of him emerged in which he suggested he might be willing to form a coalition with Netanyahu, and less than a week after it was revealed that his personal phone was hacked by Iranian operatives.

He stressed that he wouldn’t join Netanyahu’s government, arguing his recording that was leaked is from before the attorney general published the draft indictment in Netanyahu’s corruption cases. Gantz did suggest he would reconsider his position in the “highly unlikely” case that Netanyahu’s hearing with the attorney general, expected after the election, changes charges against the prime minister.

Gantz also slammed Netanyahu’s for his alleged role in another corruption case, in which many of the prime minister’s confidants are suspected, concerning a $2 billion deal to purchase submarines for the Israeli navy. “Netanyahu made a decision to allow the deal to go through without any security consultations,” Gantz told Channel 12, arguing Netanyahu can’t be trusted to make decisions that would benefit the public instead of himself.

Concerning the Iranian hacking to his phone, Gantz said no sensitive material had been obtained from it, and warned against using technological tools for political needs. He also told Channel 13 he finds the timing of the publication suspicious, as he had been made aware of the hack by Shin Bet “six months ago,” and he believes “more people are involved” in the affair, on top of Iranian operatives.

Far-right politican 'will have to re-organize' opinions

When asked about potential coalition partners, Gantz ruled out joining forces with the Union of Right-Wing Parties, which includes Kahanist Otzma Yehudit.

Speaking to Channel 12, Kahol Lavan co-leader said he would consider teaming up with left-wing Meretz and right-wing Hayamin Hehadash, led by ministers Naftali Bennett and Ayelet Shaked. "We'll form a coalition with parties that have the same baselines as we do. We'll team up with anybody who is not against the State of Israel," Gants stated.

Touching on joining forces with ultra-Orthodox parties, Gantz said: "Behind closed doors, they know who Benny Gantz is. They know they can sit with him." Gantz’s partner in Kahol Lavan Yair Lapid promotes policies frowned upon by ultra-Orthodox leaders.

When asked about a possible cooperation with Gesher's Orli Levi-Abekasis, who had refused to form a joint slate with him, he replied that he would appoint her as minister if elected as prime minister. "I'd be very happy if she joins me. I'm certain we can lead the country in the direction she’s pushing for," he said of Levi-Abekasis, who is seen as champion for social justice, but polls predict will not make it into the next Knesset.

Speaking about far-right Zehut's Moshe Feiglin, who has been gaining traction in recent polls mailnly due to his views on legalization of marijuana, Gantz said "it is a complicated issue. Extremism is unacceptable and I don't buy his disguise. Feiglin's opinions are very extreme, and he will have to re-organize them.”

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