Hosen L'Yisrael, the political party of former Israeli army chief-of-staff Benny Gantz, won't freeze construction in West Bank settlements but will also not build "wildly" in order to foil diplomatic opportunities, and will strive for peace with states in the region, it said Friday in a statement .
Gantz is currently seen as the biggest threat to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in the upcoming election, whose Likud party has been labelling Gantz as "weak left" in recent campaign videos.
"Hosen L'Yisrael will act to defend Israel's security interests, will not freeze settlements and people's lives in the way Netanyahu has, will not build wildely [which will] foil diplomatic opportunities, and will strive for peace with countries and leaders in the region. We will act according to security needs, not according to left or right-wing tags," the party said in a statement.
The statement was issued in response to an interview given by Zvi Hauser, who is number eight on Gantz's slate, to the Israeli daily Yedioth Ahronoth. In the interview, Hauser, a former cabinet secretary under Netanyahu, promised that Gantz "won't build any less than Netanyahu."
Hauser added that the party will "promote settlements everywhere in Israel, more than what has been done to this day."
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Hauser said he would like to see a difference between Hosen L'Yisrael and its political rivals when it comes to promoting settlements in the West Bank, "but in reality I don't see any difference between Gantz, Netanyahu, Kahlon or Lieberman. Take 2018 as an example... the scope of construction in the West Bank is the lowest in the last generation. The government has in effect stopped the construction."
On Wednesday, Hosen L'Yisrael said that "a Gantz government will not take any unilateral steps related to evacuation of communities."
Earlier that day, in an interview with Yedioth Ahronoth, Gantz defended the 2005 disengagement from Gaza, saying it "was a legal process, a decision made by Israel's government and carried out by the army and the settlers in a painful way, but a good one."
Gantz did not refer to the West Bank but did add: "We need to take the lessons we learned there and enact them elsewhere." Gantz also said that Israel must not and does not seek to "rule over others."
The spokesman for Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas gave a cautious welcome to Gantz's remarks, telling Reuters: "It's encouraging, if he succeeds and he sticks to this opinion."
Netanyahu slammed Gantz, claiming "he would conduct another disengagement in Judea and Samaria [West Bank]" and claimed that Abbas wished him luck in the election.
While Gantz has tried to remain vague on diplomatic issues to avoid being perceived as left wing, the results of an opinion poll show that a majority of those who say they will vote for his Hosen L'Yisrael party support left-wing positions on the Palestinian issue.
Asked whether Israeli settlements in the West Bank are a security asset or a burden that endangers the lives of soldiers and civilians, 58 percent of Hosen L'Yisrael voters said they are a burden that endangers lives.