Issuing a robust and detailed response to the electoral threat posed by the newly united parties of his centrist rivals Benny Gantz and Yair Lapid, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Thursday night warned that if they came to power, Israel’s very existence would quickly be threatened by the independent Palestinian state he claimed they plan to establish.
Speaking minutes after Gantz and Lapid had held their first public gathering since merging their respective Israel Resilience and Yesh Atid parties into the Blue and White alliance for the April 9 elections, Netanyahu declared that the choice for the electorate was now “clearer than ever.”
Either Israel could be led by a “weak, new left-wing party,” supported by Arab Knesset members who he said seek to destroy Israel, or the electorate could choose “a strong, right-wing government under my leadership.”
Just before he spoke, Israeli TV channels published snap opinion polls that showed Blue and White winning more seats than Netanyahu’s Likud, but hard-pressed to form a majority coalition. Netanyahu charged that the Gantz-Lapid alliance, if the elections played out that way, would seek to muster a so-called “blocking coalition,” with Arab MKs’ support, to prevent him retaining the prime ministership. He said it was “absurd” that any such effort would be considered legitimate, since the Arab parties “not only don’t recognize Israel; they want to destroy Israel.”
Urging voters to back Likud, because only Likud could prevent a left-wing government, he challenged the credentials of both Gantz (who is helming the alliance) and Lapid, fiercely attacked their policies, and castigated their ostensible positions.
From left to right: Blue and White party leaders Moshe Ya’alon, Benny Gantz , Yair Lapid and Gabi Ashkenazi pose for a picture after announcing their new electoral alliance in Tel Aviv on February 21, 2019. (Jack Guez/AFP)
He cited Labor prime ministers Yitzhak Rabin and Ehud Barak as examples of previous left-wing generals “posing as rightists and talking of unity” whose leadership had been disastrous for Israel. “In 1992 we got Rabin and [the] Oslo [accords with the PLO],” and in 1999, Barak, “the intifada, exploding buses and over 1,000 fatalities.”
Gantz, like Rabin and Barak, is a former IDF chief of staff, and Blue and White has two other ex-IDF chiefs in its ranks — Gabi Ashkenazi and the former Likud defense minister Moshe Ya’alon.
Netanyahu mocked Lapid as a potential prime minister with no security experience, and derided Gantz and the other generals in Blue and White as leftists who lacked his capacity to stand up to world pressure and ensure Israel continued to thrive.
His rivals, he said, were trying to depict Israel as being in “its most difficult position ever.” In fact, he said, “the country has never been in a better position.”
He said Israeli security was at a high, that the threat of Iran — in terms of its nuclear goals and its presence in Syria — was being faced down, and that Hezbollah’s cross border tunnels had been destroyed.
“When I’m the prime minister, you’re not scared to get on a bus or enter a restaurant,” he said, referencing Palestinian terror attacks.
At the same time, Israel was flourishing diplomatically — with some Arab states warming ties, and the US recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital — and thriving economically. Gantz and Lapid, by contrast, he charged, “know nothing about economics.” Lapid, a finance minister in a previous Netanyahu-led coalition, was “the worst finance minister in history,” while Gantz “went bankrupt” in record time in the private sector, “burning through millions of investors’ money.”
He said that Lapid and Gantz had supported the P5+1 nuclear deal with Iran — Gantz is not known to have done so, and Lapid did not — while he had opposed it and now the US president did, too. He also claimed that Gantz had opposed the upgrading of Israel’s security fence on the Gaza border — an assertion quickly disputed by TV commentators. Without that fence, Israel would have been “flooded with illegal migrants from Africa,” Netanyahu said.
“Peace and security come only through such determination,” said Netanyahu. But far from sticking to firm positions, he said, Gantz and Lapid favor “another disengagement” from contested territory, and “more uprooting of settlements” in the West Bank. “That won’t happen with me,” he said. “It didn’t happen with me. I resisted it for eight years” in the face of presidential pressure from Barack Obama.
He also hailed the controversial nation-state law, which Lapid and Gantz have criticized because it does not specify that all Israeli citizens have equality. As the law makes clear, said Netanyahu, “the state of Israel is the state of all Jews, the homeland of the Jewish people and only of the Jewish people.”
Summing up his quarter-hour address, which was broadcast in full on national TV, Netanyahu warned that Israel, in less than two months, “could have a Lapid-Gantz government resting on Arab [MKs’] support” that would destroy the economy and “soon establish a Palestinian state, endangering our existence.” (Gantz has said he would maintain overall Israeli security control in the West Bank and maintain a unified Jerusalem, which would appear to rule out Palestinian statehood.) His rivals and their supporters, he said, were “prisoners of the disastrous conception” that favored territorial withdrawal and Palestinian statehood.
Netanyahu claimed the media would “work 24-7 to convince you that the left isn’t left” and “besmirch us incessantly.”
“Don’t fall for it,” he warned. “Whoever votes for Lapid and Gantz is voting left; whoever stays at home on election day is voting left; anyone who votes for right-wing parties that fall below the electoral threshold is voting left.” And so, he urged the watching public, “vote Likud.”