Netanyahu escalates attack on PM over Gaza

By David Horovitz May 11, 2005

But finance minister also tells ‘Post’ he accepts disengagement as a done deal that reflects popular will

(With Gil Hoffman)

Escalating his criticism of the prime minister he aims to replace, Finance Minister Binyamin Netanyahu has delivered a stinging assault on Ariel Sharon’s disengagement plan, asserting that it helps fuel a Palestinian perception that Israel can ultimately be destroyed altogether under unrelenting terrorist assault.

‘Anything that persuades the Palestinians that we are being pushed by their superior will and their acts of terror to vacate one position after another emboldens terror and pushes peace away,’ he told The Jerusalem Post in an interview. ‘This poses a great danger to us.’

At the same time, however, Netanyahu also undermined anti-disengagement activists’ hopes of thwarting the summer’s scheduled withdrawal from the Gaza Strip and northern Samaria. It was basically a done deal, he said, adding that he believed the Knesset’s approval of the withdrawal reflected the popular will of the Israeli public. What was at stake now, he said, was preventing further unilateral disengagements in the future.

Netanyahu further distanced himself from the champions of Gaza settlement by saying that he too would have relinquished the Gaza Strip, but only under a final-status agreement with the Palestinians. ‘Gaza is a very small place, with a very large Arab population,’ he said.

Although he restated his opposition to a fully sovereign Palestinian state, he also said that ‘nobody in his right mind’ would want to annex Palestinian population centers such as Ramallah and Nablus and that he had ‘no problem’ with the Palestinians attaining ‘sovereignty over their lives.’

Elaborating, Netanyahu said he would ‘place no limitations on the Palestinians to govern themselves, but I would place any limitations necessary on the Palestinians so that they do not threaten Israel’s vital security.’

The ‘last thing’ Israel wanted, he said, was ‘to annex Palestinians to Israel.’ But the ‘principal limitation’ that needed placing on Palestinian sovereignty was to maintain ‘control of the borders and the air space and the ports for the foreseeable future.’

Netanyahu refrained from issuing a direct challenge to Sharon’s prime ministership, but made plain his ambition to succeed him. He told the Post he felt he was ready and able to lead the country.

He also castigated Sharon both for the very idea of initiating a unilateral pullout that was being perceived among Palestinian terrorists as a vindication of terrorism, and for not heeding his private suggestions on how to ‘minimize the damage.’

He said he had consistently urged Sharon, thus far in vain, to drop the idea of giving Egypt control of the Philadelphi Route between Gaza and Sinai, and had implored him to fence in the major settlement blocs in the West Bank before the pullout – to demonstrate that Israel was not only ‘giving’ but also ‘taking.’

Only a third entreaty, that Sharon persuade the US to come out publicly against a ‘right of return’ for Palestinian refugees to Israel, he said, had been achieved.

Acknowledging that he was now the most right-wing minister in the cabinet, he sniped at Sharon again, saying: ‘Well, if you keep firing ministers, then that’s what you get.’

While Netanyahu was heaping criticism on Sharon, the prime minister, and several of his ministerial supporters and their aides on Tuesday took turns attacking the finance minister.

Sources close to Vice Prime Minister Ehud Olmert asserted that Netanyahu had gone mad, called him a ‘panicker’ and said that he always lost control at critical moments.

These statements were made in response to Netanyahu’s claims that Olmert exercises his authority over the Israel Broadcasting Authority for political purposes, including trying to shorten an Independence Day interview with the finance minister.

Netanyahu’s associates said that this attack was a sign that ‘Olmert has grown desperate because he is so unpopular in the Likud that his career is likely over.’

Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz ripped Netanyahu in an interview with Army Radio for criticizing the IDF General Staff’s vocal opposition to Defense Ministry budget cuts.

‘Any minister, especially a former prime minister, should be more respectful to the security forces of Israel,’ Mofaz said. ‘Netanyahu’s diatribes were an improper attempt to delegitimize the officers defending our country.’

Netanyahu’s associates responded that Mofaz had tried to build himself up as an advocate for social affairs, but he had been unwilling to cut his own budget to prevent cuts in social affairs ministries.

The criticism from Sharon was more veiled. He said in television interviews that after he finished implementing the disengagement plan, he intended to get more involved with socioeconomic matters.

Sharon’s statements were seen as a sign of his disapproval of Netanyahu’s economic policies, which in the past he has called too harsh on the poor.

Sources close to Netanyahu took the attacks from Sharon, Mofaz, and Olmert as a compliment.

‘Everyone sees that Netanyahu’s standing in the Likud is much better then their own so they attack,’ a Netanyahu associate said. ‘Their jealousy is blatantly obvious.’

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