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Netanyahu rival speaks of possible West Bank withdrawal

JERUSALEM: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's main rival in an April election has raised the potential of pulling again from the occupied West Bank, in remarks printed Wednesday that drew right-wing grievance.

Benny Gantz, the previous defense force chief of staff, spoke positively of Israel's pullout from the Gaza Strip in 2005, in his first interview since launching his election campaign last week.

The Gaza withdrawal have been "approved by the Israeli government and implemented by the army and settlers in a painful but good way", he informed the Yediot Aharonot newspaper.

"(One should) learn from it and apply it to other places," he said.

Gantz didn't explicitly point out the West Bank in his remarks and refrained from outlining the prerequisites for any pullback from the Palestinian territory.

The 59-year-old launched his campaign on January 29 in a speech promising a conservative diplomatic and security coverage.

He pledged to keep the strategic Jordan Valley house of the occupied West Bank under Israeli rule, at the side of the Israeli-annexed Golan Heights and east Jerusalem.

Although he didn't say so in the interview, Gantz may make stronger a withdrawal from wildcat outposts that aren't approved via the Israeli government.

All Israeli settlements are regarded as illegal under international regulation.

Successive peace plans proposed via Israel up to now supplied for a partial withdrawal from the West Bank and the upkeep of major agreement blocs in go back for providing the Palestinians territory in the Negev barren region between Gaza and the southern West Bank.

Gantz's Israel Resilience party, which was once shaped in December, is anticipated to win between 21 and 24 seats in the 120-member parliament in the April 9 election, in line with the latest opinion polls.

That would put it 2d only to Netanyahu's right-wing Likud party.

In a observation, Gantz's party said that, not like the 2005 Gaza withdrawal, the previous defense force chief didn't foresee any unilateral pullout from West Bank settlements.

Gantz's comments drew grievance from right-wing events.

"We told you Benny Gantz would form a leftist government with the help of" MPs of the Arab-led Joint List who grasp 13 seats in parliament, said a spokesman for Likud.

His remarks had been also attacked via training minister Naftali Bennett, who heads a newly founded ultra-nationalist formation that favours the partial annexation of the West Bank.

"Gantz has thrown off the mask and overtaken Avi Gabbay (of the centre-left Labour party)... and wants to expel Jews from their homes through a unilateral withdrawal from Judea and Samaria (the West Bank)," Bennett said.

Since founding his party, Gantz has emerged as the most serious challenger to Netanyahu, who has been high minister since 2009 as well as between 1996-1999.

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