With a snap election looming next month, the Israeli government and opposition traded barbs on Sunday over Hamas politburo chief Khaled Meshaal’s landmark weekend visit to Gaza.
The Hamas leader-in-exile’s first-ever visit to the territory, during which he gave a speech pledging the movement would not cede “an inch” of historic Palestine, prompted anger in Israel and political recriminations.
Government and opposition politicians alike said the visit made the case for their candidates in the January 22 general election.
Education Minister Gideon Saar, a member of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s rightwing Likud party, recalled that the party had opposed Israel’s 2005 withdrawal from Gaza.
“All those parties that promise new withdrawals from Judaea and Samaria (the West Bank) want to elevate Hamas to power,” he charged.
“Only a strong government headed by Benjamin Netanyahu can face Iran and its emissary Hamas,” he told army radio.
Ultra-nationalist Naftali Bennet, who heads the Jewish Home party, told public radio his faction had pressured the government to prevent Meshaal from visiting Gaza.
“I don’t understand why we allowed him to enter Gaza and why, once he was there, we didn’t liquidate him, because he deserves to die,” said Bennet, whose faction is allied with the Likud and, polls suggest, could win as many as 12 seats in the 120-seat parliament.
Former foreign minister Tzipi Livni, who will contest the elections at the head of a new party, HaTnua (The Movement), said Hamas “on Saturday celebrated the defeat of the Israeli government.”
“Every day that passes under this government, Hamas is strengthened and Israel is weakened,” she said in a statement.
“This government negotiated with Hamas,” she said, referring to Egyptian-brokered talks that led to a ceasefire ending eight days of bloodshed in and around Gaza last month.
“What’s worse, they allowed them to gain international legitimacy,” she added, alluding to a succession of solidarity visits to the territory by Arab and regional top diplomats.
On Saturday, Shaul Mofaz — who heads the centre-right Kadima faction that Livni once led — said the Israeli government should have killed Meshaal in Gaza.
“We should have taken advantage of the opportunity to slice the head off the serpent. Meshaal deserves to die,” said Mofaz, who is a former defence minister.
“If Israel continues to weaken Abu Mazen (Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas) and does not deal firmly with Hamas, we will soon see Meshaal in Judaea and Samaria,” he added.