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Netanyahu rival pledges Palestinian separation

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Israeli Prime Minister and the Likud Party leader Benjamin Netanyahu speaks during his party’s election campaign in Ramat Gan near Tel Aviv on March 4. Xinhua

JERUSALEM (Reuters) – The centrist Blue and White party posing the biggest election challenge to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu pledged a policy of “separation” from Palestinians in occupied land on Wednesday, but stopped short of backing their goal of statehood.

However, the party’s number two, former finance minister Yair Lapid, predicted that parting ways with the Palestinians would eventually lead to them having a state of their own alongside Israel.

Mr Netanyahu and fellow rightists have cast themselves as blockers of any initiative to cede territory to the Palestinians.

Blue and White, led by former armed forces chief Benny Gantz, has hedged on the issue for weeks as it gained ground in opinion polls ahead of the April 9 election.

The policy blueprint envisages Israel retaining control of the Jordan Valley and blocs of Jewish settlements in the West Bank.

Opinion polls give Blue and White around 35 of parliament’s 120 seats against 30 for Mr Netanyahu’s Likud party.

Palestinians were circumspect.

“What does he (Lapid) mean by a state?” asked Wasel Abu Youssef, an official in the umbrella Palestine Liberation Organisation.

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