But Benny Gantz was chief of the Israeli army during the 2014 raid on Gaza that killed more than 2000 Palestinians.
The leading challenger to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in a published interview on Wednesday that Israel should "find a way" to end its control over the Palestinians.
Former military chief Benny Gantz made the comments in an interview with the Ynet news site. It was his first interview with the Israeli media since his maiden political speech last week.
Gantz, a tall, telegenic former general, has shot up in opinion polls since last week's speech. Leading a new centrist party called "Israel Resilience," he has emerged as a formidable challenger to the front-running Netanyahu in April 9 elections.
He has so far said little about the Palestinian issue, or whether he supports the establishment of a Palestinian state. But in Wednesday's interview, he said the continued rule over the Palestinians is not in Israel's interest.
"We need to find a way in which we're not controlling other people," he said.
Palestinians welcome Gantz's comments
With peace talks frozen throughout most of Netanyahu's decade-long rule, Gantz's comments were welcomed by the Palestinians.
"It's encouraging if he succeeds and he sticks to this opinion," Nabil Abu Rdeneh, spokesman for President Mahmoud Abbas, told reporters.
In the interview, Gantz was asked whether he favored another unilateral move similar to the Gaza pullout, which is widely seen as a failure in Israel. Two years after the pullout, the Hamas group seized control of Gaza.
Gantz said the withdrawal was a "diplomatic move" by the government that was carried out in a "painful but good manner."
"We need to take the lessons learned and implement them elsewhere," he said.
His opponents quickly lambasted him. Netanyahu's Likud Party warned that Gantz would form a "leftist" government backed by Arab parties, while the hard-line nationalist "New Right" party claimed that Gantz is planning on "expelling" more Jews from their homes.
Gantz's party later put out a clarification saying "no unilateral decisions will be made on settlement evacuation."
While Gantz strikes a reconciliatory tone ahead of the elections, his past says something else about him. TRT World looks at his career as a military commander.
The interview came as Likud held its primary election to select its list of candidates for the parliamentary election.
In a setback to Netanyahu, his chief internal rival made a strong showing, despite a campaign by the prime minister to sideline him.