Blue and White Party leader – Benny Gantz – could well see his dream of becoming Israel’s next Prime Minister on 2 March implode after meeting with President Trump at the White House this coming week.
It will all depend on Gantz’s reaction to Trump’s long-awaited and eagerly-anticipated Deal of the Century outlining Trump’s plan for resolving the future of Judea and Samaria (the “West Bank”) and Gaza (collectively the “disputed territories ”).
Trump’s deal represents his personal effort to end the 100 years long-running and unresolved conflict between Arabs and Jews in former Palestine. Trump follows in the footsteps of many other American presidents whose well-intentioned proposals ended up in the garbage bin of history.
Trump’s plan will be different to previous presidents' proposals in that it will offer Israel the immediate opportunity to extend sovereigntynow – with the approval of the Trump administration in some designated parts of the disputed territories. This appears to be clear having regard to the – following pronouncement by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on 18 November 2019:
“The establishment of Israeli civilian settlements in the West Bank is not per se inconsistent with international law.”PLO leader – Mahmoud Abbas – has made it abundantly clear that he will reject any Trump proposal that does not result in the Arabs securing sovereignty in every square metre of the disputed territories or an area equivalent thereto wth land swaps. This long-stated demand will not be shredded or be open to negotiations.
Gantz on the other hand has a real dilemma. His arch rival – Netanyahu – will accept Trump’sproposal to extend Israel’s sovereignty in any part of the disputed territories- but will Gantz?
Netanyahu has caused consternation in the Gantz camp – having already declared that a Likud-led Government would apply Israeli law to the Jordan Valley and every Israeli settlement in Judea and Samaria “without exception”.
Gantz’s response has been more confusing – stating he would extend Israeli sovereignty to the Jordan Valley “in coordination with the international community.”. In practical terms this would be most unlikely to ever occur.
Gantz has so far remained silent on whether he would extend Israeli sovereignty to any Trump-designated Israeli settlements in Judea and Samaria.
The pressure will well and truly be on Gantz the moment he finally emerges from the White Housewith Netanyahu and Trump to face a White House press conference to discuss the details of Trump’s deal.
Netanyahu will have no choice but to accept Trump’s plan with thanks and a great deal of appreciation – even though it might not be totally acceptable to the Right-wing parties supporting him.
Gantz cannot accept the terms of the Trump plan since he will alienate those Left-wing parties who favour Israel relinquishing all or most of the disputed territories. If he wants to have any hope of becoming Israel’s next Prime Minister, Gantz will need to clearly differentiate his policies from Netanyahu on the disputed territories.
The optics of Gantz rejecting Trump’s specific proposals in front of the world’s media will not make a pretty picture. Trying to graciously accept Trump’s proposals – subject to negotiations between Israel and the PLO or the international community – will stand starkly against Netanyahu grabbing the baton and running with Trump’s proposals to take advantage of an opportunity to resolve the future of a major part of Judea and Samaria for the first time in the last 100 years – some might even say 3000 years.
The battle lines for the March Israeli election will be played out in the White House.
Netanyahu could be pulling off another election win.
Author’s note: The cartoon—commissioned exclusively for this article—is by Yaakov Kirschen aka “Dry Bones”—one of Israel’s foremost political and social commentators—whose cartoons have graced the columns of Israeli and international media publications for decades. His cartoons can be viewed at Drybonesblog.