Opinion

Pompeo's Visit Is Gantz's Opportunity to Derail the Annexation Train

The centrist leader won't win back his electorate, but he could at least try to convince the Trump administration unilateral annexation is a fatal blow to peace

A photo of Dr. Zvi Bar'el.
Zvi Bar'el
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Pompeo and Gantz meet at the U.S. Embassy in Jerusalem, May 13, 2020.
Pompeo and Gantz meet at the U.S. Embassy in Jerusalem, May 13, 2020.Credit: Matty Stern / U.S. Embassy
A photo of Dr. Zvi Bar'el.
Zvi Bar'el

It’s a shame that U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who is popping in on Wednesday for a visit of a few hours, will not be present at the swearing-in ceremony of Israel's balloon government. He could have received a first-hand impression of the crème de la crème of Israeli politics, rubbed elbows with the members of one of the largest governments in the world, and seen how the only democracy in the Middle East is adapting itself to the accepted practice among its neighbors.

Looking at this government is like looking at the funhouse mirrors in an amusement park – each of its members looks like a caricature of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. But Pompeo, himself a senior partner in an administration headed by a president made of Ikea parts, is not coming to get an impression of the extent of the direct destruction and the environmental blight that the government is going to bring about. He is coming to contribute to the festivities.

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Among other things, he is planning to discuss with the two-headed leader the size of the State of Israel after it attaches to itself the winding tail of the Jordan Valley, and a few more spots in the form of the settlements to be annexed to it. The U.S. administration is not particularly impressed by the aesthetic blight that the new map of the Land of Israel will create. Like Israel, it will be as bothered by the Palestinians’ and Arab countries’ reaction to the annexation as if it were old chewing gum stuck to its shoe.

Perhaps Pompeo will mention that if there is annexation, it will be implemented only according to Trump’s peace plan – in other words, through negotiations with the Palestinians. But if they won’t agree to negotiations, which clearly will be the case, then never mind, unilateral annexation is also an option. After all, it’s not the United States that will have to live with the final outcome.

Because Israel’s citizens chose the government they deserve, they are not supposed to complain – they got the dish they ordered. They can’t even complain about the deception by Kahol Lavan head Benny Gantz, the hope that was disguised as the center. It’s true that Gantz spoke at the dawn of history (i.e., a year ago) and said that he is opposed to unilateral annexation, and afterward spread messages to the effect that the U.S. administration would not agree to unilateral annexation. But now the administration is in favor. Really in favor – even if it doesn’t say so outright.

Pompeo and Netanyahu after giving a statement at the Prime Minister's Residence in Jerusalem, July 17, 2019
Pompeo and Netanyahu after giving a statement at the Prime Minister's Residence in Jerusalem, July 17, 2019Credit: Hadas Prush / Flash 90

After all, it didn’t enter the casino to drink coffee or preach against gambling. If Netanyahu annexes and Trump gives his blessing, Gantz won’t resign from the government – and when his turn comes to sit in the place of honor, he won’t turn back the wheel. He can’t even claim that he tried to stop the disaster, since according to the agreement with Netanyahu he does not have a veto.

Of course, we can adopt the approach of Lenin – to whom the phrase “the worse, the better” is attributed – and claim that the annexation is only a stage on the way to the promised paradise. We could also encourage the European Union to impose sanctions against Israel, so that they can be part of the evil that will come before the good. Or we can simply shrug our shoulders and convince ourselves that the annexation won’t change a bad situation, which already exists in any case.

On the contrary, all it will do is to remove another mask from the face of hypocrisy. But it is possible, and even necessary, to restore Gantz to his foundation. He has no veto, but he can explain to Pompeo that unilateral annexation is unacceptable to him and a large number of Kahol Lavan ministers. Gantz can and must convince the U.S. administration that the government he is a member of does not speak with one voice. He must mention that it was formed in order to address the coronavirus crisis, not to cause irreversible damage to the chances of peace, and that the agreement with Netanyahu does not obligate him to remain silent on this issue.

This is the moment when Gantz must prove – first to his electorate and afterward to Trump and his emissaries – that he intends to fulfill at least some of his promises and stop the insanity of the messianists in Jerusalem and Washington. Such a stand would give him the few moments of glory he will be remembered for. It won’t turn him into a leftist, God forbid – only into a sane person.

Benny Gantz during a Knesset debate, May 7, 2020.
Benny Gantz during a Knesset debate, May 7, 2020.Credit: Adina Wollman/Knesset Spokesperson's Office

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