Opinion |

Kahol Lavan's Generals Opt to Be Puppets

On annexation, the U.S. have given Benny Gantz and Gabi Ashkenazi the opportunity to be statesmen - but they look ready to squander it

A photo of Dr. Zvi Bar'el.
Zvi Bar'el
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Benny Gantz (L) and Gabi Ashkenazi on the campaign trail, March 3, 2020.
Benny Gantz (L) and Gabi Ashkenazi on the campaign trail, March 3, 2020.Credit: Moti Milrod
A photo of Dr. Zvi Bar'el.
Zvi Bar'el

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu doesn’t know what the Kahol Lavan party’s stance on annexation is. “Maybe they’re in favor of annexing the Jordan Valley and the settlement blocs,” or maybe not. Maybe only “in coordination with the international community,” as party chairman and Defense Minister Benny Gantz said, or maybe the plan “will be advanced on the responsibility of and in coordination with the United States, while preserving Israel’s peace agreements and strategic interests,” as the party’s number two, Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi, said.

LISTEN: How Netanyahu could fudge annexation, hoodwink Gantz and cling on to power

We, the public, also don’t know what their position is, what “coordination” with America they’re talking about or what Washington’s stance is. Do we even need to know what the latter’s position is? After all, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said back in April that annexation is a decision for Israel to make – not the Palestinians, not the Arabs, and not the Americans.

At first glance, the views held by Gantz and Ashkenazi also seem to be irrelevant, because they a priori waived their veto on any legislation to apply sovereignty in the West Bank. Netanyahu is authorized to annex whatever he pleases, whenever he pleases and to whatever extent he pleases.

But it now seems that annexation has become a trap that’s closing its jaws around the prime minister’s legs. It now seems the Americans have cooled to the idea, because they suddenly want to ensure political unity within Israel’s government first.

Through this demand, America at first glance seems to have beaten a tactical retreat from President Donald Trump’s peace plan. It no longer insists on implementing it as a comprehensive package, but is willing to slice it into pieces. All that matters is that there be a consensus among the two main partners in Israel’s unity government.

But in reality, this demand for an internal Israeli consensus is Washington’s escape route. It currently needs a major dispute between Netanyahu and Gantz.

If there’s no agreement on the plan as a whole, Trump would likely find himself on a path strewn with landmines with pro-American Arab states, especially Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, which have made clear that annexation is a red line for them. These countries support the Trump plan because it includes a promise of a Palestinian state, thereby satisfying the basic requirement of the Arab consensus, which supports a two-state solution.

An agreement between Kahol Lavan and Netanyahu’s Likud party on annexation outside the plan’s framework presumably wouldn’t help American diplomacy with the Arab states. Thus the U.S. position – spearheaded by Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner, who opposes annexation without a comprehensive agreement – is in such deep distress that Washington has been forced to rely on that political putty known as Kahol Lavan to remove its chestnuts from the fire for it and oppose unilateral annexation.

But Kahol Lavan has more urgent issues on its plate, like passing the so-called Norwegian Law, which lets ministers resign from the Knesset and be replaced by the next person on their party’s ticket. For that, it’s even willing to grant Netanyahu an exemption from the High Court of Justice. In other words, if the High Court decides that Netanyahu can’t be vice prime minister after he and Gantz switch positions, he will still head a caretaker government for many months, much longer than what the two had originally agreed.

This isn’t just standard political horse stealing; it’s pure corruption. It entails giving a personal benefit to Netanyahu in exchange for a shady political gift. This is a swindle no different than the one Netanyahu is on trial for in Case 4000, in which he’s accused of conferring regulatory benefits on the Bezeq telecommunications company in exchange for favorable coverage from Bezeq’s internet news site, Walla.

From left: Benny Gantz, Gabi Ashkenazi and Benjamin Netanyahu at a government meeting, Jerusalem, June 7, 2020.Credit: Mark Israel Salem

And if this is the type of commerce Netanyahu conducts with Kahol Lavan, it’s pointless to demand that Gantz and Ashkenazi come to their senses and present a resolute, unequivocal stance that at least opposes annexation outside the framework of the Trump plan.

In the blink of an eye, the two former generals have made it clear that they haven’t yet left the army, and they still view the prime minister’s requests as orders. After all, never in their entire careers have they had to be interested in public opinion, make diplomatic decisions or express a political view not dictated by their commander.

Now, they have proven that it is possible to deceive all of the people all of the time. They don’t even understand how much power they have in their hands.

The United States has given them a huge gift – an opportunity to be statesmen. Washington needs them to escape the Gordian knot it tied itself into after it released the Trump plan. But puppets have no life of their own.

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