Kahol Lavan’s promised rightward gallop aimed at attracting “soft right” voters is starting to look more like an embarrassing slow limp. “We will work to impose sovereignty on the Jordan Valley,” declared party chairman Benny Gantz during a festive tour of the valley on Tuesday. For a moment, wearing the black Uniqlo-style down jacket that has been the winter uniform of Israeli security fetishists for at least two years, he looked like a very pale version of Benjamin Netanyahu.
But he immediately added an asterisk, like one of those voice-over disclaimers at the end of a commercials, read so quickly by the announcer that you can barely understand it: “We will achieve this through an agreed-upon national process and in coordination with the international community.”
Gantz knows very well that there’s no such thing as “annexation coordinated with the international community.” There are either agreements with international backing that set temporary or permanent borders, or unilateral annexation that shows contempt for the international community and its laws. There is no middle ground. There will never be “annexation by agreement” or even a “mini-annexation.”
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Gantz, like Netanyahu, has said nothing about what will happen to the Palestinians living in the Jordan Valley. Will they be offered Israeli citizenship? If so, then this totally negates the declarations about how important it is to “separate from the Palestinians,” as Gantz’s partner, Yair Lapid, likes to say. And if not, does Gantz really think there are any important leaders in the democratic world, aside perhaps from U.S. President Donald Trump (and even that’s not certain), who will give their blessing? Of course not.
All this was a clumsy effort at political spin, Netanyahu style – to prove to right-wing voters who are sick of the corruption allegations and incitement that Kahol Lavan is no less patriotic, especially after Joint List MK Ahmad Tibi’s public threat that if Gantz’s party supports annexation, “we’ll remain in the opposition.” Not only did this awkward effort fail, it also played right into the hands of Netanyahu, who of course prefers that issues like annexation or Iran dominate the campaign agenda.
During that same short speech, Gantz argued that “There should be no more cases like the loss of Tzofar and Naharayim, a grave phenomenon that occurred primarily because of the ongoing diplomatic neglect between us and Jordan.”
This statement is particularly strange when you make it in the same breath as a declaration about annexing the Jordan Valley, which is, after all, the Hashemite kingdom’s greatest fear and the main reason it’s so angry with the Netanyahu government.
Netanyahu’s declarations about annexation are also no more than spin for now, but he has spent a long time preparing the public for the possibility. Gantz helped him a lot Tuesday. Nevertheless, it would behoove even Netanyahu supporters to recall that while he chided Gantz, saying, “Why wait until after the election if we can apply sovereignty to the Jordan Valley now by agreement?” he himself had ample time to annex whatever he pleased, but didn’t do so.
In September, when he “revealed” his plan to annex the Jordan Valley, Netanyahu also stressed that he would do so only “after the election,” mostly to give Trump a chance to present his peace plan before establishing facts on the ground. “Out of respect for President Trump I will wait to impose sovereignty until the plan is presented,” he said.
On this issue as well, Gantz gave Netanyahu a huge gift, when he willingly and publicly removed his objection to the White House’s intention to publish its Middle East peace plan in the middle of an Israeli election season. This green light made it much more likely that the plan will indeed be released, and based on all indications, it won’t do Gantz’s campaign much good.