Kahol Lavan’s Bind Over a Knesset Vote on Annexation

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Kahol Lavan leader Benny Gantz in the Knesset chamber.
Kahol Lavan leader Benny Gantz in the Knesset chamber.Credit: Emil Salman

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s announced plans to annex West Bank territory following last week’s unveiling of U.S. President Donald Trump’s peace plan for Israel and the Palestinians have put Kahol Lavan in a bind. The party’s chairman, Benny Gantz, has made it clear that Kahol Lavan objects to unilateral moves at annexation that are divorced from other elements of the Trump’s “deal of the century” and that are made without coordination with the Palestinians.

On the other hand, sources in the party said Sunday that it may support a proposal for some form of annexation if Netanyahu brings it to the Knesset before the March 2 election. “If there’s a snap decision to bring unilateral annexation to a vote, we may vote in favor. It would be a major dilemma,” a senior party source told Haaretz, adding that if the issue arises, Kahol Lavan’s Knesset faction would convene for lengthy deliberations that would end with Gantz deciding how to proceed.

But one Kahol Lavan Knesset member who wished to remain unnamed and who highlighted the range of opinion in the faction, said: “It’s clear to everyone that Yoaz Hendel could vote in favor of annexation and Yael German against. There is no alternative to allowing members to vote their consciences on such a matter of principle.”

Kahol Lavan has tried recently to obscure the foreign policy confrontation that it is facing. Its Knesset members were instructed to cancel media appearances and other public events over the weekend. The party has also not declared a position on the suggestion in the Trump plan that towns near the West Bank in the so-called triangle of Israel Arab communities might be transferred to a future Palestinian state.

Once Kahol Lavan Knesset members were allowed to be interviewed on Sunday, it was Ofer Shelah, not one of the party’s top four leaders, who made it clear that the party rejects such a move.

The Trump plan, Shelah said, “has one offensive provision, and that’s the exchange of territory in the triangle,” he told Army Radio. “We don’t need to talk about that, and when Kahol Lavan assumes power, the provision will be dropped from the agenda. It’s unfortunate that the cause is there, but without it, we will plan to hold a Knesset vote.”

Gantz himself said last week that he intends to bring the “deal of the century” as a whole to the Knesset for a vote as an agenda item (and not as proposed legislation). Such a move on the part of the opposition would lack genuine weight and would be meant in part to embarrass right-wing parties that would be forced to vote for recognition of a Palestinian state if they sought to support the plan in its entirety.

But even such a symbolic move has been put on hold by an unrelated Kahol Lavan demand – that the Knesset debate the “incessant terrorism from the Gaza Strip.”

In his speech last week at the Institute for National Security Studies, Gantz urged the Palestinians to return to the negotiating table. “I make a call upon Palestinian leaders. Since the [1997] signing of the Hebron accord by [Palestine Liberation Organization leader Yasser] Arafat and Netanyahu, you’ve been refusing everything. Say ‘yes’ for once and give your children hope for a better future. Don’t miss another opportunity for peace. The [Trump] plan recognizes your need for independence on 70 percent of the West Bank, a link to Gaza and addresses issues such as a seaport and projects that would advance your economy by a decade… It’s time you recognized Israel as a Jewish state.”

Kahol Lavan's Achillles' heel

Members of Netanyahu’s Likud and the left of center Labor-Gesher-Meretz slate have identified Kahol Lavan’s Achilles’ heel, in which it finds it difficult to present a clear position on unilateral annexation. The two factions have begun targeting Kahol Lavan voters from both the left and the right.

Likud posted a video over the weekend that calls Kahol Lavan a “comme ci, comme ça” party and reminds viewers that Kahol Lavan’s Yoaz Hendel supported the nation-state law while Yael German stated she would work to have it repealed. It also noted that one of the leaders of Kahol Lavan, Moshe Ya’alon, opposes Shelah’s support for a Palestinian state.

For his part, Labor-Gesher chairman Amir Peretz has made it clear to left-wing supporters of Kahol Lavan that his party opposes the transfer of the triangle’s residents to Palestinian rule. “Arab citizens are our partners,” he said.

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