Netanyahu Claims He Thwarted Gantz’s Plot to Withdraw From West Bank. Here Are the Facts

In Hebrew, Netanyahu says he destroyed John Kerry’s peace plan, which his rival Benny Gantz pursued. So why does he portray himself as defender of the initiative in English?

Amir Tibon
Amir Tibon
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Former U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Tel Aviv, Israel, July 23, 2014.
Former U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Tel Aviv, Israel, July 23, 2014. Credit: AP
Amir Tibon
Amir Tibon

WASHINGTON – Benjamin Netanyahu's Likud party published a new campaign ad on Monday that contains a serious accusation against former Israel Defense Forces Chief of Staff Benny Gantz.

It claims that Gantz, who is perceived as a major Netanyahu challenger in the upcoming April 9 election, secretly conspired with the Obama administration to promote a plan for a full Israeli withdrawal to the 1967 borders – until Netanyahu found out about it and blocked it.

The video, and an article with a similar message that was posted on Mida (a website perceived as pro-Netanyahu), are based on two articles published in Haaretz in 2017 and last week. These articles were quoted by Mida in a distorted manner.

Here are the facts, as they were published in Haaretz and other media outlets:

In the years 2013-2014, then-Secretary of State John Kerry tried to renew the peace negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority. His efforts ended in failure, but the result was an extensive plan for Israel’s security on the day after the foundation of a future Palestinian state. This plan was put together by a group of U.S. officers, led by Gen. John Allen, a Marine four-star general who was later appointed to lead U.S. efforts agains Islamic State.

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Allen and his officers worked in close coordination with senior IDF officers, and did so with the knowledge of the Israeli political leadership.

The Americans felt, as the work progressed, that senior ranks in the IDF (including Gantz) expressed a positive approach toward their document, that Netanyahu was skeptical about it and created obstacles – but also saw it as a “basis for discussion” and didn’t completely turn it down, and that Israel’s defense minister at the time, Moshe Ya’alon (who is now Gantz’s political partner), completely rejected the document and even told Israeli journalists that it “wasn’t worth the paper it was printed on.”

Allen and his people were furious at Ya’alon, and blamed him for causing their plan to fail. The storm caused by his words was so serious that Netanyahu had to force Ya’alon to apologize to the U.S. administration.

Netanyahu, like Ya’alon, also had his criticisms of the Allen plan. Both men thought the Americans didn’t provide sufficient answers for several Israeli concerns.

Then-Chief of Staff Benny Gantz, left, with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and then-Defense Minister Moshe Ya'alon at a graduation ceremony for Israeli naval officers in Haifa, 2014.Credit: \ REUTERS

In the last meeting in which the plan was discussed, Netanyahu and Ya’alon presented a long list of questions to the American team. The Americans promised to return with answers, but a short time afterward, Ya’alon told the IDF to stop working with the American team, and the conversations ended.

Allen and his people reached the conclusion that Ya’alon had the most negative impact on their efforts, and some even blamed him for “inciting” Netanyahu against the plan.

As Allen was working on the security plan, Kerry and Netanyahu were busy discussing a detailed “framework agreement” that touched on all the other core issues of the conflict. This document was written through an intensive exchange of drafts between Kerry’s team and Netanyahu’s senior advisers. Exclusive quotes from those drafts were published in Haaretz in June 2017.

Unlike what the Likud ad says, Kerry’s plan didn’t require a full withdrawal to the 1967 lines, because Israel asked to annex the large settlement blocs and the Americans agreed as long as there would be territorial “swaps.”

Likud’s campaigners also forgot to mention, for some reason, that Netanyahu expressed his willingness to accept the plan as a basis for negotiations, with some reservations.The main reason his acceptance never materialized, as previously reported in Haaretz, was that Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas wasn’t willing to take a similar step.

It seems Netanyahu and his supporters have been suffering from a condition of “bilingual dissociative identity disorder.” When speaking about the Kerry plan in English, to American and international crowds, they often explain that Netanyahu was willing to accept Kerry’s plan and to “show flexibility for peace,” but it was Abbas who shut down the conversation.

Netanyahu’s former close adviser Dore Gold told the Jewish Insider website last year: “Prime Minister Netanyahu accepted the Kerry plan with reservations, but Abbas firmly refused.”

Netanyahu himself said last week, at the international Middle East summit in Warsaw, that he was willing to work with the Obama administration on Kerry’s peace plan, according to a transcript of his private remarks obtained by Channel 11 reporter Gili Cohen.

However, when the Kerry plan is discussed in Hebrew by Netanyahu and his propagandists, especially during election periods, suddenly a very different picture emerges – one in which Netanyahu totally rejected the American plan, refused everything the Americans asked for, and did everything in his power to make them fail. Similar stories were pushed by Netanyahu and his supporters in the run-up to the 2015 election, during which there were leaks from the Kerry talks.

The need to balance between the English-language story, in which Netanyahu was willing to take risks for peace, and the Hebrew-language story, in which Netanyahu destroyed the American peace plan all by himself, demands some very impressive acrobatics.

When Haaretz published the Kerry drafts in 2017, Netanyahu’s office sent the newspaper an angry response; however, after his office was informed that the response would also appear in the English edition of Haaretz, the response was withdrawn by his spokespeople.

The video ad against Gantz raises another key question, which will require its own level of acrobatics. Allen’s talks with the IDF took place at the same time Netanyahu decided to give Gantz one more year as IDF chief of staff. If he really knew Gantz was supposedly working behind his back with the Americans, why did he decide to prolong Gantz’s tenure, instead of firing him and exposing the “conspiracy”?

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