Gantz: Jerusalem Won't Be Divided, but It Has Room for a Palestinian Capital

In an interview with Saudi-owned newspaper amid normalization deals, defense minister says Palestinians have the right to 'live independently,' but Israel 'will not return to 1967 borders'

Jack Khoury
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Alternate Prime Minister and Defense Minister Benny Gantz at the Knesset in Jerusalem on December 2, 2020.
Alternate Prime Minister and Defense Minister Benny Gantz at the Knesset in Jerusalem on December 2, 2020.Credit: Alex Kolomiensky / AFP
Jack Khoury

Defense Minister Benny Gantz told a Saudi-owned newspaper that Palestinians should have an independent "entity" with territorial continuity and that there is room in Jerusalem for a Palestinian capital, but reiterated that Israel "won't go back to the 1967 borders" and "Jerusalem must stay united."

“Palestinians deserve an entity to live in independently,” Gantz told Asharq al-Awsat in an interview published on Thursday, adding that they can call it “a state, or an empire, or however they like.”

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Regarding the borders of a future Palestinian state, Gantz emphasized that “Israel needs the Jordan Valley for its defense needs,” but that Israel would not need to annex all of the valley, which constitutes about 30 percent of the West Bank's area. He added that the area Israel would eventually annex can be agreed upon in negotiations and include several “strategic” points, so as to still allow for Palestinian territorial continuity.

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Under U.S. President Donald Trump's proposal for an Israeli-Palestinian agreeement, presented in January, the Palestinian capital would be located in Abu Dis, to the east of the security barrier and East Jerusalem. Israel has endorsed Trump's plan, whereas Palestinians rejected it.

In November, the Palestinian Authority announced that it would resume coordination with Israeli authorities, which had been suspended since May over Israel's plans to annex parts of the West Bank, following the release of Trump's plan.

Calling for renewed negotiations with the Palestinian leadership and finding solutions to all core issues, Gantz said “As soon as we agree on security issues, the political solution will be much easier,” and will pave the way to cooperation in multiple fields. Palestinians, he asserted, should adapt to a “new, modern” discourse. 

The relatively rare interview for an Arab publication comes less than a week before it is decided whether Israel heads into its fourth election in two years. If Israeli lawmakers do not meet the December 23 deadline for passing the 2020 state budget, the Knesset will automatically dissolve.

On Wednesday, some Knesset members from Gantz's Kahol Lavan party voted in favor of a bill that would provide retroactive government approval and funding to Jewish settlement outposts in the West Bank established without government permission. The measured, introduced by Bezalel Smotrich of Yamina and Haim Katz of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud party would also give residents there municipal services while the approval process is being completed. 

Gantz's interview also comes less than a week after the announcement that Morocco has agreed to normalize ties with Israel, becoming the fourth country since August to do so, following the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Sudan. 

Palestinians have been critical of the normalization deals, saying Arab countries have set back the cause of peace by abandoning a longstanding demand that Israel give up land for a Palestinian state before it can receive recognition.  

Gantz was reportedly kept in the dark with respect to the normalization deals, and in October, specifically claimed that a component of the UAE deal that would allow the UAE to purchase F-35 fighters jets from the United States was conducted without his knowledge, or that of the Defense Ministry. Netanyahu rejected Gantz's claim, saying that there was "no basis" for it. 

Gantz has in the past publicly backed dialogue with the Palestinians toward an agreement leading to a two-state solution, but has refrained from explicitly backing the establishment of an independent Palestinian state. For example, when asked about his vision for a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian state at an event in Tel Aviv ahead of the April 2019 election, Gantz said “We must maintain the Jordan Valley as a security border, we can’t go back to the 1967 line, and Jerusalem will forever stay united as our capital...But we do not want to rule the Palestinians.”

In June, days before a a July 1 target date set by Netanyahu to lay out West Bank annexation plans, Gantz said "The Palestinians continue to reject dialogue and to remain in their 'deep shit,'" adding "We might have to move forward without them."

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