Opinion |

Gantz, Now’s Your Chance

Zehava Galon
Defense Minister Benny Gantz at a campaign rally
Defense Minister Benny Gantz at a campaign rallyCredit: Corinna Kern/Reuters
Zehava Galon

Last week Defense Minister Benny Gantz met in his home with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, and announced several modest gestures – the most important one being the granting of residency status to Gazans living in the West Bank. We should not make light of these gestures: At present, Israel is allowed to expel Gazans who have been living in the West Bank for many years back to Gaza, and in fact does so on occasion.

Gantz’s step constitutes a fissure in the policy of separating the Gaza Strip from the West Bank, which was the main policy of former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu vis-à-vis the Palestinians. But it’s not enough.

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I harshly criticized Gantz on these pages when he joined Netanyahu despite specific election promises, and when he declared that six Palestinian human rights organizations are terror organizations.

But every person has his hour, and Gantz’s meeting – which Justice Minster Gideon Sa’ar called “superfluous and marginal” – required considerable courage, which was not exhibited by other members of the cabinet. Gantz, they say, is thinking about Labor voters, and wants to configure himself as a kind of Yitzhak Rabin. Well, Benny, there’s a small problem here: You didn’t win the Six-Day War.

But small problems can be overcome. There is a large camp in Israel that wants to end the occupation, and it is skeptical, but despite its growing despair this camp still believes that the correct path to equality and freedom is the two-state solution.

And you, Gantz, see the reports and the signs: The Palestinian public is seething, and as your bureau has leaked, we are on the brink of a third intifada. And it looks as though this government is not planning to advance any diplomatic process.

But if you can’t change things, at least try to maintain the present situation – and that way maybe the next government will be able to promote a genuine peace process. That will require additional courage and determination, but last week you demonstrated that you have both.

In order to keep the two-state solution alive, you must take several steps: Deal with settler violence with an iron hand. Too often Israel Defense Forces soldiers have stood aside or even actively participated in this violence. You must declare that the spirit of the commander has changed, and that the IDF will no longer protest weakly that “Violence against the security forces is criminal behavior” – but will arrest the criminals and demand that they be prosecuted. Make it clear to your soldiers that they can detain settlers, and that the army has an obligation to protect Palestinians and their property.

Remove the vipers’ nest outpost of Homesh, which like every other outpost is a forward terror position against the Palestinians. Dismantle Kumi Ori, the outpost of Yitzhar – the only settlement that “took a vote” on the question whether to turn in settlers who attack IDF soldiers. The answer was no, of course; dismantle the outpost of Evyatar, which to date has killed eight Palestinians. If you want to prevent an intifada, there’s a need for action.

Support diplomatic moves such as opening the U.S. Consulate in East Jerusalem, and returning the Palestinian ambassador to the United States. Perhaps several of your cabinet partners will get annoyed at that, but they can’t do a thing. They can’t do it without you, and they aren’t interested in a new Knesset election.

We all shudder at the thought of a government run by Netanyahu, and far-right MKs Bezalel Smotrich and Itamar Ben-Gvir of the Religious Zionism party. Take advantage of this breach in their line.

Benny, you recently headed a Knesset faction with 33 to 35 seats. That situation apparently won’t be repeated, but you have a chance to rehabilitate yourself in the annals of history. Take it. There won’t be another one.

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