Gantz Annexed to the Right

Benny Gantz in Jerusalem, on January 14, 2020. 

In the run-up to the third round of elections, and apparently based on an assumption that left-wing voters are in the pocket of the camp headed by the Kahol Lavan chairman, the battle for right-wing voters is heating up. On Tuesday morning Benny Gantz toured the Jordan Valley and said he would work to extend Israeli sovereignty to the area. “The Jordan Valley is Israel’s eastern defense wall in any future scenario,” he declared, and even offered veiled criticism of previous governments that had discussed the possibility of relinquishing it, saying they had “made a grave strategic and security mistake.”

Even though Gantz later stressed that the process of annexing the area would be coordinated with the international community, annexation advocates on the right can view his remarks as an ideological victory they can take credit for. Who would have thought only a few years ago that the two main political alternatives in Israel would both be championing annexation?

As might be expected in an arms race, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu hastened to raise the bar. “Why wait until after the election if we can apply sovereignty to the Jordan Valley now with a broad consensus in the Knesset?” he asked rhetorically.

By the evening, he had already promised to apply sovereignty to the whole settlement enterprise, no less.

With this tilt to the right and irresponsible promises of annexation, both may end up taking a step that endangers Israel’s future. But even if this is all just hollow campaign rhetoric, the annexation discourse Gantz has adopted should cause concern among those who see him as a center-left candidate for prime minister, and raise questions about his diplomatic vision.

Kahol Lavan heads the camp that is seeking an alternative to the right-wing rule of Netanyahu and the settlers. While this camp isn’t ideologically uniform, if the choice is between establishing an official apartheid regime by annexing territories without granting citizenship to the Palestinians who live in them and dividing the land as part of a diplomatic agreement, it prefers the second option.

It’s a camp of those who know that applying selective sovereignty over the areas of the settlements alone contravenes international law and violates Israel’s commitment to discuss the matter in the framework of a permanent agreement. It’s a camp of those who know that annexation is a real threat to the character of the state as expressed in the Declaration of Independence.

This camp needs a leader with the guts to offer a diplomatic alternative to that of Netanyahu. Ayman Odeh, chairman of the Joint List, got it right when he said, “The state’s citizens deserve hope, not an imitation. This is not how you replace a prime minister.”

The above article is Haaretz’s lead editorial, as published in the Hebrew and English newspapers in Israel.