By talking settlement blocs, Gantz could be looking to a post-Trump era

Why would Gantz start talking about the long-forgotten idea of settlement blocs, a concept that is way less than the solution Trump has floated?

Border police forces on their way to the Kumi Ori outpost on the outskirts of the Yitzhar settlement to demolish two illegally built homes on January 15, 2020. (photo credit: Courtesy)
Border police forces on their way to the Kumi Ori outpost on the outskirts of the Yitzhar settlement to demolish two illegally built homes on January 15, 2020.
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Did Blue and White party head Benny Gantz mention the words 'settlement blocs' during his coalition talks with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu?
If so, it’s a concept that hearkens back to the era of former Republican President George Bush, and overturns both the pro-settlement policies of US President Donald Trump and his predecessor Barack Obama.
It is reminiscent of the time when the debate between Israel and the Palestinians was about how many of the settlements and how much territory within Area C of the West Bank Israel could retain in any final status agreement with the Palestinians. The understanding hammered out between former Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and Bush was that Israel could hold on to the high population areas, known as the settlement blocs, but that area was never defined.
The Palestinians and the international community never accepted the blocs, holding to the idea of a two-state solution at the pre-1967 line with only the most minor of swaps, that would include only a small number of settlements, if any. Under Obama, the US also held to that line, taking a no-tolerance attitude to any settlement activity.
Trump, in contrast has accepted that all the settlements will be part of sovereign Israel. Not only that, he has gone further and stated that 30% of the territory within Area C itself would also be included with Israel’s final borders.
So why would Gantz, a former IDF General who would understand the security issues involved a two-state solution based on the pre-1967 lines, start talking about the blocs, a concept that is way less than what Trump has allowed?
It is the perfect example of the euphemism, “more Catholic than the Pope.”
Gantz, according to a Channel 13 report, put the idea on the table in an attempt to break the deadlock between hm and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu over annexation, a move which Netanyahu wants to execute now and which Gantz opposes.
But at issue is really who will be prime minister at what time, who their US presidential partner will be and what kind of peace, if any, they can arrive at with the Palestinians.
For Netanyahu, there is no time like the present and with or without Gantz, he has Knesset support for unilateral annexation.
In fact, during his more than 14 years in office, there have never been so many factors in his favor when it comes to both maintaining his position as a right wing leader while simultaneously pursuing peace with the Palestinians.
Trump has removed almost all of the obstacles that made such a dual pursuit an almost impossible schizophrenia dance. The US peace plan which allows Israel to apply sovereignty over 30% of Area C, prior to any negotiations, effectively divorces the issue of settlements from the peace process.
Prior to the outbreak of the Covid-19 crisis it was agreed that Israel could apply that sovereignty this year, as soon a joint mapping process had been completed.
The paralyzing impact of Covid-19 on international diplomacy means that if Netanyahu were to move forward now international condemnation would not be as stiff, particularly if coupled with US support. True, the US has not given the green light. It remains a possibility, however, that the US could allow Netanyahu to annex all the settlements even in advance of completion of the mapping process. This is because any questions around annexation are not about the settlements, but about outstanding issues with regard to the the extent of the territory around them that would also become part of sovereign Israel.
The right-wing has always considered the window of opportunity on the issue of annexation to be narrow and applicable only to this year because of the pending US election in November. Evangelical support for sovereignty, often credited with driving the US position on the matter, is deemed to be most significant in a pre-election year. There is also the fear that Trump might not win and that his Democratic successor would set the clock back to the parameters of a two-state solution based on the pre-1967 lines held under Obama. For Netanyahu, there is no time like the present.  After that, Netanyahu hopes that he can bend the Palestinian and the Arab world to his will.
But for Gantz, who views himself as a prime minister in waiting, and who is a former IDF Chief-of-Staff, inheriting a peace process in the aftermath of annexation would be some what tantamount to mission impossible.
Unlike Trump, he fears the instability that would follow, particularly with neighboring Jordan. He prefers to make peace in dialogue and holds that such dialogue is only possible if sovereignty is applied through negotiation.
If Netanyahu can wave a diplomatic wand and turn a “non tolerant” US attitude toward the settlements into annexation, than perhaps Gantz wants to follow the same magic trick and transform the international community's refusal to accept anything less than the pre-1967 lines into an approval for the settlement blocs and the Jordan Valley.