Gantz: Trump’s peace plan shouldn’t be advanced during COVID-19 pandemic

“We will know how to advance at the right pace, the right moment, the right time and the right place,” Gantz said.

Blue and White leader and Alternate Prime Minister Benny Gantz speaks at a Blue and White faction meeting, May 27, 2020 (photo credit: ELAD MALKA)
Blue and White leader and Alternate Prime Minister Benny Gantz speaks at a Blue and White faction meeting, May 27, 2020
(photo credit: ELAD MALKA)
US President Donald Trump’s peace plan should not be advanced during the COVID-19 pandemic, even though it provides the best blueprint for resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Alternate Prime Minister and Defense Minister Benny Gantz (Blue and White) said Sunday.
“Right now we have to deal with the giant crisis we have found ourselves in [COVID-19], and then we can continue to head to where we need to go,” he told KAN Radio.
Gantz spoke while public dialogue on annexation waned, as attention was turned to the sharp rise in COVID-19 cases in Israel, from several hundred last month to a daily average of 1,000.
Yamina Party head Naftali Bennett, who opposes Trump’s peace plan, refused to overly focus on the matter during a virtual press conference.
“Now we have to deal with saving Israeli citizens from this disaster to their livelihood,” he said.
In Ramallah, however, the Palestinian Authority pressed forward with its campaign against Israel’s plans to annex up to 30% of the West Bank that the Trump plan allows.
PLO Executive Committee Secretary-General Saeb Erekat spoke Sunday of forming an international coalition at the UN against Israeli annexation, according to Wafa, the Palestinian News Agency. The PA would annul its agreements with Israel and the United States, he said.
Israel and the US want to reduce the role of the PA to one of a service provider that would help perpetuate the “occupation,” Erekat said.
Trump’s plan lays out a four-year blueprint to the creation of a two-state resolution to the conflict. But the PA has rejected that plan, holding fast to a two-state resolution at the pre-1967 lines.
The issue at hand is whether Israel can apply immediate sovereignty to 30% of the West Bank.
According to the coalition agreement between the Likud and Blue and White, Israel had the option to annex that territory as early as July 1 as long as it had US approval. Gantz’s approval is not necessary, but the US wants both him and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on board with the plan.
The US has yet to give Israel a green light and a declaration on the matter. Netanyahu has been silent on the issue of sovereignty since last week, leaving the stage to Blue and White and his political opponents.
The timing was not right, Gantz told Army Radio.
“We have to find the right moment when it is possible strategically,” he said, adding that embarking on such a “broad” and “large” plan “at this moment would be very problematic.”
True to this moment, given the current reality, “we have to be very cautious,” Gantz said.
He said he and Netanyahu have discussed the timing of any sovereignty application.
“We will know how to advance at the right pace, the right moment, the right time and the right place,” Gantz said. That time will be in the “coming period,” although he did not give a date.
Gantz supports sovereignty over the settlements, although he has never clarified if this is just the blocs or the isolated settlements. He has been very strong on the significance of the Jordan Valley to Israel’s security.
Gantz’s issue has been unilateral sovereignty, which he opposes. His preference has been to apply sovereignty in dialogue with the Palestinians, as well as with the Jordanians and the Arab world, even though they want a resolution at the pre-1967 lines.
The Trump plan is the correct one with which to advance relations between Israel and the Palestinians, Gantz said.
“I believe in it [Trump’s plan],” he said.
It is the first plan that takes into account the reality on the ground with respect to the settlements and Israel’s security interests, Gantz said.
“I would be happy to continue to advance it together with our American partners, based on their suggestions, and through joint work with the Jordanians and the Palestinians,” he said.
Gantz listed the elements that made it significant, including a unified Jerusalem and the nullification of the pre-1967 line as a plausible final border for Israel.
In an interview with KAN Radio, he spoke more at length about the Palestinian statehood aspect of the plan.
“I am in support of separation from the Palestinians,” Gantz said. He hesitated to state outright whether he supported Palestinian statehood, saying he supported the plan for the Palestinians as laid out under Trump’s “Deal of the Century.”
That deal calls for a demilitarized Palestinian state on 70% of the West Bank and some east Jerusalem Arab neighborhoods that exist outside the boundaries of the security barrier but still within the city’s municipal limits.
The way forward is for Israel to retain security control of the area, as outlined in Trump’s plan, but without taking civic responsibility for the Palestinians by controlling their day-to-day life, such as education and utilities, Gantz said.
“We are not prepared to be a dual-national state,” he said. “We want a secure, democratic and Jewish state that is flourishing economically and morally just,” he said.
“The best way to do this is with the support of the US, which we have,” Gantz said. In addition, “we need to solicit global support and regional support as well as through dialogue with the Palestinians.”
“We do not need to seek shortcuts,” he added.
Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi (Blue and White) also spoke positively about Trump’s plan when he addressed the Maariv and The Jerusalem Post conference marking the 10th anniversary of Israel joining the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) on Sunday.
“We think the Trump plan represents an opportunity,” Ashkenazi said. “It is the first time that there is a plan addressing Israel’s two biggest concerns: maintaining national security and a Jewish majority. The Trump plan gives a good response to both.”
But he clarified his opposition to moving forward with applying sovereignty without the rest of the plan.
“The plan leads to separation [from the Palestinians],” Ashkenazi said. “We are in favor of it, but not of a partial, unilateral step... Our opinion was heard in the negotiations” with Netanyahu and the US peace process team.
Ashkenazi said he did not know what Netanyahu would decide to do, as the coalition agreement allows him to proceed without Blue and White and he has a pro-sovereignty majority in the cabinet and the Knesset, but discussions are ongoing.
“I say we need to hear the defense evaluations and legal evaluations and then make decisions,” he said. “We should be very careful of a situation that can deteriorate our security and relations with Jordan... We will pay a big price.”
Regarding possible damage to Israel’s relations with Europe, Ashkenazi said: “We have a challenge in European platforms if Israel takes a step like this. It’s my job and the job of my ministry to explain it.”