Gantz orders IDF to prepare for annexation at once

Jordanian officials reportedly lament Blue and White leaders talking about them, but not to them; annexation talk is a rejection of ties with Arab world, UAE FM says.

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)
Defense Minister Benny Gantz on Monday instructed Chief of Staff Lt.-Gen. Aviv Kochavi to accelerate preparations for the possibility that Israel will apply its laws to parts of the West Bank after he and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu spoke with Trump administration officials.
Gantz updated Kochavi on diplomatic developments after the calls and told him to speed up preparations for “diplomatic steps on the agenda in the Palestinian arena.”
He met with US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman on Monday morning to discuss diplomatic matters on the agenda. Soon after, Netanyahu spoke on the phone with Friedman, Senior Adviser to the President Jared Kushner and Special Representative for International Relations Avi Berkowitz.
“The call was cordial and productive,” a senior White House official said. “We do not comment on the substance of private diplomatic conversations.”
US President Donald Trump’s peace plan would allow for Israel to apply its laws to 30% of the West Bank. The coalition agreement between Gantz’s Blue and White and Netanyahu’s Likud says the prime minister can bring annexation to a vote in the cabinet or Knesset on July 1 at the earliest.
Speaking to the Blue and White faction in the Knesset on Monday, Gantz said he instructed Kochavi to prepare “for any possibility of these processes influencing the region” and present him with various scenarios and plans of action.
The IDF and Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) plan to hold war games simulating possible responses to annexation, ranging from an increase in terrorism to a broad wave of violence, Channel 13 reported.
Gantz also plans to appoint a project manager to coordinate matters related to the Trump peace plan’s implementation, as well as a committee to coordinate the operative recommendations for the West Bank and Gaza. The police plan to hold meetings on the matter as well.
“President Trump’s peace plan is an opportunity to set and promote permanent borders for the State of Israel,” Gantz said in the faction meeting.
Gantz said he and Netanyahu have been in touch with the US government to promote the peace plan’s implementation.
“Striving for peace while maintaining security is foundational for every Israel citizens and for Blue and White in a concrete way,” he said.
Gantz emphasized the need to maintain Israel’s peace treaties with Egypt and Jordan, saying: “We are acting these days to promote [the peace plan] in parallel to protecting our strategic assets, the cooperation with states of the region, and of course we will be careful with the security of the citizens of Israel.”
Despite Gantz and Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi, also of Blue and White, repeatedly touting the importance of maintaining peace with Egypt and Jordan, senior Jordanian officials lamented that they have not had any serious discussions with Amman, KAN reported.
Gantz’s and Ashkenazi’s spokespeople would not confirm or deny any discussions with Jordanian officials.
The KAN report cited “senior Jordanian officials” who said there have not been any meetings or significant discussions of the possibility that Israel will annex the Jordan Valley or other parts of the West Bank, as the Trump plan would allow it to do.
The officials were reportedly discouraged by statements by Netanyahu and others and have reached the conclusion that they plan to move forward with annexation.
The Arab world views Israeli statements about pending annexation of portions of the West Bank as a rejection of its desire for peace with Israel, United Arab Emirates Foreign Minister Anwar Gargash said.
“Continued Israeli talk of annexing Palestinian lands must stop,” he tweeted on Monday. “Any unilateral Israeli move will be a serious setback for the peace process, undermine Palestinian self-determination [and] constitute a rejection of the international [and] Arab consensus towards stability [and] peace.”
David Makovsky, of the US-based Washington Institute of Near East Policy, explained on Twitter the significance of Gargash’s statement.
“This comes from a leading Emirati official – Minister of State – who has been very supportive of close ties between Gulf states and Israel,” wrote Makovsky, who is an author on the Middle East peace process and former editor-in-chief of The Jerusalem Post.
At the heart of one of the Israeli and American arguments that such a measure should move forward is the belief that the Jewish state can both annex and pursue relations with its Arab neighbors. This includes not only Jordan and Egypt, with whom it has peace deals, but also moderate countries such as the UAE, with whom it hopes to one day have normalized and formal diplomatic ties.
Moderate Arab countries have said they would only recognize diplomatic ties with Israel once a peace deal has been achieved with the Palestinians for a two-state solution based on the pre-1967 lines.
The Arab League has twice endorsed the 2002 Arab Peace Initiative, which would offer Israel such ties with the Arab world in exchange for a negotiated two-state solution based on those lines.
Trump hopes to replace the idea of a two-state state solution on the pre-1967 lines with his own version of a peace deal that does not recognize that boundary and offers the Palestinians a demilitarized state on 70% of the West Bank territory.
On Monday, Gargash clarified that even talk of such annexation was harmful.
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas is scheduled to chair a meeting of a “crisis cell” in Ramallah on Tuesday to discuss Israel’s intention to apply sovereignty to parts of the West Bank.
At the meeting, the officials also will discuss the Palestinian response to the Israeli plan and mechanisms for implementing Abbas’s recent decision to renounce all agreements and understandings with Israel and the US, including security cooperation.
The Palestinian leadership was holding intensive discussions on the issue of “annexation,” in addition to ongoing contacts with international and Arab parties to foil the Israeli plan, said Azzam al-Ahmed, a senior PLO and Fatah official.
The “annexation issue is an Israeli-American scheme,” he told the PA’s Voice of Palestine radio station.
Ahmed accused the US administration of “destroying any prospect for peace or the resumption of [Israeli-Palestinian] negotiations” through its plan for Mideast peace, also known as the Deal of the Century.
Israel has already begun implementing the “annexation” plan by removing signs that warn Israeli citizens from entering certain areas in the Jordan Valley and distributing electricity bills to village councils there, he said.
Ahmed urged Palestinians to pursue “peaceful and popular” protests against the Israeli plan.
PA Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh on Monday said his government was working to complete plans regarding the Palestinian leadership’s decision to end all agreements with Israel. He, too, claimed that Israel has already begun implementing “some measures of annexation of Palestinian territories.”
Shtayyeh called on the international community to stand against the Israeli plan and prevent its implementation, warning that it would have “grave consequences on Palestinians and their land and liberation project, as well as regional security.”
UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process Nickolay Mladenov met with Ashkenazi on Monday to discuss developments in the Middle East.
The UN “remains committed to the two-state solution [and] to working with #Israel, the #Palestinian leadership and our international partners on advancing #peace and much needed regional cooperation,” he tweeted.
Omri Nahmias contributed to this report.