Gantz: There is room in Jerusalem for a Palestinian capital

He expressed his hope that peace in the Middle East could begin to be achieved by attempting to settle the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Blue and White leader Benny Gantz announces that he will be supporting opposition leader Yair Lapid's Knesset dispersal bill, Tuesday, December 1st, 2020. (photo credit: ELAD MALKA)
Blue and White leader Benny Gantz announces that he will be supporting opposition leader Yair Lapid's Knesset dispersal bill, Tuesday, December 1st, 2020.
(photo credit: ELAD MALKA)
Jerusalem must remain a united city, but there will be a place for a Palestinian capital within its boundaries, Alternate Prime Minister and Defense Minister Benny Gantz said in a rare interview published on Thursday with the London-based Saudi newspaper Asharq al-Awsat.
“It is a very spacious city and full of holy sites for all,” Gantz said, referring to Jerusalem.
He spoke with the Saudi paper amid speculation that the country could normalize its ties with the Jewish state. Among the Saudi leadership’s public hesitations has been the issue of the Palestinians, for which it wants to see a resolution.
Gantz, who was interviewed in his office in the Defense Ministry in Tel Aviv, said he does not see a comprehensive peace in the Middle East without solving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
He addressed the thorny issue of Jerusalem, which has long been one of the flashpoint topics of the conflict.
The international community and the Palestinians hold that east Jerusalem, including the Old City, is the future capital of a Palestinian state. Israel’s government believes that a united Jerusalem should remain in its hands as the capital of the Jewish state.
Gantz did not explain what he meant with his statement that, “Jerusalem must stay united, but it will have place for a Palestinian capital.”
But he has lent his support to US President Donald Trump’s peace plan, which allowed Israel to maintain sovereignty over territory in Jerusalem within the boundary of the security barrier. It placed areas of municipal Jerusalem outside the barrier, within the boundaries of a future Palestinian state.
In his interview Gantz called on the Palestinian leadership and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas in particular to join the process of normalization with Arab countries and “not stay in the back rows.”
Gantz said he does not hold the Palestinians responsible for the stalemate in the peace process. “I am not analyzing the situation,” he added. “I am saying that I want them to be part of the peace process. This process with the Arab world is a great and real opportunity. And since I really want to reach a settlement with them, and I trust that without them there will be no complete and comprehensive peace, I invite them to cooperate with me and with the Arab countries so that they could have a respectable place in the new peace process. 
The Palestinians are our closest neighbors. We meet them at the door of the house. I live in Rosh Ha’ayin, on the border with the West Bank, and our town is attached to Kafr Kassem. I have friends there. I have friends in Taiba and Arrabe. I visit them in their homes and they visit me at my home. And I want the same thing to happen to me with Nablus, Hebron and Ramallah. I know that the Palestinians want the same thing. 
The majority of the Palestinian people are young people under the age of 25. They want to see a change in politics and conditions, just like Israeli youth.”
Asked if he was prepared to pay a price for peace with the Palestinians, Gantz replied: “The Palestinians want and deserve an entity in which to they can live independently. It could be a state or an empire; they can call it as they wish. They have the right to feel independent and have a capital. We have to talk in a new, modern language about ways to solve [the conflict] and not stick to the traditional discourse. We, on our part, want to separate from them and we want guarantees for our security. 
If we agree on security matters, the political solution will come easily. We will have to find not only solutions to problems, but also to have deep cooperation in the economy, science, technology, education, and everything. This is a historic opportunity.”
Gantz told the Saudi newspaper that he had spent about 38 years fighting in the IDF, and that’s why he wants peace. “The generals in the army, who have seen and tasted the horrors of war, are the ones who want peace the most,” he said.
In response to a question about the borders of a future Palestinian state, Gantz said that Israel needs the Jordan Valley for security reasons.
Noting that he had opposed Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s plan to unilaterally apply Israeli sovereignty to portions of the West Bank, including the Jordan Valley, he explained: “We want the Palestinian entity to have an appropriate geographical extension that would make it viable for a comfortable life. What we are persistently asking for is security. We need real strategic checkpoints for security. Of course, it is possible to talk about a land swap, although I don’t see how and where. We say that we will not return to the 1967 borders. But there is always a possibility to find compromises. The important thing is to keep the path alive. The Palestinian issue should not be left behind.”
On the Iranian-led coalition that opposes normalization between Israel and the Arab countries, Gantz said: “We cannot ignore the existence of the Iranian axis that threatens Israel and all Arab countries. Let us hope that this axis will reach the necessary conclusion from the current peace deals, and that it also begins to change towards peace. But, if it does not, it will face unfortunate consequences.”
Asked whether Netanyahu would allow him to visit Arab countries, Gantz said: “I have visited all Arab countries, but in disguise as part of the performance of military missions, and I very much wish to visit them publicly, in an official, friendly and peaceful manner.”
On the issue of Arab Israelis, Gantz said he believes in full equality for Arab citizens and wants them to participate in government.
The Israeli Right immediately attacked Gantz for his words on Jerusalem and for his acceptance of the idea of a Palestinian State.
“Jerusalem is the capital of only one nation. It is the capital of the eternal Jewish people” and it is “the capital of the State of Israel,” former Jerusalem Mayor and current Likud MK Nir Barkat said.
Higher Education and Water Resources Minister Ze’ev Elkin (Likud), tweeted, “Benny is confused. There is no room in a united Jerusalem for a Palestinian capital – there isn’t and there never will be. It’s that simple: No.”
The Sovereignty Movement called on Netanyahu to respond to Gantz by  immediately applying sovereignty in the greater Jerusalem area of the West Bank such as the Gush Etzion region and the Ma’aleh Adumim settlement.
“If it seemed to us that the Israeli leadership and the Israeli public had internalized the folly of the concept of partitioning the Land, partitioning Jerusalem, and establishing an enemy state in the heartland, the statement of Minister Gantz proved that there is still much work in front of us to clarify the obvious,” said the heads of the movement, Yehudit Katsover and Nadia Matar.
Jerusalem Post Staff contributed to this report.