Gantz might not know it, but he holds keys to Israeli annexation - analysis

Gantz’s official position on annexation is currently unclear. Nevertheless, there is a lot that can be done between annexation of 30% and nothing.

Prime Minister Benjamn Netanyahu and Defense Minister Benny Gantz at the swearing in of the new government (photo credit: AMOS BEN-GERSHOM/GPO)
Prime Minister Benjamn Netanyahu and Defense Minister Benny Gantz at the swearing in of the new government
(photo credit: AMOS BEN-GERSHOM/GPO)
The IDF has not seen a map. The settler leaders have not seen a map and neither has the public. Nevertheless, annexation seems to be moving full steam ahead – despite warnings from the IDF and the Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) that such a move could lead to a collapse of the Palestinian Authority.
Collapse of the PA, by the way, is considered in the Defense Ministry to be the worst-case scenario. On the scale of what might happen, a third intifada is surprisingly considered less harmful for Israel on a strategic level. Yes, there will be terror, but the IDF knows how to fight back. While it might take time, there is confidence in the IDF that it will succeed.
But the collapse of the Palestinian Authority would be a whole new world for Israel. The reason this might happen is because for the Palestinians, annexation is the end of the Oslo paradigm, which not only brought the PA into existence but also launched the process of separation between Israel and its Palestinian neighbors.
If Mahmoud Abbas turns in the keys and shuts down the PA, that means Israel will have to step in. Israeli soldiers will once again have to take charge of the health system, the education system and the sewage pipes in Ramallah, Nablus and Tulkarm. These are jobs no commander will want to oversee and no mother will want her child doing.
But while all eyes seem fixed on Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his meetings with the different settler leaders – those who oppose annexation because it is not enough and those who recognize the historic opportunity and support it – the person who might actually influence the process more than anyone else is Defense Minister Benny Gantz.

TO UNDERSTAND why this is the case, it is important to first understand how annexation happens. Based on a legislative amendment made in 1967, all that is needed is a vote in the cabinet for land that was part of Mandatory Palestine to become part of the State of Israel. That is how Levi Eshkol annexed east Jerusalem after the Six Day War and that is how Netanyahu could potentially annex parts of the West Bank.
Nineteen of the ministers in the cabinet today are from the Likud and its haredi allies; the other 16 are from Blue and White and Labor. While Netanyahu could theoretically bring an annexation vote to the cabinet and win even if Gantz and his party votes against it, he is unlikely to do so – and the Americans are unlikely to support such a move.
The reason is because neither Netanyahu nor US President Donald Trump will want to be viewed as reckless in moving ahead with annexation and causing an outburst of violence.
 If Gantz and his ministers oppose annexation, that is how it will potentially be perceived and Trump might have second thoughts.
 If Gantz votes in favor of the move though, that gives an appearance that Israel is united and that the entire country supports annexation.
That appearance of unity is important, especially if Joe Biden wins the election in November. If Gantz opposes annexation it will be seemingly easier for Biden to rescind US recognition of Israeli sovereignty.
 He will be able to say that half the cabinet opposed it as did the man (Gantz) who a year from the US election is supposed to become Israel’s prime minister.
If, on the other hand, Gantz supports it, Biden might have a harder time walking it back and might prefer to accept the reality in the West Bank as a fait accompli.
As a result, the most important question is not what does this settler leader or that settler leader want, but rather what is Gantz willing to accept.
Gantz’s official position on annexation is currently unclear. Nevertheless, there is a lot that can be done between annexation of 30% – which Netanyahu originally said he wanted – and annexing nothing. This could mean the annexation of just the Jordan Valley or just Ma’ale Adumim and Gush Etzion. A few years ago, settler leaders would have jumped at either of these opportunities.
Besides for setting the tone of the annexation, Gantz could also be the excuse Netanyahu needs to walk back from the 30% he set as his original goal. If Gantz lets him, Netanyahu will tell Israel that he preferred unity – and Gantz voting in favor of the move in the cabinet – over a narrow majority and, as a result, had no choice but to agree to annex less land.
There are still three-and-a-half weeks left until July 1 – the date Netanyahu originally set as his deadline. Keep your eyes on Gantz. He currently holds the keys.