Gantz annexation veto turns him into possible peacemaker – analysis

Unlike Netanyahu, Gantz fears the instability that would follow, particularly with neighboring Jordan.

BENNY GANTZ, head of the Blue and White party. (photo credit: REUTERS)
BENNY GANTZ, head of the Blue and White party.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
The bitter feud between Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Blue and White Party leader Benny Gantz over annexation appeared to be over Monday by bequeathing to both leaders precisely the future mantle they wanted.
While the topic was annexation of all West Bank settlements, at issue was their political and diplomatic legacies with regard to the West Bank and the peace process.
Topmost in Netanyahu’s mind is his legacy as the right-wing leader who 53 years after the end of the Six-Day War finally envelopes the settlement enterprise into Israel’s sovereign borders.
For Gantz it is the peace process itself and the link he makes between regional stability and dialogue.
At issue for them, as well, is the timetable.
Who will be prime minister at what time? Who will be their US presidential partner, and what kind of peace, if any, can they achieve with the Palestinians?
For Netanyahu, there is no time like the present. With or without Gantz, he has Knesset support for unilateral annexation, about 68 votes out of 120.
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.
US President Donald Trump has removed almost all of the obstacles that made such a dual pursuit an almost impossible schizophrenic 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 coronavirus outbreak, it was agreed that Israel could apply sovereignty this year as soon a joint mapping process had been completed.
The paralyzing impact of COVID-19 on international diplomacy means 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, but it may do so by July. But it is possible that the US could still allow Netanyahu to annex all the settlements even in advance of the completion of the mapping process. This is because any questions surrounding annexation are not about the settlements but about outstanding issues with regard to the extent of the territory around them that would also become part of sovereign Israel.
The Right 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 former president Barack Obama. For Netanyahu, there is no time like the present. 
After that, Netanyahu hopes 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 somewhat tantamount to mission impossible.
Unlike Netanyahu, Gantz fears the instability that would follow, particularly with neighboring Jordan. He prefers to make peace in dialogue and maintains that such dialogue is only possible if sovereignty is applied through negotiation.
Within that framework, at bare minimum, he wants to see the Jordan Valley and the settlement blocs within Israel’s final borders, but only with international, Palestinian and Arab world agreement. Effectively, it would appear to be mission impossible, given the international and Palestinian stance that only a two-state solution with pre-1967 lines is acceptable.
But Netanyahu’s agreement with Gantz that he and his party can vote against any annexation plan opens the door for Gantz to push forward with a peace process in the aftermath of a Trump/Netanyahu era.
He will be seen as the man who opposed annexation and can be a possible diplomatic partner for a future peace process.
If Netanyahu can wave a diplomatic wand and transform US opposition to the settlements into annexation, then perhaps Gantz wants to follow the same magic trick and sway the international community and the Palestinians to pursue peace in the aftermath of annexation.
A veto vote would also make him a more palatable Israeli leader to any Democratic successor to Trump, should the Republican president lose his seat in November.
Had Gantz taken a stance on borders that included settlement blocs and the Jordan Valley with Obama, he would have been considered a hard-liner.
But in the aftermath of Netanyahu, he would seem like an Israeli who was willing to make concessions for peace. And that image could earn him a seat at a future negotiations table with the Palestinians.