Photo Credit: Official White House Photo
Pres Trump welcomes Lt. Gen. (Res.) MK Benjamin Gantz to the Oval Office of the White House, in late Jan 2020.

{Originally posted to the JNS website}

The coalition talks between Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Blue and White Party leader Benny Gantz are being held behind closed doors. A lot of contradictory information is being leaked about the issues on the table and about the form of the deal for a unity government being hammered out.

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But all the leaks are consistent about one aspect of the discussions: Gantz and his colleagues oppose applying Israeli law to the Israeli communities in Judea and Samaria. This state of affairs is both surprising and disturbing.

It is surprising that Gantz opposes applying Israeli law to the areas, which are home to half a million Israelis, because just two months ago Gantz pledged to support the move.

On Jan. 27, the day before U.S. President Donald Trump published the details of his peace plan, he presented them to Gantz at the White House. The plan, which includes U.S. recognition of Israeli sovereignty over the Jordan Valley and the Israeli cities, towns and villages in Judea and Samaria, assumes that Israel will apply its legal code, and through it, its sovereignty to the areas immediately after a new governing coalition is sworn in.

According to a senior official who participated in Gantz’s meeting with Trump, “Gantz committed in the Oval Office that if he became prime minister, he would form a government of people that would support the deal.”

For President Trump and his team, the implications of Gantz’s statement are straightforward. Since both Netanyahu and Gantz (the two candidates for prime minister) support implementing the deal, the administration expects Israel to apply its laws to the areas immediately after the next government is sworn in.

Accordingly, in February, President Trump appointed a three-member mapping team, led by U.S. Ambassador David Friedman, to work with their Israeli counterparts to finalize the map of Israeli sovereignty in Judea and Samaria that the United States will recognize. The mapping committee convened multiple times in the lead-up to the March elections.

In the face of the rash of reports asserting that Gantz opposes applying Israeli law in these areas, on Sunday a U.S. administration official told The Jerusalem Post that Gantz “came to Washington and said he’s in favor of it, and we have not heard anything different from him,” adding that “unless he tells us [otherwise], we are proceeding as though we have a partner on the other side.”

In other words, the Trump administration expects Gantz to keep his commitment to the president of the United States.

The Americans aren’t making threats. They expect Gantz to treat them fairly and honestly. Gantz needs to consider the implications of the contradiction between what he told President Trump and what he is doing now.

Politicians survive by lying to their voters. But it is very hard for Israeli leaders who lie to U.S. presidents to succeed in office.

Reportedly, Netanyahu has proposed a procedural means to square the circle. His offer involves providing all coalition members with the freedom to vote as they please on a law to apply Israeli law to the Jordan Valley and the Israeli communities in Judea and Samaria.

Netanyahu expects that the two right-leaning lawmakers in Blue and White, Zvi Hauser and Yoaz Hendel, along with Orly Levy-Abekasis (an independent lawmaker who split from the Labor-Meretz bloc and leans right on diplomatic issues), will vote with Netanyahu’s 58-member right-wing bloc in favor of the move. Their three votes will ensure passage of the measure with a 61-vote majority even without Gantz’s support.

Although the proposal would technically solve the problem, Netanyahu should not rush to solve Gantz’s problem for him. Gantz’s opposition to the move isn’t a technical difficulty. It’s a character problem.

Gantz gave his word to the president of the United State. There were no misunderstandings that day in the Oval Office.

How can Israel expect to preserve its standing in Washington when the politician who is supposed to become prime minister in a year and a half is rushing to present himself as a bold-faced liar who went to the president’s house and flat-out lied to him about his intentions? President Trump is no mere foreign leader. He is the president of the most powerful country on earth and Israel’s closest ally. Moreover, he is the best friend Israel has ever had in the White House.

Gantz isn’t the only one who will be harmed by his behavior. Netanyahu risks harming his own standing in Washington and worldwide just by trying to cover for Gantz.

It isn’t too late to correct this mistake. Gantz can still change his position and keep his word to President Trump. For his own good, and for the good of the country, he should reverse course quickly, before the coalition agreement is finalized.

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