Photo Credit: David Cohen/Flash90
Alternate Prime Minister and Minister of Defense Benny Gantz, November 17, 2020.

In an interview with Sharq Al-Awsat, Gantz said he is willing to compromise on parts of Jerusalem and the Jordan Valley, he opposes sovereignty and is against legalizing new settlements, while echoing the peace sentiments of the good old Oslo years.

Israel’s Defense Minister and Alternate Prime Minister, Blue&White Chairman Benny Gantz on Thursday gave an extensive interview to Asharq Al-Awsat, an Arabic international newspaper headquartered in London—the pioneer of the “off-shore” Arabic press—in which he was asked about the PA’s demands for Jerusalem as the capital of a future Palestinian state:


Question: “When you say a capital, you realize that they [the PA] seek it in Jerusalem, or as Mahmoud Abbas puts it: Jerusalem and not in Jerusalem.”

Gantz responded: “Jerusalem must remain united. But there will be room for a Palestinian capital. It is a very spacious city, full of holy places for all.”

Question: “You say practically every problem can be solved.”

Gantz: “Sure, but only after a security settlement.”

Question: “There is a ready-made security plan approved by the Palestinians that the American General John Allen has proposed. Is it not a solution?”

Gantz: “Israel has some objections to it. John is my personal friend, and we discussed this plan together a lot. We insist that we not rely on foreign military forces for security issues.”

Gantz was asked about the borders of the Palestinian state: “What about the limits? The Palestinians are asking for the 1967 borders with a land swap. On the other hand, President Trump’s plan talks about annexing 30 percent of the West Bank, from the side of the Jordan Valley.”

Gantz: “We need the Jordan Valley for security. But the issue of the area is not necessarily 30 percent, and this area can be greatly reduced. You know that we had opposed the annexation plan from the beginning, before the UAE demand was raised and before Netanyahu agreed to the freeze. We stood against the legalization of the outposts. We want the Palestinian entity to have an appropriate geographical extension that would make it viable for a comfortable life without obstacles and limits. 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 the 1967 borders will not return. But there is always a possibility to find compromises. The important thing is to keep the path alive. And the Palestinian issue should not be left behind in the winds of the current peace.”

The interview touched on where Gantz finds himself on the subject of peace and normalization agreements between Israel and the UAE, then Bahrain, Sudan, and Morocco.

Asharq Al-Awsat told its readers that “it is known that Netanyahu managed the efforts on this path by himself, and did not involve his ministers with anything, including Gantz, who heard in the media about the agreement with the UAE, and heard from the White House in Washington about the agreement with Morocco.”

“Clearly, there is a problem in keeping the Palestinian side out of the discussion,” the newspaper states, “and Gantz is the minister responsible for the occupied Palestinian territories. During his 38 years of military activity, Gantz saw Palestinians and Arabs through the barrel of a rifle, cannon, tank, or plane, but how does he see this peace now?”

Question: “Are the Palestinians the ones who chose to remain in the rear? Hasn’t Netanyahu done everything in his power, for 10 years, to keep them out of the picture?”

Gans: “I do not hold them responsible for this situation, and I am not analyzing the situation. I am saying that I want them to be part of the peace process. This march alongside 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 partner countries so that they have a respectable place in the new peace process.”

Gantz continues: “The Palestinians are our closest neighbors. We meet them at the door of the house. I live in Rosh Ha’Ain, on the border with the West Bank, and our town is attached to Kfar Qasim. I have friends there. I have friends in Taibeh and Arrabeh. I visit them in their homes and they visit me in my home. And I want the same thing to happen to me with Shchem, Hebron, and Ramallah. And 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. I am a father of four, and when I talk to them they focus on the future and don’t get stuck in the past. We need a leadership that recognizes this change and puts it at the center of attention, as we did with the Emirates and others. It is really time for us to make this peace.”

He was asked: “This peace has a price. Are you willing to pay it? The Palestinians demand an end to the occupation and an independent state on the 1967 borders with a reasonable swap of land and the resolution of all outstanding issues that call the core of the issue, such as Jerusalem and refugees. Is this in your view this old thinking or is there room to talk about?”

Gantz replied: “The Palestinians want and deserve an entity in which to live independently …”

Question: “You mean a country …”

He answered: “Call it a state or an empire, they can call it whatever they like. They have the right to feel independent and to have a capital, and for all the outstanding issues to be resolved. We have to talk in a new, modern language about ways to solve and not cling to the traditional discourse. We, for 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. And we will have to find not only solutions to problems, but also to have deep cooperation in economics, science and technology, education, and everything. This is a historic opportunity.”

(I feel obliged to insert here that Gantz’s statement of peace aspirations sound remarkably like the stuff we heard from the architect of Oslo in the early 1990s, before the suicide bombings and the raging second intifada. Gantz is pursuing a modern language on peace but his views on the chances of such a peace, with an independent Arab state to Israel’s east and southwest are generated through a time warp – DI)

The interview was conducted in Gantz’s office at the Defense Ministry in Tel Aviv, during the height of his tug-of-war with Netanyahu. Gantz said he expected the deterioration towards new elections to continue because Netanyahu was not yet prepared to settle their differences. When asked about his dwindling chances to come back from the next election with anything resembling even remotely his current strength, he mumbled something about holding on to his principles over politics – having caved in to Netanyahu so many times, it’s hard to figure what principles he is referring to.

He was asked about the realism of this optimism, and how Israel can accept the fragile reality of more than two years, during which it fought three electoral battles with the fourth behind the corner, with the pandemic plaguing both its health and economic systems, with 600,000 unemployed and 45 percent of businesses facing bankruptcy.

“This is a country without stability, right?”

Gantz replied, “No, I don’t think political or economic stability is in danger. I agree with the description in terms of errors, failures, and damages, whether objective or subjective, but there is no danger to Israel’s stability. If we look at matters comprehensively, we will find that the institutions of government are working, democracy is in place, security is stable, and we have had a prime minister for 11 years, regardless of our criticism of him and our endeavor as a party to replace him. One of my main concerns is working to strengthen democracy. And in this, I have many partners.”

There was more, most of it pandering. The interview brought to light at least two firm notions about Ganzt: a. He’s a nice guy, probably nicer than Bibi; and b. He really does not belong in politics.


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