Not only will the annexation of the Jordan Valley potentially lead to cutting off security coordination with the Palestinians, but it could also lead to a total collapse in relations with Jordan.
By YAAKOV KATZ JANUARY 24, 2020
What does Israel want?
That is always the most important question but also the one that is so difficult to answer.
The question appeared in sharp focus this week as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Blue and White leader Benny Gantz battled over who is more right wing, and who is more committed to annexing the Jordan Valley, before, during or after the upcoming election.
It was a clear lesson in how policy should not be set, how a country should not make decisions on strategic and fateful issues such as what its borders will be, how it will determine them, and whether it will be done unilaterally or within the framework of an internationally recognized peace deal.
It started on Tuesday when Gantz went to the Jordan Valley with Moshe Ya’alon, No. 3 on his list and his former commander in the IDF. There, overlooking the border, Gantz announced that Blue and White would work to annex the Jordan Valley after the election. He added two caveats: that the application of Israeli law would be done in a “nationally agreed upon process,” and in “coordination with the international community.”
It was a sharp right-turn for Gantz. Before the previous election, in September, Gantz refrained from declaring that he would annex the Jordan Valley, merely sticking to a script that the Jordan Valley is “part of Israel forever.” He said this after Netanyahu held a press conference just days before the September vote, vowing to annex the Jordan Valley after the election if he won.
In response to Gantz’s announcement this week, Netanyahu attacked the Blue and White leader, asking him on Twitter why he doesn’t agree to annexation immediately. “Why wait until after the election if we can apply sovereignty now with wide national consensus in the Knesset?” Netanyahu wrote. “Benny Gantz, I expect your answer by the evening.”
Does Netanyahu think Israelis are fools? Ahead of the September vote he said that his plan was to annex the Jordan Valley after the election. Not before, after. There are videos of him saying it. Now that Gantz caught up to him on the Right, Netanyahu has to move even further Right, saying that it can be done immediately.
Gantz did not remain silent and challenged Netanyahu. “Here’s a tip: You can apply Israeli law over the Jordan Valley with a cabinet decision within two hours and without a debate in the Knesset,” he wrote back to the prime minister on Twitter on Tuesday. “Let’s see you do it.”
Confused? You should be. The reason is because this is not the way a responsible government enacts a policy with far-reaching consequences for Israel and potentially the entire Middle East.
Not only will the annexation of the Jordan Valley potentially lead to cutting off security coordination with the Palestinians, but it could also lead to a total collapse in Israel’s relations with King Abdullah, whose regime’s stability is of utmost strategic importance for the Jewish state.
At the same visit to the Jordan Valley on Tuesday, Gantz was asked about the Trump peace plan, dubbed the “Deal of the Century,” which seems to be headed for a rollout next week. “I hope President Trump will hurry and release his plan,” he said. “I’m looking forward to the plan’s release.”
What? Did we hear correctly? Gantz is looking forward to the plan coming out soon? Just two weeks ago, Gantz said that releasing the plan before the election would be a “gross intervention” in Israel’s democratic electoral process. He said it in private meetings and then repeated it at a Blue and White faction meeting.
THE REASON Gantz did not want the plan to come out before the election was quite obvious. He knows that the plan is going to be favorable for Israel – it is expected to declare, for example, that all settlements remain Israeli territory – and that Netanyahu will then use its unveiling as part of his campaign to explain to the electorate why they need him to remain in office.
As it is, Gantz is suspicious of the Trump administration and the way it has bear-hugged Netanyahu over the last three years. Yair Lapid, his Blue and White co-leader, has said that one of the first decisions he would make as foreign minister would be to replace Israel’s ambassador to the US, Ron Dermer.
What happened that Gantz zigzagged? Why is he suddenly in favor of annexation and of releasing the peace plan before March 2?