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Safely in Government, Gantz Disappoints Many Supporters
‘Enemies: A Coalition Story.’ Binyamin Netanyahu (left) and Benny Gantz. (US State Department; Reuven Kapochinsky/Israel Resilience Party)

Safely in Government, Gantz Disappoints Many Supporters

Blue and White chief’s surrender of veto over West Bank annexation has progressives pulling their hair out

Progressives pinned their hopes on Benny Gantz – both in Israel and the US. Many are now feeling left at the altar.

“It’s the policy that’s going to really drive things,” said Joel Rubin, the founding political director of the left-leaning J Street, which seeks to pressure Israel into a two-state solution.

“If Israel now moves to annexation with barely a noise from Gantz – and that’s the concern – then yes, there will be trouble. Progressives are very unhappy with how he turned away from a coalition to oust Bibi and partner with Israeli Arabs, and centrists – we’re talking Dems – oppose annexation,” Rubin told The Media Line, referring to Democratic voters and to Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu. “If Gantz enables that, he’ll have lost Dem confidence.”

The former IDF chief of staff was perhaps the last, best hope to end the reign of Netanyahu, the bane of the Left who largely washed his hands of America’s Democratic Party years ago and helped make “leftist” a slur in Israel.

Gantz promised voters through three snap elections that he would never sit in a government with Netanyahu as long as the corruption allegations – now indictments – were hanging over the premier. But with Gantz surrendering his raison d’être for the past year and agreeing to a unity government last week, the future of the US-Israeli relationship seems to rest on two looming issues: the 2020 American presidential election and whether Israel moves forward with applying sovereignty over (or annexing, depending on your preferred nomenclature) the Jordan Valley and other Jewish settlement areas in the West Bank.

Netanyahu and Gantz agreed that only two issues would be dealt with for the next six months. One is the coronavirus. And the other is… sovereignty/annexation, which can be brought up for a cabinet or Knesset vote as early as July 1.

Why the rush?

Well, there is the US election in November, and presumptive Democratic nominee Joe Biden is clearly on record as saying on numerous occasions that a unilateral move toward sovereignty/annexation is not acceptable.

With President Donald Trump’s long-awaited peace plan slanted toward the Israelis, it appeared Netanyahu was going to barrel toward sovereignty/annexation if he remained in power. Gantz had approved the Trump plan, too, but with a caveat: that moves by Israel would need to be made in concert with the Americans and the international community.

Well, the international community at large has no plans to back sovereignty/annexation. And a Democratic president would pull the plug faster than you could say “malarkey.”

“We fully expect Donald Trump to be re-elected, but if he isn’t, a Biden presidency would be disastrous for Israel,” Republican Jewish Coalition spokesman Neil Strauss told The Media Line.

“We saw the Obama/Biden foreign policy,” Strauss continued. “They were one of the most hostile administrations ever against Israel, and Biden would be a danger to peace there. Gantz supports the Trump plan; he’s a guy with good experience and a good idea of the situation on the ground.”

So, it looked like Gantz’s strategy was to appease President Trump while leaving himself plenty of wiggle room. And even the final language of the Netanyahu/Gantz coalition agreement calls for sovereignty/annexation to be applied “with international dialogue on the subject” and “while pursuing the security and strategic interests of the State of Israel, including the need for maintaining regional stability, the preservation of peace agreements and the pursuit of future peace agreements.”

But Gantz gave up the right to veto any proposal, and there are more than enough right-wing members of the Knesset to pass it on Netanyahu’s terms.

Much of the Israeli Left feels that Gantz sold them out by joining forces with Netanyahu. And American Democrats?

Famed political strategist and pollster Mark Mellman brings a unique perspective to the issue, having consulted for Yesh Atid party chairman Yair Lapid through two elections. He did the same for Lapid’s joint ticket with Gantz, Blue and White, in the April 2019 election.

Reportedly, a power struggle between Gantz and Lapid resulted in Mellman’s removal prior to September’s election, though Mellman said he needed time for other matters. Gantz and Lapid had their own falling out following the former’s decision to pursue a unity government with Netanyahu, and their ticket split.

Mellman is the president of Democratic Majority for Israel, which works to maintain and strengthen support for Israel among Democratic leaders and grassroots progressives.

“The fact is that Democrats have overwhelmingly voted to condemn BDS [the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement against Israel]. Democrats have overwhelmingly voted several times to guarantee Israel military aid. And Democrats overwhelmingly feel annexation is a bad idea,” he told The Media Line.

“The reality,” he said, “is that both countries really benefit from the relationship, but it makes it harder when one country simply ignores the wishes of the other.”

Mellman would not delve into any personal conversations he has had on the matter with Lapid or Gantz, but Lapid lashed out at Gantz last week, claiming that unilateral moves on sovereignty/annexation would cause “irreparable damage to [Israel’s] relations with the Democratic Party and the majority of American Jews.”

Unsurprisingly, Republicans are by and large willing to let Netanyahu – with Gantz riding shotgun − step on the gas, fearful of what could be after November 3.

The offices of a largely pro-Israel Democratic congressperson and a senator both told The Media Line that they would reserve comment on Gantz until they got a better feel for him and where he really stood.

Just two months ago, in the heat of another election campaign and amid accusations that Netanyahu had courted Republicans at the expense of a bipartisan relationship with the US, Gantz said: “We don’t care if the American president is a Republican or Democrat. If he is a good president for the United States,” then that person would be a “good president for the State of Israel as well.”

If Gantz truly does not care who wins the US presidential vote in November, he might be the only one. Or perhaps he is just hedging his bets again.

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