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Gantz tells Saudi paper: There’s room for a Palestinian capital in Jerusalem

But defense minister stops short of endorsing statehood, saying Palestinians deserve an ‘entity’ and stressing that no part of city will be relinquished to PA

Defense Minister Benny Gantz at the Knesset on December 1, 2020. (Alex Kolomoisky/Pool/Flash90)
Defense Minister Benny Gantz at the Knesset on December 1, 2020. (Alex Kolomoisky/Pool/Flash90)

In a rare interview with an Arabic daily, Defense Minister Benny Gantz shied away from supporting a Palestinian state, saying that the Palestinians deserved an “entity” and that Jerusalem “must remain united.”

But the centrist politician, the leader of the Blue and White party, said that while Israel’s capital will remain undivided, “there’s room” for the Palestinians to also establish their capital in the holy city.

“The Palestinians want and deserve an entity in which they can live independently,” Gantz, a former IDF chief of staff, told the Saudi daily al-Sharq al-Awsat, one of the Arab world’s better-known broadsheets.

Palestinians have long demanded an independent state and harshly criticized Israeli and American plans that they say offer them autonomy without statehood. Palestinian Authority officials publicly claim to support a two-state solution: an independent state of Palestine in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip — the 1967 ceasefire lines — with its capital in East Jerusalem.

A protective face mask on the ground during the Eid al-Adha prayers, next to the Dome of the Rock at the Temple Mount compound in Jerusalem’s Old City, July 31, 2020. (AP Photo/Mahmoud Illean, File)

When his interviewer pressed Gantz further on whether the Palestinian entity he was calling for would constitute a state, the defense minister dodged the question.

“A state or an empire, they can call it whatever they want. It is their right to feel independence and have a capital,” Gantz said.

“We want a Palestinian entity which has appropriate territorial contiguity, which makes it possible to live comfortably within it without obstacles or hindrances. What we insist on is security. We need strategic observation points for security,” Gantz added.

As for the question of relinquishing Israeli control of East Jerusalem, Gantz said: “Jerusalem must remain united — but with a place within it for a Palestinian capital.”

“[Jerusalem] is a very spacious city, and full of holy sites for all,” Gantz said.

It was unclear whether or not Gantz was referring to Abu Dis, a small city outside of Jerusalem that outgoing US President Donald Trump’s controversial peace plan designated as the capital of the future Palestinian state. The plan said that Palestinian control of Abu Dis — as well as areas of Jerusalem outside the security barrier, such as Kafr Aqab and Shuafat Refugee Camp — satisfied Palestinian demands for a capital in Jerusalem.

A view of Jerusalem’s Old City from Abu Dis on February 3, 2020. (Adam Rasgon/Times of Israel)

PA President Mahmoud Abbas responded to the Trump offer by insisting on a Palestinian capital “of Jerusalem, not in Jerusalem.”

Gantz called on Abbas to join the “path of peace” laid by other Arab states who have decided to normalize ties with Israel in recent months.

Over the past four months, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Sudan, and Morocco have begun the process of normalizing ties with Israel. The Palestinians have publicly lamented the ongoing normalization as a betrayal of their cause. Top US officials have said it’s “inevitable” that Saudi Arabia will join, though the kingdom has said a resolution for the Palestinians must come first.

“The path taken by the Arab world is an enormous, genuine opportunity. I truly hope to reach an accord with them, and I fully believe that without them there can be no comprehensive, full peace,” Gantz said.

Defense Minister Benny Gantz on a visit in northern Israel, October 27, 2020. (David Cohen/Flash90)

The Trump peace plan also provides for Israeli control over as much as 30 percent of the West Bank. Gantz praised the plan in January during a visit to the White House as a “significant and historic milestone indeed.”

But Gantz said in his interview with Al-Sharq Al-Awsat on Wednesday night, however, that he did not “necessarily” support Israeli sovereignty in all the areas spelled out by the Trump peace plan.

While some areas — such as the Jordan Valley — would have to stay under Israeli security control, Israel “could reduce that area considerably,” Gantz said.

Clockwise from upper right: Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, May 24, 2020. (Abir Sultan/Pool Photo via AP); Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, Jan 23, 2020. (Alexander Nemenov, Pool via AP); President Donald Trump (AP Photo/Susan Walsh); Defense Minister Benny Gantz, May 24, 2020. (Abir Sultan/ Pool/ AFP)

But Palestinians would be unlikely to be compensated with land from inside Israel for whatever West Bank territory did ultimately remain in Israeli hands, Gantz indicated.

“Of course, it’s possible to talk about land swaps, although I don’t see how or where,” Gantz said.

He also said that he hoped more Arab nations would form open ties with Israel, saying that he had visited many of them in a secret capacity over the course of his career in the Israeli army.

“I’ve visited every Arab state — but in secret during the performance of military missions. I dearly hope to visit them publicly in an official, friendly and peaceful manner,” Gantz said.

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