Minister: Gantz backs Jordan Valley annexation if supported by US, Arab states

Amid burgeoning international criticism of move, Blue and White’s Izhar Shai says centrist party has reached agreement with Likud

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (right) and Defense Minister Benny Gantz at the weekly cabinet meeting in Jerusalem on June 7, 2020. (Menahem Kahana/AFP)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (right) and Defense Minister Benny Gantz at the weekly cabinet meeting in Jerusalem on June 7, 2020. (Menahem Kahana/AFP)

A Blue and White minister on Tuesday said the centrist party has reached an agreement with Likud on annexing the Jordan Valley, but that party chair Defense Minister Benny Gantz would only support the plan if it was backed by the United States and some Arab countries.

“There is agreement on the Jordan Valley,” said Science and Technology Minister Izhar Shai in an interview with Army Radio.

“But,” he noted, “Gantz has said it would only be done in coordination with the Arab states and with the US.” Shai did not specify which Arab states would be consulted, but Israel is likely to be most concerned about the diplomatic annexation fallout among its neighbors, Jordan and Egypt, with which it has peace treaties.

Absent from his comment was any reference to other parts of the West Bank. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had said he would include all Israeli settlements in the annexation plan as well.

“He would not consider taking a unilateral step,” Shai said of Gantz, referring to coordination with third-party players, though not to the Palestinian Authority, which vehemently opposes the move.

Yizhar Shai in 2015 (CC BY-SA Chen Ziv/Wikimedia Commons)

According to the London-based Arabic newspaper Rai al-Youm, Gantz may visit Jordan amid rising tensions between Jerusalem and Amman over the plan to annex parts of the West Bank.

According to a Channel 12 news report on Monday, the Trump administration is disinclined to back Netanyahu’s repeatedly declared intention to unilaterally annex parts of the West Bank, unless the move is supported by Gantz and Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi.

The coalition deal signed between Netanyahu’s Likud party and Gantz’s Blue and White allows the prime minister to begin moving forward with annexation on July 1, and he has promised to annex all the settlements and the Jordan Valley — some 30 percent of the West Bank. The parts of the West Bank that Israel would extend sovereignty over are those earmarked for it under US President Donald Trump’s peace plan.

Jordanian officials, including the kingdom’s prime minister and foreign minister, have threatened to reconsider their treaties and agreements with Israel in the event of annexation.

Jordan’s prime minister has warned that if Israel goes ahead with the plan, the kingdom will review its peace agreement with Israel. Palestinian sources have reportedly said the kingdom could decide to cancel its peace accord with the Jewish state.

According to a report Saturday by Channel 13, Jordan will recall its ambassador back to Amman as a first step, if annexation goes ahead, and help the Palestinians work against Israel in international fora.

The Jordan Valley, the Golan Heights, the hills of Gilead and the Sea of Galilee seen from Mitzpor Eshkol, named for former Israeli prime minister Levi Eshkol. (Shmuel Bar-Am)

The report quoted unnamed sources who said that Jordan does not want to take concrete steps unless or until annexation is officially declared. But they said the kingdom has told the Palestinians that King Abdullah II “will not go silently through the annexation process.” Among the possible steps it might take are canceling the peace treaty, the sources reportedly said.

The annexation plan has also drawn a flurry of regional and international condemnations.

German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas is reportedly set to come to Israel on Wednesday for an urgent visit to warn Netanyahu against it and to tell him the move will harm Israel’s ties with the European Union and with Germany, despite the importance of the relationship to Berlin.

However, Germany will not respond harshly if Israel goes ahead with the plan, a diplomatic official in Jerusalem said Monday. While annexation would likely cause a certain degree of damage to bilateral ties, Berlin has made plain that it does not plan to enact sanctions against the Jewish state or recognize a Palestinian state, the official said.

Agencies contributed to this report.

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