Reversing course, Gantz urges Trump to ‘move up’ peace plan rollout

After previously calling an election-time release of the plan ‘interference’ in Israel’s vote, the Blue and White chief now ready to welcome its publication

Blue and White MKs Benny Gantz (C) and Moshe Ya'alon (R) at the Vered Yeriho lookout point in the Jordan Valley, January 21, 2020. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)
Blue and White MKs Benny Gantz (C) and Moshe Ya'alon (R) at the Vered Yeriho lookout point in the Jordan Valley, January 21, 2020. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

Blue and White leader Benny Gantz said he did not oppose the release of the Trump administration’s peace plan before Israel’s forthcoming election on March 2, an apparent change of heart after he earlier this month said doing so would constitute “interference” in Israel’s election.

During a visit to the Jordan Valley on Tuesday at which he declared he supported Israeli annexation of the area “in coordination with the international community,” Gantz was asked by a reporter if he’d support Washington’s expected release of the long-awaited plan in the coming weeks.

He said he did not oppose doing so, and suggested the White House should release it sooner rather than later.

“I hope the president will move up [the roll-out] and I expect the plan will be released very soon. Several weeks have passed. A lot of dramatic things are happening in the Middle East, and I look forward to the publication of the plan,” Gantz said.

It was not immediately clear what led to Gantz’s reversal. The plan is expected to heavily favor Israel’s views on a final peace settlement with the Palestinians, and its pre-election release is widely seen in Israel as a move by US President Donald Trump to help the reelection prospects of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

From left to right: Blue and White Party MK Yair Lapid, party leader Benny Gantz, Special Adviser to the US President Jared Kushner, and US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman during a meeting at the US Embassy in Jerusalem, October 28, 2019. (Jeries Mansour, US Embassy Jerusalem)

One report on the Walla news site claimed Gantz has faced pressure, including “angry” messages, from the Trump administration after expressing his opposition to the release ahead of the Israeli elections.

His comments against it came at a televised meeting of Blue and White’s Knesset faction shortly after a meeting between Gantz and Trump’s new peace envoy Avi Berkowitz.

“The Americans were very angry that his declaration was made publicly,” Blue and White sources told Walla.

Trump’s special adviser Jared Kushner, the architect of the US peace plan, will arrive in Israel Wednesday to attend the World Holocaust Forum, and is expected to meet with both Netanyahu and Gantz.

Gantz was in the Jordan Valley Tuesday to highlight what he called his own commitment to push for Israel’s annexation of the strategic territory.

Blue and White party chairman MK Benny Gantz speaks during a faction meeting at the Knesset, on December 2, 2019. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

He vowed to push to apply Israeli sovereignty over the area following the elections, but “in coordination with the international community.”

“The Jordan Valley is the eastern defense shield of the State of Israel, in any future [conflict] scenario we may face. Governments that have contemplated handing it away made a strategic and grave security mistake,” he said.

“We see this piece of land as an inseparable part of the State of Israel and after the elections we’ll work toward applying sovereignty over the Jordan Valley. We’ll do this in a move agreed on nationally and in coordination with the international community.”

Shortly before the September elections, Netanyahu promised he would apply sovereignty to the Jordan Valley — which constitutes about a quarter of the West Bank — immediately after he manages to form a government.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu points at a map of the Jordan Valley as he gives a statement, promising to extend Israeli sovereignty to the Jordan Valley and northern Dead Sea area, in Ramat Gan on September 10, 2019. (Menahem Kahana/AFP)

Netanyahu’s promise, which he claimed he would have fulfilled already if not for the attorney general ruling his interim government lacks the authority to do so, has been frozen after the September race failed to produce a government and a fresh vote was called for March 2.

In his Tuesday comments, Gantz also lamented last year’s return of two enclaves along the border to Jordan, after the kingdom refused to extend the 25-year lease on them that was agreed on as part of the 1994 peace deal between the countries.

“There can’t be additional incidents like the loss of Tzofar and Naharayim,” Gantz said.

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