Defense Minister Benny Gantz warned settler leaders against overplaying their hand with the Trump administration, urging them on Tuesday to be content with whatever amount of land the US is willing to accept Israel annexing, according to two West Bank mayors who heard the comments.
“What’s being offered to you, take. As for the rest, you can deal with it later,” the settler leaders quoted Gantz as saying during their meeting with him at the IDF’s Judea and Samaria Division Headquarters in the central West Bank settlement of Beit El.
The comments appeared to be in response to criticism voiced by settler leaders in recent weeks against the Trump plan, some of whom oppose it because it conditionally provides for Palestinian statehood, and which they claim does not allow for annexation of a sufficient amount of West Bank land in addition to the settlements and the Jordan Valley.
It was unclear if Gantz was implying that he agreed with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s annexation plans. The US initially said it would recognize annexation, but subsequently appears to have at the very least tempered its enthusiasm of the controversial move.
Gantz has been on record enthusiastically backing the “Peace to Prosperity” vision that US President Donald Trump unveiled at the White House in January, but he’s also clarified that he wants annexation to be coordinated with other affected parties, such as the Palestinians and the Jordanians. The caveat, however, is largely viewed as incomprehensible, given that both Ramallah and Amman have made clear in no uncertain terms that they will not accept such unilateral moves.
In his meeting with settler leaders — his first since becoming defense minister — Gantz made a point of highlighting the importance of Israel’s peace treaty with Jordan.
“When we make diplomatic moves, we need to listen well to what is being said on the ground and around us, and to keep the peace treaty with Jordan, for instance,” he said, according to a statement from his office. “These agreements contribute much to our regional security and stability.”
“Our responsibility before we make a decision about [annexation] is to foster and aid places where people live legally in security and allow them [to live] normal lives,” he added in what appeared to be a knock of those settlers building illegally in the West Bank.
Gantz acknowledged that he and Netanyahu don’t exactly see eye to eye on annexation, but said that they were working to reach agreements on the matter. He also refrained from saying that he would work to thwart annexation efforts, according to a readout from his office.
A settler leader at the meeting said Gantz had also told them that the White House wants to see consensus between him and Netanyahu on the matter.
Gantz went on to stress — according to his office — that the US is “our best friend, which backs us on fateful strategic matters, and we will preserve this partnership.” That appeared to be a subtle response to comments made by David Elhayani, the chairman of the Yesha umbrella council of settlement mayors, who claimed last week that the US peace plan proves that Trump “is not a friend of Israel.”
Elhayani is part of a camp making up a plurality of the 24 West Bank mayors who have spoken out vehemently against the Trump plan, saying they cannot accept its aim of eventually establishing a Palestinian state and transforming 17 settlements into enclaves.
But not all settlement leaders agree with Elhayani’s combative approach. A nearly equal number of mayors have voiced their support for the plan, saying it still represents much more than what they could have dreamed of less than a year ago.
Responding to the Tuesday meeting, Meretz MK Tamar Zandberg said Gantz was “reinventing himself as a lobbyist for hilltop youth and annexation.”
“Gantz even gave up on his pretense of changing [government policy] from within, and instead of preventing the annexation he has joined those galloping toward the catastrophe,” she added.