Comments this week from Blue and White Party officials, from party head Benny Gantz on down the line demonstrated that Israel’s largest center-left faction, the party competing with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud for national leadership, adheres to this assumption unequivocally. Without the PLO’s permission, or what Gantz referred to on Tuesday as “coordination with the international community,” (which amounts to the same thing), Gantz and his colleagues assert that Israel mustn’t apply its laws to the Jordan Valley or to any other part of Judea and Samaria.
Trump’s sudden decision to summon Netanyahu to the White House for a meeting next Tuesday and his acceptance of Netanyahu’s request that Gantz also be invited, puts Gantz in a bind.
Clearly Trump’s move is dictated by U.S. electoral considerations. With the Democratic presidential primaries set to begin in just over a week, Trump cannot wait for the March 2 elections to make his move. By the time a government is finally formed in Israel – assuming the election results are conclusive this time around – Trump will be too busy with his reelection campaign to focus on Israel and the Palestinians.
Which brings us to Gantz and his invitation to the White House.
On the one hand, by agreeing to let Gantz join Netanyahu, Trump is granting the opposition leader the stature of a national leader, almost on par with Netanyahu.
But on the other hand, Trump is driving a wedge into the heart of Gantz’s party. Blue and White is not an organic party. It is a combined list of three different parties. Two of those parties lean left to various degrees. One leans right. To win over swing voters, Gantz has placed the right-wing candidates front and center and tried to keep the more leftist ideological majority of his party members on the sidelines.
The problem is that the left-leaning majority of his party cannot accept Trump’s rejection of the PLO veto. The likes of MKs Yael German and Ofer Shelah, who represent the majority of his party members have made clear that they will not accept any deviation from the Oslo line. They accept the anti-Israel narrative of the post-Zionist left and the “international community” which places all the blame on Israel for the absence of peace.
They believe that Israel must appease the PLO by giving up all – or nearly all – of Judea and Samaria and half of Jerusalem, even if that means mass expulsions of hundreds of thousands of law-abiding Jews from their homes. Moreover, as German made clear this week, as far as she and her colleagues are concerned, if the PLO won’t agree to a deal, then Israel should repeat its 2005 unilateral withdrawal from Gaza in Judea and Samaria. The fact that Hamas was quick to seize control over the Gaza Strip after Israel’s withdrawal is of no concern to her.
For Gantz to accept Trump’s peace plan, he will have to break away from the anti-Israeli narrative of the post-Zionist Left, held by the majority of his party members. Doing so would help him win the election. But it will also unravel his party.
If Gantz chooses instead to reject Trump’s plan and stand with Garmen and Shelah and the rest, if he rejects the administration’s pro-Israel approach which negates the notion that Israel’s enemies get to decide if Israel can assert its rights and secure its interests as a sovereign state, Gantz’s chances of winning the elections will diminish.
It’s hard to know how Gantz will respond. What we know for sure is that Trump’s abrupt invitation changed the face of the election.
Until Thursday evening, the third election in a year was nothing more than an annoying beauty pageant where Israelis, already weary and fed up with our politicians, were expected to choose from a list of unattractive options. After Thursday evening, the March 2 vote was transformed into a referendum about national sovereignty and Zionism.
While we still don’t know what the Trump plan entails, we know for sure that things just got a lot more interesting.