Gantz: Cultivation, Not Annexation

YERUSHALAYIM (Reuters) -
israel annexation
View of the Jordan valley as it seen from the Israeli settlement of Vered Yeriho, in the West Bank on July 1, 2020. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s top coalition partner wants Israel to shelve planned annexations in Yehudah and Shomron and instead focus on improving conditions for Jews and Palestinians in the region, two cabinet ministers said.

Defense Minister and Alternate Prime Minister Benny Gantz and Netanyahu agreed to begin discussing annexations as of July 1, but the plan — already dogged by diplomatic blowback — has been sidelined by a resurgence of coronavirus.

Gantz says the health crisis should take precedence over any moves that may inflame conflict with the Palestinians.

PM Netanyahu could go it alone in declaring Israeli sovereignty over Yehudah and Shomron and the strategic Jordan Valley. But Alternate PM Gantz’s misgivings have complicated Israeli efforts to present a united front on annexations and how they might fit with U.S. President Donald Trump’s plan for Middle East peace.

While Gantz — whose popularity has plunged since he broke with an opposition alliance to join Netanyahu in March — has limited political clout, his role as defense minister also puts him directly in charge of civilian activities in Yehudah and Shomron.

Alon Schuster, Israel’s agriculture minister and a member of Gantz’s Blue and White party, said on Friday he was working to achieve “cultivation and not annexation, now” for the region’s farmers.

“We need to bring water to the Jordan Valley — for both the Israelis and the Palestinians who live there, by the way — and to improve electricity,” Schuster told Tel Aviv radio station 102 FM. “Why quarrel and waste time? … I hope we expend our national resources on this.”

Another Blue and White minister said this was also Gantz’s approach, and that the party leader believed working on infrastructure shared by Jewish residents and Palestinians would “enable coexistence in accordance with the Trump plan.”

Asked to respond, Netanyahu’s office declined comment.