Trump’s peace plan is a crossroads. The next move belongs to Gantz.
Trump’s plan is not a sign pointing forward but a milestone marking two different directions: one points to a one-state dystopia, and the other to a two-state reality on terms favorable to Israel; one points to the erosion of Israel’s democracy, and the other to its salvation.
Only Israel will choose which road it takes. And if Benny Gantz wants to change the course of history, now is his chance to articulate a bold, centrist vision for how to seize this golden opportunity to guarantee Israel’s vital interests. Only “the General,” as Trump calls him, can deliver Israel a genuine victory instead of the Pyrrhic victory that spells Israel’s doom.
Trump’s “deal of the century” effectively gives Israel carte blanche to annex nearly one third of the West Bank in a way that does not require any settlements to be evacuated (although with Jared Kushner’s recent statement that this is subject to a U.S.-Israel committee, suggests that this might have strings attached).
It also ringfences around 70% of the West Bank — Areas A and B, and half of C — for a future Palestinian state. If the Palestinians accept this as the basis for talks, Israel is expected to freeze settlement construction in the area earmarked for the State of Palestine.
What should Israel do with this historic room for maneuver?
The Israeli Right knows exactly what to do with the buckets of manna that have just rained down from heaven. It wants to annex the maximum territory that the United States will allow, including the whole Jordan Valley and the settlements. This territory includes an unknown number of Palestinians about whose status the peace plan is silent. Does Washington expect Israel to offer them citizenship? If Israel chooses to permanently disenfranchise them, is that an internal Israeli matter? Nobody knows.
Netanyahu will claim he has accepted the Trump deal as the basis for talks, but his right-wing government will never formally endorse it. Israel will probably turn a blind eye to illegal outpost construction in the areas earmarked for a Palestinian state. And if Trump is re-elected in November, Israel will use the Palestinians’ inevitable rejection to justify further annexations, leaving the Palestinians with pockets of autonomy in a sovereign Israeli state from the river to the sea.
Whatever nasty words we want to use to describe this reality, it wouldn’t be a democracy. And it would be a nightmare for Israel. Living in undemocratic cantons, the logical next step for the Palestinians would be to demand voting rights in Israel. On that day, Israel becomes South Africa.
And this is the plan the Israeli center has agreed to? Well, not quite. Returning from Washington, Gantz said he would implement the plan in coordination with the Arab states, which have been muted about, or even welcomed, the plan because they are fed up with Palestinian intransigence.
But while the Trump plan could be stage one of a wider annexation, it could also be stage one of a gradual separation from the Palestinians.
Instead of annexing territory and remaining strategically ambiguous about the status of the areas it declines to annex, a centrist-run Israel could leverage annexation to set an international border; the flip side of declaring which areas are part of Israel is to declare which parts are not.
In this sense, the Trump plan offers Israel an opportunity similar to Ehud Olmert’s Convergence Plan, with which he won the 2006 elections. The idea is that if Israel cannot negotiate a peace settlement with the Palestinians, it should set its own border, not to do the Palestinians a favor but because it is a Jewish, Israeli, Zionist interest to have a clear territory in which Israel can continue to exist as a Jewish and democratic state.
Even if Israel must retain security control over the land earmarked for a Palestinian state until the Palestinians agree to two states for two peoples, it can at least set a border and safeguard its national existence.
Indeed, Benny Gantz is now daring Netanyahu. He wants to bring up a vote in the Knesset on the Trump plan as a package deal, because the right wants to pocket the gains of annexation without committing to paying the price — an eventual separation from the Palestinians. But if the Israeli center plays it right, it could use this historic opportunity to initiate the divorce.
The ancient Greeks had a myth about King Midas, who was blessed with the ability to turn everything he touched to gold. One day he embraced his daughter, and she too turned to gold. His magic powers ended up destroying his life. Likewise, the Israeli right has been given powers (by a U.S. president who likes decorating everything in gold) to make its wildest dreams come true, but therein lies the poisoned chalice: Overreaching risks putting everything at risk. Such is the sin of hubris.
The Trump plan could lead Israel towards a one-state, undemocratic, binational dystopia — or towards a two-state reality that protects Israel as Jewish, democratic, and safe. Netanyahu, a criminal defendant leading an interim minority government, knows which road he must take.
Now it’s time to see whether Gantz knows.
Eylon A. Levy is a news anchor and correspondent at i24NEWS.