What are the "doves" in Israel's ruling right-wing coalition proposing to the Palestinians? An offer from Benny Gantz and Gabi Ashkenazi of the Blue and White party has been leaked by the Israeli media. They are apparently on the verge of suggesting a swap of some large settlement blocs earmarked for annexation in exchange for altering some West Bank areas from being classed as Area C to Area A or B, so that they can establish industrial zones and housing complexes on them.
Israel is thus negotiating with itself about the annexation plan, without involving the Palestinians and the Arab states, but negotiating against them at the expense of their rights. In effect they are telling the Palestinians, we are going to take more of your land in any case, so let's swap this bit of your land for that other bit of your land. This is not a "land swap" of the kind that has been mooted before: some of the West Bank where the settlements are built in exchange for, say, the Triangle inside Israel. No, this brainwave is swapping part of the occupied West Bank for another part of the occupied West Bank. It's a win-win for the Israelis, and lose-lose for the Palestinians.
We do not know if Netanyahu has given the green light to this great act of generosity hatched by his Foreign and Defence Ministers — Ashkenazi and Gantz respectively — within the coalition. Nor do I know if the leak was real or a deliberate move to test Palestinian reactions. It could even be an initiative of the media's own making.
Whatever it is, there are many strange things coming out of the "last occupation" in the world. I think it is fair to say that the colonial and colonised countries probably never witnessed this sort of thing, whereby the occupying state negotiated with itself and reached agreements between its own institutions, and then offered swaps of this kind to the occupied people.
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Ashkenazi is like Gantz in that he does not hold back from presenting himself in a different light to that of the Prime Minister. Nor does the Foreign Minister hesitate about proposing visits to Arab capitals in his capacity as the most moderate face in the Netanyahu government in the hope that he will record more breakthroughs in the normalisation of relations between Israel and its neighbours. He also aims to throw more ash in the eyes of the decision-makers and break down more Arab walls so that the annexation plan will pass with as few angry reactions as possible. He may even claim — and this has happened before — that annexation is being implemented with a green light from the Arabs, even from the countries that argue against him in public.
Gantz has addressed the settlers to calm their fears: do not reject what is being presented to you, he tells them, just take it and then demand more. This was the message from the supposedly dovish Defence Minister to the hawkish settlers and their leaders, who then picks the phone up to present himself to the Palestinians and Arabs as a man of peace. It seems that Haaretz was right to describe Gantz's political journey as going from Netanyahu's opponent calling for his overthrow to being his low ranking aide.
The truth is that relying on Gantz and Ashkenazi, the criminals of Israel's wars against Gaza and Lebanon, is basically relying on the "delusional" and the "incapable". Netanyahu is still the king of the game who controls and moves the players like pawns on a chessboard. The latest from his office was an offer to Gantz to succeed Reuven Rivlin as President of Israel in exchange for him abandoning the prime ministerial "rotation" agreement that brought them together in the government.
We are a few days away from the white smoke rising from the decision-making complex in the occupation state, and we will know where the coalition ships have docked in order to devour more Palestinian land and rights. It will then become clear how US President Donald Trump will deal with something like this and how he will use it to boost his re-election campaign. He has already shown that re-election is the most important thing to him at the moment, even if it comes at the expense of the interests of the US and its spoilt brat of an ally.
This article first appeared in Addustour on 29 June 2020
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.