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How Netanyahu and Gantz Have Clashed on Sovereignty Extension Over Palestinian Territories

© REUTERS / AMMAR AWADA view shows Israeli settlement buildings around Givat Zeev and Ramat Givat Zeev in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, near Jerusalem June 30, 2020
A view shows Israeli settlement buildings around Givat Zeev and Ramat Givat Zeev in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, near Jerusalem June 30, 2020 - Sputnik International
The Israeli Knesset’s deadline to draft a road map for an extension of sovereignty over the Jordan Valley expired on 1 July. The deadline for publishing the plan has been postponed.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced that starting from July, he would initiate a discussion on the extension of sovereignty project in the Knesset and the relevant commissions, not the extension process itself.

Meanwhile, the conflict between Netanyahu and his planned successor, Defence Minister Benny Gantz, over the extension of sovereignty plan has not dissipated.

Experts told Sputnik whether Gantz and Netanyahu's disagreements show that the domestic political crisis in Israel is ongoing and whether Tel Aviv might freeze the extension of sovereignty process altogether.

Where Did It All Stem From?

On 17 May, before the swearing-in ceremony of the new Israeli government, Benjamin Netanyahu said that the time had come for an extension of sovereignty over Jewish settlements and the Jordan Valley, accounting for up to 30% of the West Bank, under the “Deal of the Century” peace plan.

The coalition agreement between the Likud and Kahol Lavan parties allowed the head of government to initiate steps to extend sovereignty on 1 July 2020, whereas the Knesset must develop a road map for those steps.

However, no common solution has been worked out so far. On the contrary, the positions of Likud, headed by Benjamin Netanyahu, who calls for an extension of sovereignty over the territories of the Palestinian Authority as soon as possible, have further diverged from those of Kahol Lavan.

The leader of the latter, Benny Gantz, has consistently advocated for postponing the plan for a variety of reasons.

There is an open conflict of interest in the government bundle of Netanyahu-Gantz and, consequently, the government coalition in the Knesset.

Political Crisis or Seeking Consensus?

The verbal battles in Israel between the prime minister and his future successor – who is in the meantime the minister of defence – have been going on for more than a week. The key stumbling block for the two leaders of the country has been the issue of the extension of sovereignty over the territories of the Jordan Valley, although both politicians fully supported the “Deal of the Century” plan.

Sergei Elkind, an expert from the US-Israeli Centre for Strategic Studies in Tel Aviv, sees a continuation of the internal political crisis, which does not seem to have disappeared after the third parliamentary elections in one year and the formation of a government.

“Everything that's happening between Gantz and Netanyahu is direct proof that the political crisis hasn't disappeared. There is a risk that the so-called coalition will break up, and everything will get back to new elections. I have to say that's something to be expected in Israel. The boat is rocking hard”, he said.

However, an Israeli diplomat and political scientist, Israel's former Ambassador to the Russian Federation Zvi Magen, believes that this is not about the crisis, but the painful search for a single solution between the parties.

“I don't think we can talk about a continuing crisis. When Likud and Kahol Lavan joined to form a coalition, they knew what awaited them. And especially Netanyahu and Gantz understood all the possible consequences: they would have to face different positions on important issues and find compromises anyway. Therefore, what is happening can hardly be called a domestic political crisis, rather a painful search for consensus. Thus, they have no other choice. They have to come to a common solution”, the Israeli diplomat said.

Does Washington Make the Call, Not Kahol Lavan?

According to the Knesset's official TV channel, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu also said at the Likud meeting on Monday that “talks are being held with the American team present in Israel; this is being done with caution, and the issue does not depend on Kahol Lavan.

In turn, a member of the Knesset for the Joint List Osama Saadi believes that the Israeli prime minister prefers to deal with the US rather than an ally in the government coalition.

“Indeed, government contacts with the US diplomatic mission do take place. But we don't know what's happening there yet: Benjamin Netanyahu always states that the negotiations are top secret. However, it is well known that Washington and its representatives in Israel are much more radical than Netanyahu and the Likud combined. And this, too, causes certain controversy on the side-lines of the negotiations”, he said.

Commenting on Benny Gantz's position, the politician noted that he has virtually tied himself and his party hand and foot: the coalition with Likud does not give them the right to block Netanyahu's decision.

He added that there was an impression that the Israeli prime minister was just mocking his own successor with such an attitude.

“He [Benjamin Netanyahu] knows very well that the coalition between them does not give Benny Gantz the veto power over the Jordan Valley annexation matter. Gantz has thus tied his own hands. And his own party too – now they all depend on the political will of Likud and the incumbent prime minister”, Saadi noted.

Status Quo Issue and How It Might End Up

According to Sergei Elkind, for more than ten years of his tenure in Israel, Netanyahu has sought, on the contrary, to preserve the status quo of the Palestinian Authority. And now there are many people in the country who understand that an extension of sovereignty would rather be harmful, and it would absolutely hurt all parties to the conflict.

“Yes, he often talked about the annexation but he never did it, although, he basically could. I think he understands the implications of this move. But now, because of Washington's pressure, Netanyahu did overreact and decided to deal with the annexation issue. The thing is also that the Israel Defence Forces' expert committee, that is, military experts, are sharply opposed to the implementation of the Jordan Valley annexation plan. And in my opinion, it will indeed do Israel more harm than good. After all, preserving the status quo is the only option for absolutely normal coexistence”, he said.

Speaking about the challenges that await Israel in case of an extension of sovereignty, the Israeli expert continued:

“It is clear that the annexation threatens a sharp cooling of relations with the EU. Relations with Jordan are also on the line. We can also forget about the consulate in Dubai, the opening of which awaits Israeli diplomacy. In general, there will be many more problems than it seems at first sight”.

New Time Frame for Implementation

Nonetheless, the development and formal publication of the extension of sovereignty plan has only been postponed to a later date. In turn, Zvi Magen believes it is possible to freeze the extension of the sovereignty plans for at least a few months, later the plans will still be attempted.

“I believe the deadline will be postponed for a few more months with the wording 'due to the circumstances'. And the circumstances are rather complicated: both a future of President [Donald] Trump in the USA and, consequently, the prospects for the implementation of the 'Deal of the Century' after November are at stake, as well as the development of a step-by-step road map. And each of these problems is not so simple, it is impossible to work it out thoroughly in 24 hours. And I see the development of exactly such a scenario as the most optimal”, he said.

Israeli diplomat Magen, referring to the possible haste to make a decision, added that “the implementation of the 'Deal of the Century' is not an issue that should be rushed.

“We will still have to talk to the Palestinian side, with or without annexation, and the full implementation of any plans is not solved in a day or two – it may take years”, he said.

Osama Saadi, in turn, is confident that Tel Aviv is implementing this plan – and within the next few weeks.

“The prime minister, as well as his party, perfectly understands that if they do not take this step before August, the US threatens to simply freeze negotiations for a while: they will start preparing for the presidential election. Netanyahu has repeatedly emphasised that this historic opportunity may never return to the Israelis, so it is unlikely he will miss it so easily. Yes, the roadmap is unlikely to be done by tomorrow. But in two-three weeks it will obviously be finished. Moreover, all goes to the point where Israeli diplomats have levelled out the risks of escalation in the region: it seems that neither Egypt nor Jordan and, apparently, Palestine itself will not terminate all existing agreements with the Israeli side”, the politician concluded.

The Palestinian National Authority, in turn, is betting on the upcoming American elections. Palestinian Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh said on Wednesday that a victory of former US Vice President Joseph Biden could lead to an improvement in US-Palestinian relations.

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