Benny Gantz, the leader of Israel’s Blue and White coalition and the main rival to incumbent Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, has announced his support for the annexation of the Jordan Valley, ahead of the Israeli elections on 2 March.
The valley is situated on the eastern edge of the West Bank, part of the Palestinian territories which, while under Israeli military occupation, are not formally part of the State of Israel. Gantz has described the area as an “eastern defensive wall in any future scenario,” and said it was “an inseparable part of the State of Israel.”
The announcement comes amidst ongoing uncertainty regarding legal proceedings against Netanyahu for corruption charges. Netanyahu has suggested he may drop a request for immunity from those charges should Gantz back moves to annex the Jordan Valley immediately, rather than merely committing to it as post-election pledge.
Gantz’s announcement is a blow to hopes, already thin, that he would be a less hawkish premier than Netanyahu. He has frequently criticised Netanyahu from the right on security issues, including denouncing him for being insufficiently tough against the Hamas semi-state in Gaza.
With the only two feasible contenders for Israel’s prime ministership now committed to the formal annexation of Palestinian territories, the prospects for Palestinians winning their right to an independent state of their own, free of Israeli military occupation and blockade, are even more difficult.
On the left of Israeli electoral politics, the left-Zionist Meretz party has announced a coalition with Labor, now a mainstream, centrist social-democratic party which has previously participated in centre-right coalition governments, and Gesher, a centrist liberal party. Meretz contested the last elections as part of a more left-wing bloc which also included the Greens, led by former Labor MK Stav Shaffir. Shaffir’s Greens are not participating in the new Labor-Meretz alliance. The move represents a rightwards lurch for Meretz, who had previously been emphasising the need for Jewish-Arab unity, with suggestions that a new, Jewish-Arab leadership of the party might emerge.
However imperfectly, the radical left option in the 2 March election will be represented by Hadash, the electoral front of the (Stalinist) Israeli Communist Party, which participates in the Joint List of Arab parties. The Joint List is incredibly politically diverse, including secular Arab nationalists sympathetic to Ba’athism, Islamists, and Stalinist-inspired leftists. Despite these severe political limitations, Hadash’s participation represents some left-wing and labour movement input into the coalition. Hadash’s Ayman Odeh MK now leads the Joint List, and, following the last elections, indicated he would be prepared to sponsor Gantz for prime minister in order to oust Netanyahu.
With his explicit commitment to annexation, Gantz may now have squandered that goodwill.