Two leaders, two styles

June 22, 2020 by Ron Weiser
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It would be hard to find two more contrasting leadership styles than those of Prime Minister Netanyahu and Defence Minister/Prime Minister in waiting, Benny Gantz.

Dr Ron Weiser Photo: David Sokol

One highly visible almost 24/7 and the other, unseen and publically at least, almost silent.

And at the same time, two people whose political fortunes, on face value, seem to have differed so markedly in the recent short space of time.

Not so long ago Gantz led the major opposition party which was large enough to block Netanyahu from forming a government.

Today Netanyahu is riding high in the opinion polls, the opposition is completely divided by Gantz’s move into government and Gantz’s faction within the government is relatively small and electorally weak.

And yet – it is Gantz who exercises a large hold over Netanyahu’s ability to implement whatever his agenda is.

The only big policy this current coalition was based around, other than fighting the effects of COVID 19, was the issue of what to do about the Trump Plan.

Just as Gantz forced Netanyahu to cede so many key ministries when forming this government, he is now central to Israeli policy on the Plan.

Much heat is generated around whether it should be called “annexation” or “the application of sovereignty”.

Of course words matter – but Gantz, the Likud and even Netanyahu use these words interchangeably. 

To concentrate on these terms is to miss the whole debate taking place today amongst the Israeli leadership.

It is fascinating to watch the amount of discussion over Israeli intentions on a policy that even at the highest levels, has not yet been decided. 

Netanyahu and the Cabinet spend no time at all debating how to label what they intend to do – that’s important for the optics that will come after – but plays no role in the decision-making process itself.

Israel’s understanding is that there is no legal question about her right to determine her borders beyond the Armistice/Green Line.

What they are debating is the wisdom and manner and extent of exercising those rights under the Trump Plan.

When Israel applied sovereignty to Jerusalem and to the Golan Heights – somewhat different modalities were used for each one.

That is, there are different types of application of sovereignty.

So the real questions waiting to be answered are:

1 – Does Israel intend to apply sovereignty to the Land; the People; both; or even some combination of them in different areas; and in how much of the 30% allowed by the Trump Plan?

2 – Just how many of the limitations the Trump Plan places on Israeli sovereignty in the West Bank/Judea & Samaria and the Trump principle of Israel having to accept a Palestinian State/Entity, should Israel agree to?

And 3 – How Israel weighs up the cost/benefit of any such move, particular against the background of improving relations in various arenas?

Ironically for Netanyahu, despite having successfully and with a large amount of assistance from the Palestinians themselves – pushed the issue of a Palestinian State largely off the agenda – the Trump Plan has brought it rushing back.

Likewise, just as it seemed like Israel was making real and even some very public progress in the Israeli-Arab dispute by ‘jumping over’ the Palestinian issue, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has once again become a public source of friction in the Israeli-Arab arena.

For the moment it seems as if the United Arab Emirates is leading in both of the above. They issue constant positive statements vis a vis Israel whilst at the same time warning that potential Israeli moves in the West Bank/Judea & Samaria endanger further progress on relations.

Jordan, on the other hand, is actively playing ‘bad cop’ and loudly cautioning Israel to not take any steps at all.

Just as relations between Israel and the Sunni Arab world have improved, almost amazingly and certainly against previous form, the European Union has also demonstrated some better responsibility and some moral backbone – at least in part.

As the Times of Israel reported: The European Union last week for the first time, canceled a grant to a Palestinian nonprofit for refusing to sign a clause that would obligate it to ensure no terrorist organizations benefit from the funded programs.”

The relevant clause was introduced into EU funding agreements in 2019. As a result, Palestinian NGO Badil has now lost over AUD $2 million in funding from the EU.

Badil said they would not sign the clause because it “criminalises the Palestinian struggle against oppression and requires the recipient organisation to perform ‘screening’ procedures which amounts to policing its own people”.

According to the Israeli government there are some 130 Palestinian NGO’s who are refusing to sign the EU clause.

Concurrently, and returning to form, some leading EU political figures have lost no time in also warning Israel against taking up any aspect of the Plan.

Overlaid over all of this is President Trump and more broadly the relationship with the United States.

The dynamic with the United States is always complex and currently even further complicated by 4 factors:

 – The real pressure the US is applying to Israel in regards to China. 

China already has a presence in a number of areas such as the Haifa Port. 

US Secretary of State Pompeo, flew to Israel for just 8 hours mid-May, primarily to ensure that China would not be the successful tenderer for Israel’s massive new water desalination plant – reputedly the largest one of its kind in the world. By ‘coincidence’, when the winning tender was announced, it was not the Chinese bid.

The Trump Plan it should be noted was only a secondary issue on Pompeo’s agenda for the trip.

 – The lack of clarity around Trump’s re-election chances and the matter of his sensitive personality.

 – The anticipated meeting this week of the Trump Team in the US, without any Israelis, which may decide to take the decision out of Israeli hands.

 – and Trump’s apparent insistence if it is to be an Israeli decision, that Netanyahu AND Gantz both try and agree on whatever steps Israel takes.

So here he is again. Benny Gantz. Now, courtesy of the Trump administration.

Defying all of the odds, the commentators, the analysis and his supposed weakness in government – Gantz seems to be central to the decision making – yet again.

Netanyahu and Gantz are very much aligned on what should ultimately be included inside Israel’s borders on both security and demographic grounds.

Virtually everyone (including Netanyahu and Gantz) invokes Rabin’s legacy on borders now, in a further irony. 

In truth, it was always Rabin and what were known as the ‘Labor Hawks’, who set Israel’s consensus parameters on border and security needs.

These broadly included the Jordan Valley and the major settlement blocks.

The point of difference between Netanyahu and Gantz is not about the end goal, nor what to call it, nor the legality – but around the timing of such moves and the extent. And its unilateral nature.

As I’ve noted before, it’s a clever move by Trump to bring Gantz into it and probably suits Netanyahu as well – giving them both some sort of escape clause in the event full implementation does not happen. 

On the other hand, if the US takes the decision out of Israeli hands, I suspect that deep down, neither Netanyahu nor Gantz will be that troubled.

It should be an interesting week.

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