Annexation? Israeli Apartheid? Hounding Journalists? Gantz Didn’t Come to Fight

Benny Gantz went into a meeting with the West Bank settler leaders this week bracing against an offensive over the annexation. He knows most of them from when he was army chief, and before that, deputy chief. Some of them he knows from his brief stint 20 years ago as head of the army's West Bank division.

But he was in for a surprise. Not a word was said about the planned annexation. The settlers focused almost entirely on security demands; they spoke about funding for fences. Historical decisions, not so much. For them, it turned out, Gantz is merely defense minister, much less “the alternate prime minister” and the man who will decide things alongside Benjamin Netanyahu in the unity government.

For a year and a half, during three election campaigns, no slander was too low and no trick too slimy for the Likudniks and the settlers to besmirch Gantz with. Now they see him as a partner, a friend. They've observed his behavior over the past four weeks as he and his colleagues adjust to the delights and difficulties of power. The settlers concluded that they can sound the all clear.

From the moment Gantz chose to enter Netanyahu’s fifth government with half of his Kahol Lavan party, he has no longer been seen as an enemy, or even a rival, by the right. This could have been considered an achievement if he had preserved the support of his base.

But the bleeding is massive. According to a Channel 12 News poll, since the government was sworn in on May 17, Kahol Lavan has lost about seven Knesset seats, down to 12. Some voters have defected to Yair Lapid’s Yesh Atid-Telem alliance that broke off from Gantz’s party; most are sitting on the fence. Betrayed, disappointed, frustrated by the system and its results, they’re waiting for developments or Godot, whichever comes first.

Defense Minister Benny Gantz at a cabinet meeting, June 2020.Marc Israel Sellem

The meeting between Gantz and the settler leaders was a paragon of political and media amateurism. His, not theirs. As the event wound to a close, one settler leaked a statement by the minister, who referred to a member of the forerunner of the Labor Party: “A Mapainik once taught me: If you’re given something, take it. Fight for the rest later.”

This was interpreted as meaning extending Israeli sovereignty into the West Bank, an issue that has created two camps among the settler chiefs. Gantz is seen as advising them to accept any annexation that’s agreed on – a Ben-Gurion-style approach held by many settlers leaders over the decades, the occupation’s version of the early Zionists’ “one more dunam, one more goat” strategy.