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January 21, 2020 11:56 am

Top Netanyahu Rival Gantz Expresses Support for Annexation of Jordan Valley, Calling It Israel’s ‘Eastern Defensive Wall’

avatar by Benjamin Kerstein

Blue and White leader Benny Gantz addresses reporters during a visit to the northern Dead Sea area, Jan. 21, 2020. Photo: Gantz’s Facebook account.

The head of Israel’s centrist Blue and White party, Benny Gantz, expressed support on Tuesday for annexing the Jordan Valley, calling the strategically-situated region the Jewish state’s “eastern defensive wall.”

The Jordan Valley has long been viewed by a wide swathe of the Israeli populace as a part of the West Bank that should be retained in any future peace agreement with the Palestinians. Israel took control of it, along with the rest of the West Bank and East Jerusalem, from Jordan in the 1967 Six-Day War.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu pledged to annex the Jordan Valley during the run-up to last September’s Knesset elections, but the inconclusive outcome put off the plan indefinitely. The proposal was generally considered a sop to right-wing voters whose support Netanyahu wished to retain in a tough election fight.

The Mako news site reported that, while visiting the northern Dead Sea area on Tuesday, Gantz — an ex-IDF chief of staff — said the Jordan Valley must remain part of Israel in “any future scenario.”

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“Governments that previously discussed the possibility of giving it back were gravely mistaken,” he asserted. “We consider it an integral part of the State of Israel, and after the elections we will work to annex the valley in coordination with the international community.”

Most countries consider the Jordan Valley occupied territory, and Jordan itself has threatened to abrogate its 1994 peace treaty with Israel if it was annexed.

Netanyahu quickly replied to Gantz’s remarks, saying, “Why wait until after the elections if sovereignty can already be applied to the Jordan Valley with a broad consensus in the Knesset?”

Gantz shot back with snide reference to Netanyahu’s ongoing legal woes, saying, “We’ll discuss immunity first, afterwards we’ll deal with applying sovereignty.”

Moshe Ya’alon — No. 3 on the Blue and White list — also took a swipe at the prime minister, saying, “Bibi, enough with the spin. For the past 10 years you didn’t think it was right to annex the valley unilaterally.”

Ya’alon — a former defense minister and IDF chief of staff — also claimed that Netanyahu himself was willing to cede the Jordan Valley during talks with ex-US Secretary of State John Kerry half a decade ago.

Israel’s left-wing parties criticized Gantz, with Ayman Odeh, leader of the mostly-Arab Joint List party saying that Gantz was simply imitating Netanyahu.

“Annexation is the elimination of any chance of democracy and peace,” Odeh charged. “This pathetic attempt to scramble a few votes from the right is not worth the destruction of our future.”

Amir Peretz, head of the Labor-Gesher-Meretz list, called Gantz’s remarks “hollow.”

“The IDF must remain in the field as long as needed,” he said, “but Israel’s hand should be outstretched for peace and a political solution.”

On the other hand, Transportation Minister Bezalel Smotrich — head of the right-wing National Union party — praised Gantz, saying, “Benny, get moving!”

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