columnMiddle East

How Benny Gantz killed Israeli-Palestinian peace

Leftist leaders destroyed Israel’s chance of permanently securing its national and strategic interests in Judea and Samaria.

Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz at the launch in Tel Aviv of his National Unity Party's election campaign, Sept. 6, 2022. Credit: Tomer Neuberg/Flash90.
Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz at the launch in Tel Aviv of his National Unity Party's election campaign, Sept. 6, 2022. Credit: Tomer Neuberg/Flash90.
Caroline B. Glick
Caroline B. Glick is the senior contributing editor of Jewish News Syndicate and host of the “Caroline Glick Show” on JNS. She is also the diplomatic commentator for Israel’s Channel 14, as well as a columnist for Newsweek. Glick is the senior fellow for Middle Eastern Affairs at the Center for Security Policy in Washington and a lecturer at Israel’s College of Statesmanship.

In an interview with Maariv last week, former Israeli Air Force commander Amir Eshel made several startling admissions about the role he and other IDF generals played in scuttling former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s most significant strategic policies. His most startling admissions related to former U.S. president Donald Trump’s Israeli-Palestinian peace plan.

In 2019, then-Israeli opposition leader Benny Gantz appointed Eshel to serve as his interlocutor with the Trump administration and its Middle East peace plan. In this position, Eshel accompanied Gantz to the White House to meet with Trump on Jan. 27, 2020, the day before Trump and Netanyahu presented the plan.

Trump’s plan called for Israel to apply its law and, through it, sovereignty to 30% of Judea and Samaria. The other 70%, which includes half of Israeli-administered Area C, as well as the areas governed by the Palestinian Authority, would remain in their current state for another four years. If the Palestinians abided by the conditions for statehood set out in the plan, they would receive control over the remaining Israeli-administered areas, which would be attached to the Palestinian cities and villages the P.A. has controlled since 1996.

Netanyahu and the Trump team agreed that the plan would be presented at the White House on Jan. 28, 2020 and that, at the Israeli government meeting following the presentation, Netanyahu would pass a government decision to apply Israeli law to the areas of Judea and Samaria demarcated by the plan. Ahead of the ceremony, then-U.S. ambassador to Israel David Friedman briefed selected Israeli journalists on the details of the plan, including the planned implementation of Israeli sovereignty.

Eshel told reporter Ben Caspit that, as he and Gantz departed the Oval Office, Eshel corralled Trump’s senior advisor and son-in-law Jared Kushner. Eshel claimed he told Kushner and Friedman that the peace plan would be stillborn due to Netanyahu’s sovereignty policy.

Eshel then explained how he and Gantz proceeded to kill the peace plan.

“Jared looked at me like someone who had just fallen off the moon,” he said. “I told him: ‘Listen, Bibi has a plan to bring the sovereignty issue before the government for an immediate vote. … If this happens, the [peace] plan will die.’”

Eshel added that Kushner “didn’t completely understand.”

So, Eshel explained it.

“I explained that no Arab leader will agree to this,” he recounted. “No one will support this.”

Kushner still didn’t know whether to believe Eshel or his own lying eyes.

“He told me: ‘What are you talking about? I spoke to every one of them. Everyone supports this,’” Eshel said.

Eshel told Kushner that he couldn’t believe anything the Arab leaders told him; that Eshel knew better than the Arab leaders did what they would or wouldn’t agree to.

“I said, ‘What were they for? That Israel will take its winnings up front, in cash without giving anything in exchange? Can you see [Egyptian President] Sisi supporting this? [Jordanian King] Abdullah? You’ll be smashed by a rebound that you won’t see coming. None of them will be able to support Israel getting something in cash and the Palestinians getting a promise on credit that will never be paid,’” Eshel stated.

Eshel concluded by saying that Gantz had two follow-up phone calls with Kushner over the next several hours and together they ensured that by the time Netanyahu and Trump presented the plan the following day, Trump and Kushner already opposed the previously agreed-upon order of events that had Netanyahu passing the sovereignty plan the following week.

Leaving aside the legal aspects of what appears to be a case of political subversion, the most stunning aspect of Eshel’s story is that he was completely unwilling to consider the possibility that Kushner’s eyes were telling him the truth and that Eshel’s conviction was based on myths. And there is every reason to believe that Kushner’s eyes—and ears—had seen and heard the truth.

Beginning with the rise of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt in 2012, more and more Arab leaders and citizens began distancing themselves publicly from the Palestinians and their bottomless pit of grievances and demands against Israel. Arab journalists, former ministers and unnamed senior officials from Egypt, Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Bahrain began arguing that the Palestinians had captured the discourse for too long. They received everything from the Arab world and from Israel but were never satisfied, and all they did was expand their terrorism and demands. The Egyptian military, which Sisi commanded, accused Hamas of playing a key role in forcing former Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak from power and springing Muslim Brotherhood members—including Mubarak’s successor Mohamed Morsi—from prison.

In 2014, Egypt, the UAE and Saudi Arabia acted as Israel’s unofficial allies in Operation Protective Edge against Hamas in Gaza. Among other things, they blocked the Obama administration from coercing Israel into accepting Hamas’ ceasefire terms.

Their opposition to the Palestinians and support for Israel only grew during Trump’s presidency. Many people who spoke with the Egyptians, the Emiratis, Saudis and Bahrainis during this period understood that they were no longer willing to stand with the Palestinians and were willing to reach a pragmatic resolution of sovereignty in Judea and Samaria that respected Israel’s rights and interests as well as those of the Palestinians.

But blinded by ideology, and guided no doubt by Gantz’s political interest in humiliating Netanyahu ahead of the third round of elections, Eshel and Gantz ignored all of this. They insisted that nothing had changed in the Arab world since 2002, when the Saudi king gave a fake peace offer to New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman demanding that Israel surrender to the PLO’s maximalist demands as a condition for Arab-Israeli peace.

While Kushner seems to reject Eshel’s version of events in his recently published memoir, in a way, the veracity of Eshel’s story is less important than the fact that he takes so much pride in his version of events that he chose to share it with the Israeli public. Eshel clearly never considered that he may have been mistaken, and as a result of his own ideological blindness and political interests, he had destroyed Israel’s chance of permanently securing its national and strategic interests in Judea and Samaria.

Eshel’s blindness is a testament to the most glaring and dangerous characteristics of the left, both in Israel and throughout the Western world today. For leftists from Tel Aviv to Washington to Paris, the world is a static place where the 1960s anti-colonialist slogans that blamed all the troubles of the developing world on the West and the Jewish state are truths etched in stone—a progressive Ten Commandments. And the tablets will never be broken. Anyone who rejects these slogans, or permits reality to seep into their policymaking at any level are enemies far worse than the likes of the PLO or the Iranian regime or any terror group or regime that bases their claim to legitimacy on anti-colonialist precepts. On the other hand, unelected elites who live and die by these precepts are “objective professionals,” who protect our societies from riff raff that actually take into consideration facts, events, statements and political forces that stand these anti-Western principles on their heads.

From the progressives’ collective slobberfest over Islamic terrorists from Ramallah to Tehran, to their political and legal wars against anyone who disagrees with them, all over the West, our ability to make informed decisions, whether as voters or policymakers, is under assault. Elites who insist that their catechisms to the anti-colonialist gods are the beginning and end of all legitimate policymaking are damning us to policies that cause our nations to fail perpetually.

The Trump peace plan, including the sovereignty plan, was the first pragmatic blueprint for Israeli-Palestinian peace ever presented, because unlike all of its predecessors it was not based entirely on anti-Israel mythology. Eshel and Gantz didn’t just kill the sovereignty plan when they scared Kushner with their myths. They killed the entire concept that reality should form the basis of Israel’s policies towards the Palestinians.

In his memoir and in subsequent interviews, former ambassador Friedman has said that whatever one thinks of the Trump peace plan, it was an opportunity for Israel to begin having a serious discussion about what it wants to do with Judea and Samaria. Obviously, so long as Israel’s left controls the discourse and blocks reality from entering the discussion, no such discussion will be possible.

Caroline Glick is an award-winning columnist and author of The Israeli Solution: A One-State Plan for Peace in the Middle East.

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