Israel's Gantz 'ready to accept' limited West Bank annexation in coronavirus unity government deal

Israel's Gantz 'ready to accept' limited West Bank annexation in coronavirus unity government deal
Benny Gantz and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu are currently in negotiations to form a unity government during the coronavirus pandemic.
3 min read
06 April, 2020
Blue and White leader Benny Gantz has previously opposed unilateral annexation moves [AFP]
Israel's main opposition leader Benny Gantz is considering a plan to annex illegal settlements in the occupied West Bank as part of a unity government deal, geared at seeing the country through the coronavirus crisis, local media reported.

The controversial issue of annexing large swathes of the occupied Palestinian territory has been a sticking point in ongoing negotiations between Blue and White Party leader Gantz and his rival, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

But Gantz is now mulling a "limited" annexation plan as part of a unity government deal, Israel's Channel 13 reported on Sunday.

Likud Party leader Netanyahu has repeatedly promised to annex large areas of the West Bank, including the strategic Jordan Valley and Israeli settlements considered illegal under international law.

The right-wing leader's promises were backed by a US plan revealed earlier this year by President Donald Trump.

Gantz opposes unilateral annexation but recognised right-wing politicians backing the move hold a majority in the Knesset.

According to Channel 13, the opposition leader is considering a plan to allow the annexation of Israeli settlement blocs in the occupied West Bank in order to reach a unity deal.

Read more: Gantz discards Joint List and cedes the throne to Netanyahu

While Likud and its right-wing allies continue to pursue annexation during the coronavirus crisis, Gantz has insisted that the proposed unity government stick to tackling the pandemic and leave other issues until after the crisis has passed.
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The Blue and White leader is hoping to control the annexation plan as defence minister in the unity government, Israel's Channel 12 reported.

Gantz is only considering approval of the annexation of settlement blocs beyond the seperation wall, according to Channel 13. The blocs are areas where there is a high concentration of Israeli settlers.

He has reportedly requested Netanyahu take the matter off the table for four-to-six months before making any official moves. The Blue and White leader is allegedly considering a "symbolic" annexation of the Ma'aleh Adumim settlement or the Gush Etzion settlement bloc.

The Israeli premier is under pressure from his right-wing base to implement the annexation of the occupied West Bank as soon as possible.

Supporters of the move - considered to be illegal under international law - fear that Israel may lose its window of opportunity if US President Trump loses in November's elections.

Netanyahu's right-wing allies are also distressed by attempts by the Blue and White Party to seize control of the justice ministry, which has the opportunity to appoint at least four judges to the Supreme Court during the next governmental term. 

The judicial appointments are another sticking point in negotiations that could prevent the formation of a unity government, according to local media.

Gantz on Sunday said he would likely seek an extension for his mandate to form a new government, which is due to expire on 13 April.

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