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Benny Gantz: An opportunity for peace, or a renewed delusion?

Hassan Imran

Does Benny Gantz represent a change in the Israeli establishment, or will he bring more of the same?

Right after announcing his candidacy, heading up the newly-established Israeli Resilience party and speaking of seeking a solution with the Palestinians, Israeli media agencies went into a frenzy as they  portrayed Benny Gantz as a man with a vision for ‘peace’. Or at least someone that speaks of it.

It is ironic however, that after 10 years in power, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s ultra-right wing policies have ensured that anyone who pays lip service to peace is portrayed as a moderate or a peace-seeker. The irony runs deeper, when Netanyahu, who has a personal grudge against the left dating back to his father Benzion Netanyahu’s time, attacked Gantz and called him a defeated leftist, further helping promote the idea that Gantz is serious about peace.

Gantz was the Israeli Army’s chief of staff from 2012-2014. He spoke repeatedly, with head held high, of how he eliminated thousands of ‘Palestinian terrorists’ during his professional career. He claimed that 1,364 Palestinian militants were killed under his command during the 2014 war on Gaza, contradicting many official figures as well as numbers provided by the Israeli media itself. Haaretz argued that the number of militants killed was much lower, and that he counted civilians as militants to reach his grim sums. War Crimes?

Under Gantz’s command, Israel has been accused of and sued for war crimes and grievous violations of international law. Palestine referred to the crimes committed by the Israeli army to the International Criminal Court and the Human Rights Council, heavily criticising the irresponsibility of the Israeli army towards civilians.

Gantz himself faces criminal charges in the Hague, submitted by a Palestinian-Dutch survivor of the Al Burij massacre who lost his mother, three siblings, a sister-in-law and a nephew, despite none of them having anything to do with the battles taking place. But didn’t all Israeli Oslo leaders commit war crimes?

Some might argue that Gantz’s views on peace should be read in isolation from his military experience. After all, most Israeli leaders have come from the military establishment that is responsible for thousands of civilian casualties. Former prime minister Ariel Sharon was responsible for the Sabra and Shatilla genocide, but also undertook the Israeli unilateral disengagement from Gaza in 2005. The argument to detach Gantz from his military service is dangerous and intrinsically flawed.

First of all, it should be clear by now that the issue has gone far beyond individual convictions and charisma. Politically Israel has shifted so far to the right it would be electoral suicide for any candidate to be ‘soft’ or ‘too generous’ with Palestinians by giving in to their ‘unreasonable demands.’ The Israeli electorate over the past two decades seems to care less about the peace process. Indeed, for many of them, the peace process is dead on arrival. What’s the fate of the peace process if Gantz wins?

Historically speaking, Israel as a state was established by the left, whose main existential concerns were reduced after the collapse of several Arab armies and securing their rule over the West Bank, particularly Jerusalem, as well as ensuring Jewish racial domination over Palestinians. This is no good for Israel’s right.

Since it came to power, the right has refused to accept the fact that Palestinians have not ceased to exist. In this sense, they see the peace process framed by the exigencies of security. The ‘solution’ they are trying to reach does not in any way give Palestinians their rights, but rather is about giving up on Palestinians.

Most of the Israeli political spectrum percieves and arguably believes that Palestinians are a ‘demographic time bomb’ and a ‘racial risk’ to the ‘purity’ and ‘Jewishness’ of Israel.

Palestinian Arabs who survived the ethnic cleansing of 1948 make up 20 percent of the Israeli population, and the overall number of Palestinians – both Muslims and Christians alike – living within the historic/mandate Palestine now outnumber Jews. This is critical.

Therefore, for the Israeli left, the solution is a militarily impotent, economically enslaved, semi-autonomous Palestinian political entity taking away the Palestinian demographic headache with it. For the right, however, this is too much. ‘Palestine already exists’, they believe. But on the other side of the bank (i.e. Jordan) – Palestinians can go live there at any time. The internationally-denounced illegal settlements became a national project under successive right-wing governments, and were even taking place under the rule of the left.

Previously, in the first and second Palestinian intifadas, the security issue was a driving concern crystallising Israeli public opinion towards giving the Palestinians a political solution to ensure Israel’s safety. But even at its peak, at the time of former president Shimon Peres, it came nowhere near the hopes and aspirations of Palestinians. Now that they have a municipality-esque Palestinian government in the West Bank maintaining security, this concern has all but disappeared, and with it their commitment to any political solution.

One obstacle remains: Gaza. The solution to this was to tighten the siege and begin isolating it from the West Bank so that Palestine, as a single political unit, would cease to exist. With Trump occupying the White House, this became feasible.  Where to from here, for peace?

Arguing that the peace process would be better off under a left-wing or centre-left government in Israel, ignores the fact that when it comes to dealing with Palestinians, Israeli politicians are all a cut off the right wing. There is a consensus in Israel that all the reasons that ever existed for reaching a solution with the Palestinians have since ceased to exist. Sharon’s main arguments during the disengagement from Gaza were mainly about security; along with the ‘demographic threat’ they posed.

The regional element, since exhausted by the Arab Spring, has disappeared altogether, and the US, once superficially committed to ‘peace’, has officially told the Palestinians to drop dead. Palestinians, suffering from the siege and the drawn-out political and geographic division orchestrated by Israel, seem to be of minimal concern. If we want to realise the future of peace, a change in the behaviour of those who can affect the course of action is needed. Palestinians, obviously cannot. The Israelis, under the current circumstances, could not care less.