Gantz: Corona is my top priority, not annexation

Defense Minister meets Trump special advisor Avi Berkowitz, telling him that the corona crisis is his priority, not Israeli sovereignty over settlements scheduled for July 1.

By Paul Shindman, World Israel News

Defense Minister Benny Gantz appeared Monday to be putting the brakes on the pending annexation of Israeli settlements, telling President Trump’s special envoy to Israel that the sovereignty issue had to take a backseat to the coronavirus crisis.

Meeting with American envoy Avi Berkowitz Monday in Jerusalem, Gantz said that he came into the emergency national unity government to take care of the corona health and economic crisis and he was not part of a “government of annexation,” said Channel 13 political affairs analyst Barack Ravid.

Berkowitz arrived in Israel along with U.S. Ambassador David Friedman, who flew to Washington last week for discussions at the White House as to whether or not the Americans would support Netanyahu’s plan to launch the annexation process on July 1.

Ravid said Gantz is looking at the recent public opinion polls that show 85 percent of Israelis are worried about their financial situation in the corona crisis, and the Blue and White Party leader is taking into account a recent Channel 12 poll that showed only four percent of Israelis see annexation as a priority.

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“He understands that aside from the substantive fact that he himself is against the annexation, it’s also good politically because it’s what the public wants,” Ravid said.

“Today he said clearly both in public and in behind closed doors to the Americans – first of all he has to take care of corona and the economic situation, and only when we’re finished with that, the annexation,” Ravid noted.

“Whatever is unrelated to the fight against corona will wait for the days after the virus, period,” Gantz said at a Blue and White caucus meeting and then tweeted online, appearing to close the door on any annexation occurring in the short term. Gantz reportedly told the Americans he wants negotiations with the Palestinians according to the Trump peace plan, but only after taking care of the corona crisis.

At a Likud caucus meeting also on Monday, Netanyahu told party members, “I don’t need Gantz. He is not a factor and does not have a veto [on annexation].”

Because there seems to be little chance of resolving the disagreement between Gantz and Netanyahu, the prime minister is left with two choices: either take the annexation issue by himself to the Knesset and risk losing the vote, or the annexation will have to be put on the shelf for now, handing Gantz a political victory, Ravid surmised.

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On the American side, there is also a question mark about the timing of annexation, given both the ongoing pandemic and the social justice crisis, in addition to strong opposition to the move from Arab leaders.