Gantz: Room for a Palestinian capital in Jerusalem

In interview with Saudi-backed newspaper, Blue and White leader says “Jerusalem must remain united. But there will be a place for a Palestinian capital.”

By Paul Shindman, World Israel News

Defense Minister Benny Gantz dropped a pre-election bombshell Thursday in an interview with a mainstream Arabic newspaper, saying that while Jerusalem should remain a united city, there was room for it to be a shared capital by both Israel and a future Palestinian state.

“Jerusalem must stay united, but it will have place for a Palestinian capital. It’s a vast city, filled with sites that are holy to all of us,” Gantz told the London-based Asharq Al-Awsat newspaper, which is owned by Saudi Arabian interests. “We want the Palestinians to have a suitable geographical extension that enables them to lead a comfortable life without obstacles.”

Asked about what borders a future Palestinian state would have, Gantz was emphatic that Israel’s top priority was security and that “the 1967 borders will not return.”

“What we are persistently asking for is security. We need real strategic checkpoints for security. Of course, it is possible to talk about a land swap, although I don’t see how and where,” Gantz said. “But there is always a possibility to find compromises.”

“The Palestinians want and deserve an entity in which they can live independently,” Gantz said.

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“The important thing is to keep the path alive. And the Palestinian issue should not be left behind in the winds of the current peace,” Gantz said, in reference to the Abraham Accords that led to the establishment of diplomatic relations with three the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Morocco, with Sudan expected to confirm recognition of Israel in the near future.

“A state or an empire, they call it as they like. It is their right to feel independent and have a capital, and for all outstanding issues to be resolved,” Gantz said. “I want Palestinians to be part of the peace process. The push for normalization within the Arab world is a great and real opportunity.”

Gantz, a relative newcomer to the political scene who was a career soldier and the IDF’s top commander, acknowledged the paradigm shifts in the Middle East peace process that have come under the mediation of the Trump administration.

“We have to talk in a new, modern language about ways to solve and not cling to the traditional discourse. We, on our part, want to separate from them and we want guarantees for our security,” Gantz said. “If we agree on security matters, the political solution will come easily. And we will have to find not only solutions to problems, but also have deep cooperation in economics, science and technology, education and everything. This is a historic opportunity.”

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In the wide-ranging interview in his office at the Defense Ministry in Tel Aviv with Asharq Al-Awsat‘s Israel reporter, Nazir Majali, a veteran Arab Israeli journalist, Gantz said that he had visited all Arab countries in secret while performing military missions.

“I would very much like to visit them publicly in an official, friendly and peaceful manner,” Gantz said.

Gantz’s comment on Jerusalem was quickly attacked by opposition and government Knesset members alike.

“Jerusalem will continue to be the united capital of the State of Israel, and its alone, and there will be no room for the capital of any other state, which in any case will not be established, even long after Benny Gantz and his party disappear from the political landscape of the State of Israel,” tweeted Bezalel Smotrich of the right-wing Yamina party.

Fateen Mulla, a Druze member of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud Party, said, “Jerusalem is the capital of the State of Israel, period.

“Gantz’s drop in the polls seems to cause him to utter nonsense and vanity in an attempt to extricate his condition from the failure he has reached, and on the way he drags the State of Israel into an abyss with garbled and dangerous statements.”

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With Israelis expected to go back to the polls in March for the fourth time in two years, Gantz expressed optimism that he would do better at the ballot box than he is doing in public opinion polls.

“Twenty percent of the electorate has not decided how to vote. I believe that we will get a third of them, and that we will take back a portion of the voters who left us,” Gantz said.