Dennis Ross, the former U.S. envoy to the Middle East, and his colleague at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, David Makovsky, have based their careers on a two-state solution to the Israel-Palestine conflict. They are two of the leading voices in modeling that solution on a “Jewish and democratic” State of Israel living next to a Palestinian state dependent on Israel for security, water, and finance.
This is the essence of the “Oslo model.” It’s not the only possible form a two-state solution could take, and two states is not the only feasible model for a solution. But the Oslo model is the one that Ross and Makovsky have built their careers on for more than a quarter century, as it has dominated Middle East diplomacy. That the model has proven to be an utter failure is a fact they cannot afford to admit.
In their analysis of the state of the seemingly endless Israeli election in Foreign Policy, Ross and Makovsky praised challenger Benny Gantz for reversing his campaign promise and agreeing to a unity government with incumbent Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
Ross and Makovsky are not alone in praising Gantz for this decision. Many across the political spectrum have similarly applauded, and there is merit to the view that Gantz did the right thing when his country was facing an unprecedented emergency from the COVID-19 pandemic. But Ross and Makovsky strike new ground with their implication that Gantz is saving the two-state solution by standing against “moves toward West Bank annexation,” which, “if not prevented outside of the major existing settlement blocs, will make it geographically impossible for Israelis and Palestinians to create two separate entities, leaving one state for two peoples.”
That description of Gantz’s positions simply doesn’t match reality. Ross and Makovsky are much too familiar with Israeli politics to claim they don’t know that. These two men have been at the very heart of U.S. policy in Israel-Palestine for decades and have worked with both Democratic and Republican administrations. While they are outside of the Donald Trump’s policy team, they are not without influence even now, and will surely return to greater prominence, whether inside or outside the government, in the post-Trump era.
That’s why their plainly outlandish description of Gantz’s position is so noteworthy. Gantz supports unilateral annexation, and he does not stop at the so-called “major settlement blocs.” Back in September, he complained that Netanyahu had “stolen” his annexation plan. Gantz made his complaint very public, concerned that he would be seen as opposing annexation. He publicly accepted Donald Trump’s “Deal of the Century,” which proposed massive annexation of most of the land surrounding Palestinian towns and villages, earlier this year.
Gantz has never obfuscated about his support for annexation, although he does want to be more cautious about it than Netanyahu. The portrayal of Gantz in the United States as the voice of reason — an image cultivated by many, not just in groups like WINEP — is largely based on him not being Netanyahu.
Netanyahu faces intense pressure from his right wing to capitalize quickly on the largesse of the Trump administration and move to annex as much of the West Bank as possible without absorbing any significant number of Palestinians. Gantz, like Jared Kushner and the rest of the dilettante Trump diplomatic team, wants to move a bit slower, and ensure that any concerns from friendly Arab regimes are assuaged.
But that is a far cry from the position Ross and Makovsky attribute to Gantz. According to them, Gantz “feels the annexation called for in the Trump plan should only be implemented in coordination with the Egyptians, Jordanians, and Palestinians.”
That is just nonsense. The idea of coordinating Israeli annexation with the Palestinians is akin to the Visigoths coordinating the sacking of Rome with the Romans. Palestinians are not going to agree to annexation, and Ross and Makovsky certainly know that. The only framework that could accommodate this view is a return to the fruitless negotiations of the Oslo period, a prospect the Palestinians resist and which most supporters of both Netanyahu and Gantz oppose.
Setting Gantz up as the counter to Netanyahu is a threadbare charade when it comes to Israel’s occupation. From an Israeli point of view, Gantz is very different from Netanyahu. He is a civic-minded leader who believes in the rule of law. He is a patriot, and he would strengthen the Knesset and the High Court. Netanyahu is an authoritarian, selfish leader who rules with demagoguery and corruption.
These are important differences for every Israeli. But they mean little to those outside of Israel, especially the Palestinians living under Israeli rule without the benefit of citizenship, or even the rights international law grants people living under military occupation.
Ross and Makovsky believe that Israel must separate from the Palestinians so Israel can exist peacefully as a Jewish ethnocracy with democratic structures. That is the solution the Oslo paradigm strove for, and they are desperately clinging to the hope that they can still achieve it.
They oppose Netanyahu because he is a tool of the Israeli right which opposes Palestinian statehood and Gantz is the only alternative they have. Therefore, they are molding his image to fit the needs of American audiences in the Jewish community and the Washington foreign policy world.
For a sensible policy to emerge in the wake of the reckless, corrupt, self-interested Netanyahu and Trump administrations, it is imperative that the policy discussion in the United States finally lift the veil from its eyes and deal with the facts on the ground. As harmful as an illusory vision of Israel has been to the formation of rational policy in the past, it is far more dangerous now, in the wake of Oslo’s failure and Trump’s disruption.
As Netanyahu prepares either for an extension of his term as prime minister or for new elections, the looming inevitability of annexation must be confronted. The Trump administration supports Israeli annexation of much of the West Bank, and there is a clear majority supporting it in the Knesset. History tells us that objections from Europe, the United Nations, or the Arab world will be mere rhetoric and will not prevent annexation. Only the U.S. can stop Israel, and, under Trump, it will do the opposite.
For Ross and Makovsky, Gantz represents the dwindling hope that the peace process charade can be revived, at least for a while, in a post-Trump world, and that Israel will repair some of the democratic structures that allowed them to claim, incorrectly, that Israel is the “only democracy in the Middle East.” Thus, they paint him as not just the antidote for Netanyahu, but as a bulwark against the final demise of their two-state vision. If Palestinians are ever to be free and to have their inalienable rights recognized, such illusions must be shattered.