Nov 19, 2019

U.S. gave Benny Gantz a heads-up on settlements announcement

Gantz. Photo: Menahem Kahana/AFP via Getty Images

Before Secretary of State Mike Pompeo's announcement yesterday on the legality of Israeli settlements, U.S. Ambassador to Israel David Friedman notified Benny Gantz, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's political rival, Israeli and U.S. officials tell me.

Why it matters: Gantz, the leader of the centrist Blue and White party, effectively tied with Netanyahu in Israel's election two months ago. Gantz was asked to form a government after Netanyahu failed to do so, but his mandate expires on Wednesday. There was speculation that the U.S. announcement was timed to help Netanyahu politically.

Gantz did not object to the content or timing of the U.S. announcement, according to the officials.

  • One U.S. official said that if Gantz raised reservations on the grounds that he was close to forming a government, the U.S. would probably have delayed the move.
  • Gantz publicly welcomed Pompeo's announcement, tweeting: "I applaud the U.S. government for its important statement, once again demonstrating its firm stance with Israel and its commitment to the security of the Middle East."
  • U.S. officials tell me the announcement was not intended to help either party and the heads-up to Gantz was intended to ensure that the planned U.S. announcement did not interfere in domestic Israeli politics and harm Gantz's efforts to form a government. "There is never good timing because things happen in Israel all the time," they said.
  • Pompeo said yesterday that the announcement followed a lengthy legal process.

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Behind the scenes of Trump's shift on Israeli settlements

(L-R) Pompeo, Netanyahu and Friedman visit the Western Wall Tunnels in Jerusalem. Photo: Abir Sultan/AFP via Getty Images

U.S. Ambassador to Israel David Friedman pushed for a change to the U.S. position on the legality of Israeli settlements early in the Trump administration, but former Secretary of State Rex Tillerson opposed the move.

Behind the scenes: Friedman, the key driver behind the major policy shift announced yesterday, raised the issue again when Secretary of State Mike Pompeo came in. This time he got a "green light," U.S. officials tell me.

Go deeperArrowNov 19, 2019 - World

Netanyahu rival Gantz fails to form a government in Israel

Gantz (L) with President Rivlin. Photo: Amir Levy/Getty Images

Benny Gantz, leader of the centrist Blue and White party, has notified Israeli President Reuven Rivlin that he has failed to form a coalition government ahead of tonight's deadline.

Why it matters: Gantz's failure comes 28 days after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu himself failed to form a government following September's deadlocked elections. Never before have both leading candidates failed to form a government. Israel could soon be headed for its third elections in less than a year.

Go deeperArrowNov 20, 2019

Netanyahu says he raised West Bank annexations in call with Trump

Trump and Netanyahu at the White House. Photo: Alex Wong/Getty Images

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu says he and President Trump discussed the possibilities of a U.S-Israel defense treaty as well as Israeli annexation of the Jordan Valley in the West Bank in their call last night.

Why it matters: This is mostly about domestic political positioning for Netanyahu as he and opposition politician Benny Gantz stare down a Dec. 11 deadline to form a government. Netanyahu gave the impression that Trump was favorably disposed toward both goals and called on Gantz to form a unity government to accomplish them.

Go deeperArrowDec 2, 2019