Only the coming weeks will reveal if the opportunity is more real than illusory
Among the Israeli political establishment, the consensus is that Donald Trump’s peace plan will not be realized. This assumption is based partly on the fact that the Palestinian Authority has not been in contact with the American administration for the past two years. Senior figures in the PA have warned that the plan is more likely to result in an upsurge of violence in Judea and Samaria than in any meaningful dialogue with Israel.
“The chances that the Palestinians will accept the plan are below zero,” said Shimrit Meir, an Arab affairs expert who writes widely in the Israeli press. “The Palestinians were never a party in this, and the plan was drawn up with that in mind. The Americans will say the plan is being presented now in light of circumstances. But given the fact that it represents a dialogue between Israel and America with no input from the PA, the Arabs, Israel’s left, or the Europeans, the minimum we could expect from the administration is that it should enjoy a consensus within Israel.”
That scenario, Meir said, is very similar to past peace plans in which American administrations negotiated with a very specific class in Israel — the leftist elite — and were then surprised when the Israeli electorate reacted differently from how the armchair strategists in Washington expected. Today, a similar dynamic is at work, though the other way around: the Trump administration is conducting a dialogue only with the Israeli right.
“The goal is to establish parameters different from those that were laid down by [President Bill] Clinton and [Secretary of State John] Kerry in previous peace initiatives,” Meir said. “If and when a real dialogue commences about peace [in the future], the starting point of the negotiations will be different from what it would otherwise have been — for example, the ’67 borders or a divided Jerusalem. From the Israeli point of view, I think it’s a good position to adopt, even as a merely tactical move.”
One other factor that may prevent the peace plan from being realized is support from Arab states. Meir said it would be a big step if the Trump administration can persuade the Arab world not to object to the plan. “If the Americans can pull this off without much protest from the Arab states — meaning that Jordan doesn’t withdraw from its peace deal with Israel, and Egypt and Saudi Arabia keep quiet — it will be a massive achievement. A Palestinian state is not a birthright, and the Palestinians have to show the world that they’re ready to establish a state that isn’t another third-world failure.”
That, however, is unlikely, given that Mahmoud Abbas’s rule is coming to a close, and he has already indicated that he will not recognize Israel before he retires from public life. In the future, with new leadership, it might be possible, Meir said.
Not So Fast
It’s worth noting that at first glance the timing of the plan’s release, five weeks before the Israeli election, gives Netanyahu an enormous political advantage. But there are those on the right who believe that Trump’s plan could be an enormous booby-trap for the prime minister. Assuming Netanyahu assents to the plan — and he doesn’t have much choice — does he want to be remembered as the prime minister who agreed to give the Palestinians a state in the West Bank?
The party that gains the most from the plan is Naftali Bennett’s Yamina. On Sunday, Bennett said his party would support the Trump proposal only if the settlements are annexed immediately. He added that his party would “emphatically” reject the establishment of a Palestinian state. The combination of those two positions puts Netanyahu in a corner.
But let’s assume for a moment that Netanyahu accepts the Trump bid and Israel annexes large swaths of what had hitherto been considered occupied territory. As a matter of statecraft, it sounds reasonable. In reality, it’s more complicated. According to one Israeli defense figure, there’s a reason why previous right-wing governments hesitated before annexing the Jordan Valley: It would likely put an end to the peace agreement with Jordan and to its relatively moderate king. That would mean the loss of a strategic ally and create a hostile block of countries extending from the Allenby Bridge to Afghanistan.
Benny and Bibi
Blue and White head Benny Gantz surprised the Israeli political establishment (not least Netanyahu) when he arrived in Washington on Monday for a private meeting with President Trump. Perhaps more surprising is who helped him arrange that meeting — none other than US ambassador to Israel David Friedman. Gantz, concerned that he would play second fiddle to Netanyahu in a joint meeting with Trump, almost didn’t come to Washington. But Friedman interceded to offer a private meeting without the prime minster, and Gantz was on the next plane.
For his part, Netanyahu is playing up the Washington meet, and the peace plan, for all its political benefit. In a video posted on social media before he departed, Netanyahu said Israel must take advantage of this historic opportunity.
“An opportunity such as this comes once in history and cannot be missed,” he said. “Today, we have in the White House the greatest friend Israel has ever had; therefore, we have the greatest opportunity we have ever had. I’m full of hope that we’re facing a historic moment in our nation’s history.”
Only the coming weeks will reveal if that opportunity is more real than illusory.
(Originally featured in Mishpacha, Issue 796)
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