U.S. President Donald Trump addresses a news conference following Tuesday's midterm congressional elections at the White House in Washington, US, November 7, 2018.
(photo credit: REUTERS/KEVIN LAMARQUE)
The long-delayed Trump administration peace plan is likely to be delayed now even longer because of the prospect of new elections in Israel.
Unless, of course, US President Donald Trump wants to hurt Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s elections chances – something that, considering the president’s strong backing for Israel over the last two years, seems highly unlikely.
Still, according to a Bloomberg report on Thursday, Trump has expressed frustration recently that Netanyahu “wasn’t doing more to help the plan overseen by son-in-law Jared Kushner come to fruition.”
If he does decide to roll out the plan before the elections, that would be a sign that Trump is not only “frustrated” with Netanyahu, but actually does not care if he hurts his chances of re-election.In all the buildup over the last year about the plan,
various administration officials have said that there will be elements in it that both sides will like, and will dislike. Trump himself said in a speech in August in West Virginia that since he moved the embassy to Jerusalem, it was now the Palestinians’ turn to get something big.
Moving the embassy was “a good thing to have done,” he said. “And you know what? In the negotiation, Israel will have to pay a higher price because they won a very big thing – but I took it off the table. They could never get past the fact of Jerusalem becoming the capital. Now it’s off the table – there’s nothing to negotiate. But they [the Palestinians] will get something very good ‘cause it’s their turn next. Let’s see what happens.”
Whenever Washington decides to roll out the plan, Netanyahu – because of all the support Israel has received from this administration, from the embassy move to the US’s withdrawal from the Iranian nuclear deal to the dramatic change in tone regarding the country – will not be able to reject it.
Chances are Netanyahu will give cautious consent to whatever is presented, saying there are elements Israel accepts, and others it wants to change. He will bank on the Palestinians, who have already rejected the plan sight unseen, to turn it down.
But Netanyahu will not want to go to the ballot box even having given a “yes, but” answer to a plan that calls for Israeli concessions, or for Israel to give the Palestinians “something very good ‘cause it’s their turn next.”
With many on the Right already disappointed with the way Netanyahu has handled the situation with Hamas in Gaza, and his failure to remove the Khan al-Ahmar Bedouin encampment, the last thing he needs is to give Yisrael Beytenu head Avigdor Liberman and Bayit Yehudi head Naftali Bennett more ammunition to paint him as weak and vacillating and open to far-reaching concessions to the Palestinians.
A US plan calling for Israeli concessions that he tentatively agreed to would do just that.
Netanyahu has developed a close relationship with the president, and his ambassador in Washington, Ron Dermer, has developed similarly close ties with the White House. It does not stretch credulity to imagine Dermer telling Kushner, “Guys, you have waited this long to present the plan, please wait just a little bit longer.”
And, indeed, the plan – the blueprint for Trump’s ultimate deal, or the “deal of the century” – has been delayed a number of times already this year.
In the beginning of the year, there were reports that the plan would be released in the spring; in the spring the reports were that it would be released after Ramadan in June; after Ramadan the speculation was that it would be released in early fall. By then, however, people were already whispering, correctly as it turned out, that it would not be released before the US midterm elections on November 6 so as not to do anything to alienate Trump’s strongly pro-Israel Evangelical base.
In September, Trump said that he would be releasing the plan in two to four months. But today, with new Israeli elections now looming, that no longer looks like a sure bet.
Which raises another question. Will the plan be released at all?
Saudi Arabia’s buy-in to the plan is widely believed to be an important element, but with Saudi and US ties now strained due to the murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi in Turkey, this may not be the time for the US to rely on strong support from Riyadh.
Generally US administrations, from Jimmy Carter’s through Bill Clinton’s and Barack Obama’s, like to make their big Middle East push within the first two years of their tenure. After the midterm elections and the two-year mark, with all eyes on the next presidential elections in two years’ time, presidents are generally averse to risk a peace plan that may alienate Israel’s supporters or end up as a colossal failure.
We are now past the US midterms. If Trump wants to release the plan, precedent indicates that he has to do it real soon. And that may have been his intention.
But if Israel is now entering a campaign and election cycle, Trump may now be forced to rethink. Unless his relationship with Netanyahu is not as close as everyone believes, and he either does not think that releasing the plan just months before an election would hurt Netanyahu’s chances or he simply does not really care if it does.
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