Did Netanyahu subtly slap Trump before leaving to DC? - analysis

Not only did Trump not greet Netayahu with a slap in the face, he recognized Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights, in perhaps the ultimate embrace ahead of the April 9 election.

March 25, 2019 03:17
3 minute read.
US President Donald Trump and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the Israel Museum

US President Donald Trump and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the Israel Museum. (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)


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Then-US president Barack Obama surprised Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in May 2011, when he announced a Middle East peace plan on the eve of Netanyahu’s arrival in Washington for a meeting with Obama and the American Israel Public Affairs Policy Conference.

The plan called for the pre-1967 borders to be the basis for negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians and for the border issue, which would be Israel’s central concession, to be decided before the Palestinian refugee issue, in which the Palestinians would be expected to compromise.

Netanyahu saw the speech as the ultimate slap in the face, and made it clear how upset he was when he spoke with Obama while cameras were rolling the following day. He also did not hesitate to criticize Obama in his address to AIPAC.

Eight years later, Netanyahu is going back to Washington to speak again to AIPAC’s Policy Conference and to meet with US President Donald Trump, with whom he enjoys an undeniably wonderful relationship.

Not only did Trump not greet Netanyahu with a slap in the face, he recognized Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Height, in a post on Twitter, in perhaps the ultimate embrace ahead of the April 9 Israeli election.

Netanyahu called Trump to thank him and repeatedly praised him for the decision, as he will when cameras are rolling in his two meetings with Trump on Monday and Tuesday, and his address to AIPAC on Tuesday.

But before he left for Ben-Gurion Airport, Netanyahu also made a statement that could hinder Trump’s upcoming Middle East peacemaking efforts, just as much as Netanyahu’s immediate rejection of Obama’s peace plan in 2011.

When he stopped for a surprise interview at Channel 12’s studio in Neveh Ilan, just off the highway from Jerusalem to the airport, Netanyahu was asked mostly about his alleged corruption cases. There were no questions about security or the economy, and certainly not about peacemaking with the Palestinians.

But interviewer Amit Segal did ask Netanyahu whether he saw Blue and White leaders Benny Gantz and Yair Lapid joining his government after the election. Netanyahu replied that he would build the same right-wing coalition he has now, and he did not see how there would be any room left for them.

After Netanyahu criticized his political rivals, Segal followed up and asked him directly whether he was ruling out a coalition with them. Netanyahu answered by making a commitment: “It won’t happen.”

This promise must be taken with a grain of salt. Netanyahu promised not to include center-left parties in all his governments ahead of elections, but afterward, he still built coalitions with Labor and the Independence Party of Ehud Barak, Hatnua of Tzipi Livni, Kadima of Shaul Mofaz, and almost with the Zionist Union of Isaac Herzog.

If Netanyahu is not telling the truth, it would be easier to advance the peace plan that is expected to be revealed soon after the election, if he wins. Having Gantz as Netanyahu’s defense minister and Lapid as his foreign minister could enable Trump to move the plan forward.

But all indications are that Netanyahu is not lying. His indictments pending his hearing have resulted in Blue and White and Labor ruling out joining a government led by him.

If President Reuven Rivlin appoints Netanyahu to form a government on the eve of Passover, his coalition will not be different from his current one, with the possible addition of electoral threshold teetering parties Zehut, Yisrael Beytenu and Gesher.

That coalition would not make advancing Trump’s plan impossible. Right-wing parties have stayed in coalitions that negotiated with the Palestinians many times before.

But it won’t be easy either.

This is not 2011, and Netanyahu certainly did not slap Trump in the face by making his coalition commitment. But he did give his friend, the president, who loves a challenge, an even greater one for the months ahead.

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