Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Attorney-General Avichai Mandelblit.
(photo credit: EMIL SALMAN/HAARETZ/MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
Following US Ambassador David Friedman’s remark Sunday that the US peace plan will unlikely be unveiled before the April 9 elections, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu could be excused for wishing that Attorney-General Avichai Mandelblit would be as considerate of his election concerns as US President Donald Trump.
There are two dramatic announcements Netanyahu would like to postpone until after the nation casts its ballots a week before Passover. The rollout of the US peace plan is one of them; Mandelblit’s decision on whether to indict the prime minister on charges of fraud, breach of trust and bribery is the other.
Netanyahu is engaged in a public campaign – including posts on social media and declarations at press conferences – to try and ensure that an indictment decision does not come before the elections. And he reportedly has been busy behind the scenes entreating the Trump administration to hold off on its peace plan until after the balloting.
The US will apparently be accommodating. The verdict is still out on Mandelblit.
Speaking to US reporters covering the visit of US National Security Adviser John Bolton, Friedman was quoted as saying the US peace plan is “pretty much completed” but may not be rolled out before the spring elections.
He said that the elections were “a factor, but not the only factor” in the timing. He said that the substance of the plan was “pretty much completed,” but additional “wordsmithing and smoothing” was needed.
“I would say within the next several months,” Friedman said when asked about the timing of the release. “We want to release it IN a way that gives it the best chance of getting a good reception.”
The roll-out of the peace plan before the elections is something Netanyahu would like to avoid because it would put him in a position of having to say yes to a plan that will obviously entail some concessions on Israel’s part. Administration officials have said there are parts of the plan that both sides will like and will not like.
With a splintering of factions leading to a plethora of right-wing parties on the slate for the next elections, even a measured “yes, but” reply by Netanyahu to the Trump plan would invite attacks from Netanyahu’s Right and possibly chase away potential voters. By deciding not to present the plan now, Trump is sparing Netanyahu that headache.
So with the blueprint for Trump’s oft-delayed “deal of the century” delayed yet again, the question now becomes: When will it be presented?
“We want to release it a way that gives it the best chance of getting a good reception,” Friedman said.
That might now be after the elections, and during the coalition negotiations – at least regarding the Israeli reception of the plan. The Palestinians have already rejected it, sight unseen.
If the plan is presented during the coalition negotiations, it could become a part of the new government guidelines, with Netanyahu taking – or not taking – parties into his coalition based on their position vis-a-vis the plan. The expectation is that because of the relationship between Netanyahu and Trump – and because of what Trump has done for Israel in terms of moving he US Embassy to Jerusalem and withdrawing from the Iranian nuclear deal – Netanyahu will not be able to reject the plan.
However, if the plan is delayed further until a new government is set up – likely not until the summer – its publication then would begin to bump into the upcoming US presidential race. This would raise questions about whether it would be politically wise for the American president to release a plan that will demand concessions from Israel, with the Trump camp’s concern being that his Evangelical base may not like a plan that calls for any Israeli concessions, especially if they include concessions in Jerusalem.
The US political calendar is also a factor in another sense as well: the chance that Trump might not win again in 2020. With this a possibility, his team is keen on rolling out the plan before then, wanting to lay down a new US marker on the Middle East so that if a new administration does take over in January 2021, the last plan on record will not be the Clinton parameters from 2000 – a two-state plan with deep Israeli concessions connected to a very different time, and a very different Mideast.
“The challenge to a peace plan is making the case for a much more sober assessment of the realities in this region,” Friedman said on Sunday. “The last time there was a meaningful agreement between the Israelis and the Palestinians was 1993. A lot has happened since 1993.”
Over the last few elections cycles, the pendulum in the US elections has swung dramatically from one side of the political spectrum to the next: from George W. Bush to Barack Obama, and then from Obama to Trump. There are those inside the administration who want to make sure that before the pendulum swings back yet again, there is another formal US plan on the table that cannot be easily ignored by whoever succeeds Trump – whenever that might be.
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