'Hello' elections means 'goodbye' Trump peace plan - analysis

The plan, which has been in the works for over two years, has been delayed so often that it is difficult to continue following the thread.

By
May 29, 2019 01:25
U.S. President Donald Trump (R) embraces Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu

U.S. President Donald Trump (R) embraces Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu after his remarks at the Israel Museum in Jerusalem May 23, 2017. (photo credit: JONATHAN ERNST / REUTERS)

If Israel says hello to new elections in September, it is safe to assume it can kiss goodbye US President Donald Trump’s “Deal of the Century.”

Some, like the Palestinian Authority leadership, will be thrilled by that news. They have rejected the plan without even seeing it and want to prevent it from seeing the light of day – because of a concern that it will alter once-hallowed components of any eventual peace deal: a two-state solution with east Jerusalem as the capital of “Palestine.”

Others, such as think tank wonks like Robert Satloff of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, will also be pleased that the plan is being buried. Among his arguments against presenting a plan that the Palestinians will clearly reject is that Trump is so toxic, that anything he proposes – even the good ideas – will be dismissed out of hand simply because he is the guy proposing them.

But some in Jerusalem will be disappointed, believing that the rollout of the Trump plan would be beneficial to Israel since it is unlikely to ask the Jewish state to make concessions that it itself feels are a threat to its security, and because it would – some 20 years after the Clinton parameters set the bar for what an eventual agreement would look like – would re-set the bar and make it more palatable for Israel.

The peace plan, according to this argument, would fundamentally change the discussion of what is and what is not necessary and possible for an agreement.

But now, because a fight over haredi (ultra-Orthodox) military service, that plan may never see the light of day.

The plan, which has been worked on for more than two years, has been delayed so often that it is difficult to continue following the thread. Suffice it to say that in September, Trump said the plan would be released within four months, which was pushed off because of the Israeli elections, and was then pushed off until after a coalition agreement is formed. Trump’s senior adviser Jared Kushner said the plan would come out after Ramadan (June 4), and Middle East negotiator Jason Greenblatt said after Shavuot (June 9).

The political component of the plan may indeed come out after Shavuot, but Shavuot of 2021 – depending on whether Trump will still be in office by then.

True, the Trump administration announced as a first step of the rollout an “economic workshop” in Bahrain in June, but that – according to the administration’s own admission – will only deal with the economic aspects of the plan, and not the heart and soul of the conflict, not the core issues: Jerusalem, security, borders, settlements and refugees.

All that is to come in another part of the plan, the part that – if Israel does go to the polls – may never see the light of day.

Why not? Because the Trump administration is simply running out of time.

If the Trump administration did not want to issue the plan in the middle of an Israeli election campaign a few months ago – because it did not want to complicate matters for Netanyahu, as the plan is expected to ask concessions of Israel that will be unpopular to some on the Right – then that logic will certainly pertain especially if we are now entering another new election campaign.

The earliest that elections could conceivably be held now is the end of August, with September 17 currently being bandied about as the most likely date. Add on another 45 days after that until – hopefully – a coalition is built, and that brings everybody to the beginning of November.

Now while that may be a perfect time for Israel to receive the plan, it is not necessarily a great time for Trump to present it, because by November 1 the US is in full-throttle campaign mode for the start of the primary season in early 2020.

History has shown that the best time for American presidents to put forth a peace plan is at the start of a four-year term, not toward the end. At the start, the president has political capital; everyone wants to get on his good side. Toward the end, that capital is expended and the various parties involved are less likely to accept something they oppose because of the hope that the president may not be around that much longer.

Even in the best circumstances it will be difficult to get the Arab states fully and publicly on board any Trump plan – and impossible to get the Palestinians to even look at it – this will become even more difficult as the US inches toward elections.

Why, for instance, would various Arab countries give the plan the type of hug it will need to succeed, and as a result be castigated as a traitor to the Palestinian cause, not knowing if Trump will even be around in another year to pay them back?

Another reason why the US election calendar – which kicks off the election season as early as Labor Day on September 2 – militates against presenting a plan is because politically, Trump will have nothing to gain and something to lose.

As in the last elections, one key ingredient to a Trump victory in 2020 will be an enthused base, and the pro-Israel Evangelicals are a critical part of that base. This part of the base, for the most part, is opposed to Israel being asked to make concessions on Jerusalem or in Judea and Samaria. Yet Trump advisers have already said that both sides will be asked to make concessions. What other concessions could he have in mind?

And, finally, if Trump really wants his “Deal of the Century” to work, it will take a great deal of time and energy. It’s not as if Washington drops the plan on the world, and then steps away. It will necessitate intense involvement by the White House – including from the president – to shepherd it forward.

But Trump is unlikely to do that during an election campaign. First, because he will be too busy campaigning, and second, because he will not want to get actively involved in an issue that, in the end, may fail. No candidate wants to go to elections with such a colossal, high-profile failure so fresh on his résumé.

So if the Trump administration is indeed going to roll out the political component of its long-awaited plan, it has up until about Labor Day to do so. But if Israel now decides to go to elections, even that window will be closed shut.


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