After the lists running in the election were finalized Thursday night, the drama ended over who will merge with whom, which star candidates will join which parties and which spots candidates will get on the lists, making it finally time to deal with the election issues.
This week, US President Donald Trump’s “deal of the century” finally became an election issue, after New Right leader Naftali Bennett brought it up – repeatedly – and Trump’s senior adviser and son-in-law, Jared Kushner, added fuel to the fire.
First, Bennett said at the entrance to Sunday’s cabinet meeting: “[Prime Minister Benjamin] Netanyahu and Trump are coordinating the presentation of a plan to establish a Palestinian state the day after the election.”
He added that the only way to prevent that from happening is for there to be a big New Right in Netanyahu’s government, as opposed to the Blue and White Party.
The Likud firmly denied Bennett’s remarks, with Netanyahu saying that Bennett is stressed by the election and is “making up baseless things,” while the party’s official statement said Bennett spoke “total nonsense with no connection to reality.” The Likud spokesman added that Netanyahu will form a right-wing government after the elections.
The next day, Kushner told Sky News Arabic that “the American peace plan is very detailed and will focus on drawing the border and resolving the core issues.” Bennett responded by calling the deal a “clear and present danger.”
The Likud once again avoided responding directly to the deal itself and focused on Bennett. The party said Bennett was “shooting inside the armored personnel carrier,” a common accusation thrown around on the Right during elections, which means that right-wingers should be aiming fire at the Left and not at other right-wing parties. If the New Right takes away votes from the Likud, the Blue and White Party will be bigger and form the next government, the Likud said.
“Prime Minister Netanyahu protected the Land of Israel and State of Israel from [former US president Barack] Obama’s hostile government, and will continue to do so with Trump’s friendly government,” the Likud statement read.
Then, on Wednesday, Bennett gave a speech calling for Trump to release the peace plan before the election, so people can be fully informed before voting. While lamenting that Israelis are “in the dark” about the plan, Bennett posited that it involves a “Palestinian terror state” and dividing Jerusalem.
That same day, Labor Party leader Avi Gabbay, who had previously avoided the diplomatic issue, presented his party’s plan, called “Paths to Separation.” Gabbay called for Israel to define settlement blocs and stop building outside them, and for a demilitarized Palestinian state to be established with the help of relatively moderate Arab countries.
IT MAKES sense that Trump’s plan would be a big campaign issue. After all, it’s due to be released right after the election. One of the first decisions Netanyahu or Blue and White Party leader Benny Gantz will have to make in April is how to handle it.
Yet despite Bennett’s best efforts, the parties jockeying to have their leaders sit in the Prime Minister’s Office are avoiding the subject.
Blue and White did not say anything about Palestinians or Trump all week. In fact, when asked on Thursday if the party supports a two-state solution, a spokeswoman would not answer, saying the party will eventually tell the public the answer. Gantz’s position is not known, but the leaders of the other two parties making up Blue and White – former defense minister Moshe Ya’alon and MK Yair Lapid – disagree on the matter.
The party has said only that it opposes unilateral withdrawals, and its spokeswoman referred The Jerusalem Post to the one interview Gantz has given since this election was called, in which he urged to “learn the lessons of the [Gaza] disengagement.” The party’s statement from early February, clarifying Gantz’s disengagement remarks, said that lesson is “the importance of preventing a divide between Israelis and maintaining non-negotiable security protections in any future initiatives.”
The Likud and Netanyahu have been on the political scene decades longer than Gantz, so we have some idea what they think about the matter, though Netanyahu has been somewhat inconsistent. In his first term in office, he signed the Hebron and Wye agreements, giving Palestinians control of more land, while opposing a Palestinian state, and in 2009 he gave his Bar-Ilan speech calling for a demilitarized Palestinian state. But since then, Netanyahu backed down from that position, and last week made what may be his most dramatic turn from it, saying a Gantz-Lapid government “will establish... a Palestinian state [that] will endanger our existence.”
Still, the Likud is not so worried about the Trump plan becoming a big issue in the election. A party source said most of its candidates respond to the hype with a big shrug. It’s not that Likudniks plan to embrace the deal with open arms. Most of them “oppose the Trump deal without knowing what’s in it,” the source said. They are making the same assumptions as Bennett.
But the sense in the Likud is that the Palestinians will say no anyway, and the “deal of the century” will end up being a nonstarter. Why start a fight with a president friendly to Israel, when the Palestinians can do the work for us? This seems to be their logic.
The Likud source also echoed the party’s statement from earlier in the week that Netanyahu faced off against Obama, so he can handle Trump, who’s friendlier.
“Likudniks trust Bibi because he survived a much more hostile president,” the party insider said. “Netanyahu blocked a two-state solution... Likudniks know that the situation is too complicated to criticize him now.”
THE LIKUD and Blue and White parties have another reason for not playing up this issue: People aren’t that concerned about it. The Post has seen internal polling conducted for multiple parties, not for media outlets, which shows that Trump’s deal and a two-state solution are not foremost on the Israeli public’s mind these days. Security is generally the top issue, but Israelis differentiate between that and peace talks with the Palestinians.
But potential New Right voters do care about a two-state solution – or preventing one, to be specific – as its internal polling indicates, and Bennett is capitalizing on that.
At the beginning of the campaign, the New Right’s strategy was to avoid “shooting within the APC,” as the Likud said this week, because right-wing voters for any party generally don’t like attacks on Netanyahu. But now the language has shifted.
The New Right is now trying to tell voters that it’s going to bolster Netanyahu. Of course, a Netanyahu who needs outside help to be strong is inherently weak – but they don’t say that outright. They just say it’s a foregone conclusion that a Gantz-Lapid government will go for a two-state solution, which is likely true, although we’re still waiting to see their platform.
Bennett told the Post on Thursday that the Trump plan “is a key issue in the campaign, because it is a key issue facing the Jewish people.
“I have been very clear on this issue because I think the choice is very clear. Will it be a weak Left, with Gantz and Lapid? Or will it be a strong Right with a strong New Right, who will be able to stand up for Israel’s best interests?” he said.
Bennett warned that “there is no undo button here. There is no establishing a Palestinian state in the heart of the Land of Israel, meters from Route 60, with the influx of millions of Palestinian descendants from Lebanon and Syria, and then, when the terrorist tunnels pop up in Hadera, and the rockets start landing on Rishon Lezion, we won’t be able to just say ‘Oops, sorry, we messed up.’
“If this is what the ‘deal of the century’ is – and I am deeply worried it is – then the Israeli people should know what is in store before we vote for the government that will have to answer it,” Bennett concluded.