Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu received the gift of the century on Thursday when Vice President Mike Pence invited him and Blue and White Party leader Benny Gantz to the White House for talks on Tuesday about the long-awaited peace plan, otherwise known as the “Deal of the Century.”
It is a gift for a number of reasons. First, the Knesset is scheduled to hold a fateful vote on Tuesday regarding Netanyahu’s request for immunity from prosecution for his alleged crimes of bribery, fraud and breach of trust. Will Blue and White now back down from its request to hold the hearing due to the summit in Washington or will it stick to its guns?
Either way, the nation’s attention will be on what is happening in DC and not on what is happening in the Knesset. There, President Donald Trump and the peace team led by his son-in-law Jared Kushner are expected to present details of the plan to Netanyahu and Gantz, and then pave the way for the annexation of the Jordan Valley – and possibly even more.
The timing for Netanyahu could not have been more perfect. On Thursday, he met with Russian President Vladimir Putin and closed what seems to be a deal to secure the release of jailed American-Israeli Naama Issachar. Then, he went to Yad Vashem and spoke before some 50 world leaders. After that ceremony, he drove to the Western Wall together with Pence and then, afterwards, in a meeting at the US Embassy in Jerusalem, received the official invitation from the White House.
Immunity? Indictment? A third election? Who even remembers that anymore? This is all about Netanyahu the statesman, the diplomat and the world class leader.
Unfortunately, this is what counts. While the deal might be the most favorable ever presented to Israel, the perception is one of it being a gift to Netanyahu because it will be viewed through a political lens. It might say that Jerusalem belongs to Israel forever, and that the settlements are not to be evacuated – but sadly, none of that will matter. Israelis, and especially its politicians, are on political steroids right now because of the election on March 2. That is simply how everything will be viewed – politically.
It is also a gift because even though Gantz has been invited, Pence made a point of saying that the invitation was extended per Netanyahu’s request. In other words, Netanyahu comes off looking like a true leader, not one who plays petty political games when it comes to matters of such strategic importance like the Trump peace plan.
Gantz is in a difficult position. On the one hand, his instinct would be to refuse the invitation. Why play a part in Netanyahu’s game? Everyone in Israeli politics – and especially in his own Likud Party – knows that Netanyahu is not a gracious politician. He doesn’t share credit or the stage for free. Just ask his own ministers who complain about this all the time. There is always an ulterior motive.
What could it be in this case? March 3, the day after the election. Netanyahu knows that the Right’s chances to get 61 seats in the election are not high. His only chance of forming a coalition is getting Gantz to agree to a unity government.
The Americans are the brokers. They brought Menachem Begin and Anwar Sadat together at the White House in 1979, and they brought Yitzhak Rabin and Yasser Arafat together in 1993. Now, in 2020, they will have brought Netanyahu and Gantz together in the Oval Office.
Trump will offer a favorable peace plan, a defense pact and who knows what else. All you will have to do, he will say, is form a coalition. Who will be able to say no?