Editorial: Trump's support presents a new challenge for Netanyahu

"The advent of the Trump era presents new opportunities for Netanyahu. We wait to see what Netanyahu will decide to do."

January 17, 2017 10:17
3 minute read.
Netanyahu Trump

Netanyahu and Trump. (photo credit: REUTERS)

Challenged by Trump commenting on the Paris Middle East Conference that convened Sunday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu noted that it represented “the final palpitations of yesterday’s world.”

We agree with Netanyahu that the Paris parley, and other international initiatives broadly based on a “top-down” approach to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict – especially those that attempt to impose preconditions on the sides – are a relic of the past that will come to an end on Friday with the inauguration of US President-elect Donald Trump.

Only via a “bottom-up” approach of building trust on the ground between Israelis and Palestinians will it be possible to even consider the implementation of a territorial compromise.

Unfortunately, Netanyahu has been surprisingly reticent on the matter. He has spoken extensively of his broader foreign policy vision of taking advantage of Israel’s contributions in the fields of cyber security, military technology and agricultural, to name just a few, to improve relations with the world, including majority Muslim states.

He has argued that this would lead to improved relations with the Palestinians, but he has not provided any details on how to move forward on building trust with the millions of Palestinians who live in the West Bank and Gaza.

His silence on the matter has created a policy vacuum. A number of politicians from the Right have filled this void with policies of their own. Education Minister Naftali Bennett has a plan, which includes annexing area C and allowing Palestinians a certain amount of political autonomy in the scant territories that remain.

Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman has a plan, which he fleshed out in a wide-ranging exclusive interview – the first that has appeared in the Israeli press since he took office last May – with The Jerusalem Post last week.

Liberman called to take a number of steps: First, work with the new US administration to establish a new anti-terrorism coalition with moderate Arab states, which would create a positive atmosphere and mutual trust; next build trust with the Palestinians by improving overall quality of life – including a new industrial zone for Palestinians in Tarkumiya; then focus on building only in settlement blocs; and finally replace the Oslo Accord model with land and population swaps in which areas with large Arab Israeli population centers would become a part of a future Palestinian state.

Even Likud backbencher Yoav Kisch has a plan, which, like Bennett’s, includes annexation of most of Judea and Samaria. As Kisch noted in an interview with the Post’s Jeremy Sharon, “As we enter the Trump era, we cannot stay passive, we have to come up with our own plan.”

Kisch is right.

Shortly after officially taking over from President Barack Obama, Trump will undoubtedly set up a meeting with Netanyahu. A unique opportunity will present itself. The Trump administration is expected to be highly supportive of Israel’s democratically elected government, more so, perhaps, than any previous US administration.

If Netanyahu articulates a plan for the future of Israeli-Palestinian relations, the Trump administration would most likely support it. Paradoxically, this actually complicates matters, because for the first time, Netanyahu will have to articulate what precisely he wants the US to support. Will it be a one-state solution, a two-state solution or something in the middle, like what Bennett and Kisch propose? Netanyahu has to decide on a plan. If he fails to, pressure will grow within his coalition to annex parts of Judea and Samaria.

And with a new US administration taking over that has announced it does not see settlements as an obstacle to peace, Netanyahu will find it increasingly difficult to ward off pressure from within in his own party, not to mention from Bayit Yehudi, to move forward with annexation.

Netanyahu has said on numerous occasions, most recently in a December appearance on the CBS news magazine 60 Minutes, that he is in favor of “two states for two peoples.”

He has been less forthcoming on how he plans on arriving at a two-state arrangement. The advent of the Trump era presents new opportunities for Netanyahu. We wait to see what Netanyahu will decide to do.

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