Don't let the 'Deal of the Century' muddle with Israel's political mess

Trump has proven to be a savvy leader who knows that timing can be everything.

US President Donald Trump meets with Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington in March.  (photo credit: REUTERS)
US President Donald Trump meets with Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington in March.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
US President Donald Trump is considering rolling out his Mideast peace plan, dubbed the “Deal of the Century,” before the Israeli elections on March 2.
In principle, we believe this would be a mistake since it runs the risk of turning the plan into an election tool to be used by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Blue and White leader Benny Gantz to attack one another.
If, however, the administration has succeeded in creating a consensus in the Knesset – except for the Joint List – that the roll out of the plan is in Israel’s interest that could be different.
On Tuesday that seemed to be the case. On a tour of the Jordan Valley, Gantz said that he was in favor of annexing the territory along the border with Jordan and that he now believes it is in Israel’s interest for the US plan to be rolled out as soon as possible.
This is a significant change of heart for the former IDF chief of staff now running in his third election. Gantz said a number of times in recent weeks that the unveiling of the plan now would be a brutal interference in the Israeli electoral process.
There are strong arguments to agree with his prior position.
Netanyahu is an interim prime minister and the government that gathers around the cabinet table every Sunday cannot affirm an economic treaty, let alone a peace deal.
In addition, even if there was a functioning government in Jerusalem, the Palestinian Authority will not come to the negotiating table. Ramallah’s strategy is to wait for the elections in November in the US and hope that Trump loses, and the Democratic candidate wins and then throws his plan away.
Gantz’s argument until Tuesday had been that rolling out the plan now – before elections – would be nothing more than an election gift to Netanyahu, who is doing everything possible to distract the nation’s attention away from his request for immunity after being indicted for bribery, fraud and breach of trust.
Netanyahu’s legal woes are the focus of Blue and Whites campaign and if the peace plan – which is expected to allow Israel to keep all of its settlements in the West Bank – is published now, it could become the centerpiece of the entire campaign.
There are a few indications that might be happening. The Jerusalem Post’s correspondent in Washington, Omri Nahmias, reported yesterday that members of the US peace team – Jared Kushner, Avi Berkowitz and Brian Hook – are headed to Israel this week to discuss the peace plan with Netanyahu and Gantz.
Berkowitz, the special representative for international negotiations – who took over from Jason Greenblatt in November – deliberated the plan in meetings earlier this month with both leaders.
Although the Americans have cautioned that the plan will require both Israelis and Palestinians to make difficult concessions, Netanyahu is apparently in favor of releasing it before the elections.
One of the main arguments to release the plan now is that it will move the goal post for any future negotiation between Israel and the Palestinian Authority to a more favorable starting point for the Jewish State. If the plan says, for example, that the Jordan Valley can be annexed and settlements remain Israeli territory, then that would be a significant departure from the Obama administration’s prior assumptions.
It is also possible that releasing the plan now would be a positive step for Israel since the electorate would be asked to not only vote for Netanyahu or against Netanyahu, but also according to their stance on the peace plan.
Trump has proven to be a savvy leader who knows that timing can be everything. If he wants a chance to succeed with his plan, he needs to make sure it doesn’t turn into an Israeli election football.


Tags Peace