On January 28, US President Donald Trump put on the table the most favorable blueprint for peace – from an Israeli perspective – that an American administration has ever put forward.
Under the “Deal of the Century,” in exchange for Israel agreeing to draw up a map with the borders that it believes it can live with, and an agreement to the establishment of a demilitarized Palestinian state if the Palestinians meet strict criteria to curb terrorism, incitement and corruption, Washington would recognize Israeli moves to extend its sovereignty over the Jordan Valley and all of the settlements.
Israel would also have to commit to a four-year settlement construction freeze in an area around 15 settlements that would become enclaves inside Palestinian Authority territory.
After decades of peace plans predicated on a nearly complete Israeli withdrawal to the 1967 lines, and the uprooting of dozens of settlements outside the current security fence, this plan represented a completely different way of looking at – and solving – the Palestinian issue.
Too bad that Israel does not have a government that can move on the plan. While a joint Israeli-American team remains at work drawing up the precise lines of the Trump plan map – meaning the exact areas where the US will recognize Israeli sovereignty – the fact that Israel is now entering another long period of coalition haggling and political uncertainty means that there will be no significant Israeli implementation of the plan.
It is very hard to believe that in the nearly 60 days that the law provides for the parties to try to put together a government, that any steps will be taken in Jerusalem to move the plan forward. And if no government is formed, and the country does go back to a fourth election, it is also questionable whether a transitional government would take such significant steps, just as before the recent election it was wary about annexing the Jordan Valley.
The US administration delayed rolling out the plan last year because it wanted to wait until after the April elections, when there would be a government in Jerusalem that could act on the plan. That government never emerged. So the Trump administration decided to wait until after the September elections. But then, too, no government emerged.
Concerned partly that with the November US elections on the horizon, they were running out of time, the administration decided to release the plan before the election earlier this month, hoping that since the plan got a buy-in from both Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Blue and White head Benny Gantz, either party would be able to implement it. But, yet again, neither party has the ability to form a government, meaning that while the plan is out there, the Palestinians are unwilling to deal with it, and the Israelis are currently incapable of doing so.
And that is likely to translate – for Israel – into a lost opportunity of historic dimensions.
If Israel squanders the current opportunity to move forward on the plan, and Trump loses the election in November, it is clear that Joe Biden or Bernie Sanders – the two remaining Democratic candidates for president – will not recognize Israel’s sovereignty over the settlements, will not take Israel’s security concerns into consideration to the degree the Trump administration did under its plan, will not relegate a Palestinian capital to the outskirts of Jerusalem and will not establish criteria for the establishment of a Palestinian state as difficult as the criteria set up under this plan.
Furthermore, as implementation by Israel of the plan gets pushed further and further away, Trump will have less bandwidth to deal with the issue, concentrating instead on his own reelection campaign. He is likely to say, after a government is set up, “I gave you a chance. You balked. Now I have other things on my mind.”
One of those other things on Trump’s mind now, for instance, is the coronavirus, which is suddenly emerging as a threat to his presidency. The virus is having a devastating effect on the US economy, which was Trump’s strongest calling card in the run-up to the elections and is increasingly being portrayed as Trump’s “Katrina,” a reference to the 2005 hurricane that cast a heavy pall over president George W. Bush’s second term in office.
Coming up to the November elections, Trump needs to portray himself as a leader who can get things done and, as such, has aligned himself closely with leaders who have that ability. That explains his close relationship now with Britain’s Boris Johnson, India’s Narendra Modi and Japan’s Shinzo Abe.
Currently in Washington there is not a sense that there are leaders in Jerusalem who can get things done, since they can’t – even after three tries – put a government together. This has led to an inability to move forward on the Trump plan, and it has done little to raise Israel’s stature in the eyes of the administration.