Squandering 10 months of Trump

During the time Israel has been preoccupied with internal questions, it may have lost several external opportunities

US PRESIDENT Donald Trump welcomes Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to the White House in March (photo credit: CARLOS BARRIA / REUTERS)
US PRESIDENT Donald Trump welcomes Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to the White House in March
(photo credit: CARLOS BARRIA / REUTERS)
On November 14 last year, defense minister Avigdor Liberman resigned his post and quit the government, effectively triggering the political maelstrom that the country has been in for the last 11 months.
A little over a month later, on December 24, the Knesset dissolved itself, and since then Israel – facing enormous challenges – has been led by a transitional government. That’s a long time. And while the country is trying to figure out who should govern it, the world continues to turn – and is turning without the government paying full attention to those turns and the ways they could actually be leveraged to Israel’s advantage.
In short, the country’s leadership is so preoccupied with its own political process and looking inward that it may be losing significant diplomatic opportunities: the long-awaited peace plan crafted by US President Donald Trump’s Mideast team, for one.
Little is known of the details of the plan, but surely a plan drawn up by US presidential advisers Jared Kushner and Jason Greenblatt, with a heavy dosage of input from US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman, is a plan that will take Israel’s vital interests into consideration, and that most of the Israeli public would feel comfortable with.
Former UK prime minister David Cameron wrote in a memoir published last month that former US president Barack Obama was the most pro-Palestinian, pro-Arab president in US history. Palestinian Authority leaders who are boycotting the current administration surely must regret that they did not fully take advantage of Obama’s eight-year term and squandered possibilities that emerged under his presidency that may not return for them.
According to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Trump is the most pro-Israel president in history. As such, there are those wondering whether Israel – because it has been so consumed by its own internal politics – is not squandering a golden opportunity to improve its position afforded by a friendly US president and administration, the likes of which may not be seen again for years to come.
True, Trump recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and moved the US Embassy there, and recognized Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights – but might there not be more long-lasting actions that this very friendly administration could take that would improve Israel’s strategic situation, which might be lost because the leadership is preoccupied with something else?
The Trump deal – dubbed the “Deal of the Century” by Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas to deride it – was delayed for much of 2018 not because of anything Israel did, but rather because of America’s own election calendar and the administration’s own political considerations.
But once it became clear in November that Israel was heading for an election, it was Jerusalem’s actions that stalled the presentation of the plan since then.
And the roll-out of the plan is, according to a number of officials, in Israel’s interest because it will lay down a new set of parameters for peace making, taking into consideration the enormous changes in the region since president Bill Clinton presented his parameters in 2000. The widespread assumption in Jerusalem is that Trump’s parameters will be more to Israel’s liking than the ones Clinton put on the table, and therefore it is in the country’s interest that they be made public.
However, the country’s unending political crisis have delayed the plan. Before the election in April, the US said it would wait to present the plan until after the election and a coalition was formed, so that a government would be in a position to negotiate and deal with it. The administration, however, never thought it would take this long.
As a result of another election and the political stalemate that the voting created, the plan still tarries. And now, with Trump embroiled in impeachment inquiries and his own political crisis, there are even more question marks over whether the plan will ever be presented.
And that is something Israel might come to rue, since the plan may have made clear that the US does not view settlements as illegal, that Jerusalem need not be divided, and that it recognizes Israeli control over settlement blocs and the Jordan Valley.
The plan, according to senior diplomatic officials, would likely “move the goalposts” in Israel’s direction. As such, Israel may live to lament that as a result of domestic political problems this plan will never be rolled out, and – like the Palestinian Authority did when Obama was in office – it wasted time and squandered golden opportunities provided by a very friendly American president.