Trump admin. already working with nascent gov’t to implement peace plan

New government can bring settlement annexation to a vote on July 1, according to Netanyahu-Gantz agreement.

President Donald Trump and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the White House on January 28 (photo credit: REUTERS)
President Donald Trump and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the White House on January 28
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Trump administration representatives began speaking to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Blue and White leader Benny Gantz about moving forward with its peace plan immediately after they signed an agreement to form a unity government, an administration source said on Tuesday, though the agreement sets July 1 as the earliest date to move forward with settlement annexation.
“We’re optimistic that they’ll want to pursue” the deal, the source said. “It’s more likely to happen with a broad government than in a narrow, right-wing government.”
Under the terms of the coalition agreement signed on Monday, the annexation of 30% of the West Bank – including all the settlements therein – could begin to move forward as early as July 1.
“With regard to President Trump's declaration [on the peace plan], the Prime Minister and the Alternate Prime Minister will act in full agreement with the United States, including with the Americans in regard to the maps and with international dialogue on the subject,” the agreement states, adding that they will do “all of this while pursuing the security and strategic interests of the State of Israel, including the need for maintaining regional stability, the preservation of peace agreements and the pursuit of future peace agreements.”
Both men pledged to support the peace plan that US President Donald Trump unveiled in Washington in January. It allowed for Israeli sovereignty at the start of a four-year process, which also provided for the creation of a demilitarized Palestinian state in 70% of the West Bank.
Gantz has opposed annexation and would prefer to come to an agreement with the Palestinians and the international community for Israel to apply sovereignty to much of that 30% of the West Bank. The coalition agreement, however, allows for Netanyahu to move forward on annexation irrespective of Gantz’s position on the matter.
Paragraph 29 of the coalition agreement states: “After discussions and consultations are conducted between the Prime Minister and the Alternate Prime Minister based on the principles outlined above, the Prime Minister will be able to bring forward the agreement reached with the United States on the application of sovereignty for debate by the cabinet and government and for approval by the government and/or the Knesset as of July 1, 2020.”
The agreement went on to detail the manner in which Netanyahu could bring a sovereignty bill to the Knesset, including a decision to limit authorship of such legislation to his Likud Party.
The US and Israel have a joint mapping committee to determine which land Israel will annex, established in February, whose work was put on hold due to the coronavirus crisis. The agreed-upon maps must be completed before the US can support Israel annexing the 30% of the West Bank.
The Trump administration source said their side has spoken with Netanyahu and Gantz and their teams about the next steps towards implementing the plan, but haven’t decided what they are.
“We’re interested in working towards a broader peace. I think we have a real chance here. It’s an enormous opportunity,” he said.
The source said that he expects Gantz to be supportive of their plan’s implementation, “but maybe not of the whole thing.”
He also pointed out that the plan is not just for annexation, and is a much broader peace plan that includes the establishment of a Palestinian state.
The plan also requires Israel to freeze construction outside of existing settlements for four years, and the source urged Israel to do that before mapping out which land to annex.
The Trump administration expects Israel to accept its full plan and not just annex, though the source said they would not necessarily call for a cabinet or Knesset vote to be held on the entire plan.
“The prime minister standing up and accepting the plan counts for us,” he said.
The source also said that the Palestinian response to coronavirus proves the assumption on which the Trump plan is built – that Israel is ready to make peace but the Palestinians are not.
“The Palestinians need Israel to save their lives, but they’re blaming coronavirus on Israel. That should give a good example of how far apart we are on bridging this problem…We’re very disappointed to see the Palestinians are still blaming the people providing the greatest amount of help,” he said.
The words “Palestinians” and “Palestine” were not referenced in the two sections of the coalition deal, paragraphs 28 and 29, in which both Netanyahu and Gantz pledge to work toward peace with Israel’s neighbors.
According to paragraph 28: “The Prime Minister and the Alternate Prime Minister will work together and in coordination to advance a peace agreement with all our neighbors and to advance regional cooperation in a variety of economic spheres, as well as with respect to the COVID-19 crisis.”
PLO Secretary-General Saeb Erekat called on both Netanyahu and Gantz to engage in a peace process based on the pre-1967 lines, which would allow the Palestinians to retain all of the West Bank, including the territory where the settlements are located.
There is broad agreement in the international community for this position.
“A government coalition based on a commitment to annex more occupied Palestinian territory is a threat to a rules-based world order in general, but to peace, security and stability in the Middle East in particular,” Erekat said.
“Annexation means the end of any possibility for a negotiated solution. It is an international responsibility to hold the new Israeli government accountable and to demand full implementation of its obligations under international law and signed agreements,” he said.
Both the PLO and the PA have rejected the Trump peace plan.
The Israeli left-wing group Peace Now accused both men of prioritizing a fringe concept that lacked national consensus at a time when all resources should be going to combating the COVID-19 pandemic. It warned that annexation would lead to an apartheid-like state with two different classes of citizens: Israelis and Palestinians.
In a message aimed at Gantz, Peace Now stated: “Don't sell us stories about an emergency government to fight the coronavirus when you are in fact a partner in establishing an annexation government. Anyone who bolsters the far-right now will be responsible in the future if annexation is implemented and Israel's democratic future is imperiled."
Settler leaders welcomed the move. Efrat Council head Oded Revivi said that such a show of unity was critical in light of the COVID-19 pandemic and in the aftermath of three election campaigns.
“I believe that the unity government will also help fan the flames of hatred between the various camps in Israeli society. The eve of Holocaust Remembrance Day is a symbolic moment for demonstrations of unity in Israel,” Revivi said.
Other settler leaders reminded Netanyahu and Gantz that sovereignty must be on the top of their agenda.
“The new government that is being established has an unprecedented majority for the application of Israeli sovereignty in Judea and Samaria and the Jordan Valley,” Yesha Council head David Elhayani said.
“We expect to see the Knesset approve such a law in the near future. Together, with a strong and united government, we will continue the previous government's policy of developing and promoting settlement in the region,” he added.
Samaria Regional Council head Yossi Dagan said, “we will work with the new government in partnership and friendship, and necessarily with insistence, to ensure the application of sovereignty over Judea and Samaria in the near future.”