Election brings Netanyahu, Trump’s peacemaking plan to a screeching halt

But no one could only imagine what Trump’s last month in office might bring.

Donald Trump and Benjamin Netanyahu. (photo credit: AMMAR AWAD/REUTERS)
Donald Trump and Benjamin Netanyahu.
(photo credit: AMMAR AWAD/REUTERS)
The collapse of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s fifth government just seven months after its formation brings to a sudden and dramatic halt the dizzying pace of meteoric success in which four Arab and Muslim countries have declared the normalization of ties with Israel.
True, the diplomatic wave of peacemaking was about to come to a crashing end on January 20, when US President Donald Trump leaves office and US President-elect Joe Biden enters the White House.
But the Trump administration has shown that when it comes to expanding Israel’s ties with the Arab and Muslim world, every day counts, particularly when such days have brought deals that even half a year ago seemed like mission impossible.
Within four months, the Trump administration has brokered the ratification of normalization deals with the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain and has secured declarations of intent from Sudan and Morocco to establish full diplomatic ties with Israel.
It’s a track record unheard of in a region where, until September, Israel had peace deals with only two countries: Egypt, a deal signed in 1979, and Jordan, in 1994.
So one could only imagine what Trump’s last month in office might bring. The thought of another deal or two, or even three, before January 20 suddenly seems reasonable and plausible. Yes, even when taking into account both Christmas and New Year’s.
When it comes to the creation of a new axis of alliances in the Middle East, this is clearly an administration that does not sleep.
The collapse of Israel’s government won’t stop Trump’s peacemaking team, headed by White House Special Advisor Jared Kushner, from announcing the shells of new deals.
They very well might. Regional Cooperation Minister Ofir Akunis told Ynet he expects that a fifth deal would be reached in the coming weeks.
It’s just that Israel’s lame-duck government, which would have to ratify and cement the deals, now lacks the power it had only a day ago. And Trump’s government is out of time. Even at the US end, its speculative how much leverage an outgoing administration has to make the kind of commitments these deals have required.
This has included the sale of advanced F-35 fighter jets to the UAE and billions of dollars in financial assistance to Morocco.
Now, any deal would be worked on by two governments, Israel and the US, both of which have only a tenuous grip on power; and worse, there will now be a time lag between inception and completion.
On the US end, Biden has lent his support to the Abraham Accords, but some of the policies he has already spoken of might make it difficult for him to be the one to consummate the agreements.
At the heart of the deals is the forging of an alliance against Iran, a move that the Trump administration is willing to pay for. Biden might want to take a more conciliatory approach to Iran and would be willing to offer less. He also has concerns about human rights that are not priority for Trump.
In addition, it will take time for the Biden administration to pick up from where the Trump administration left off.
At the Israeli end, it could take until April or May before a government is formed, but another inconclusive election, which is possible, could lead to yet another election.
All the months in which Israel will be without a fully functioning government is time when a regional crisis could collapse a deal that has not been ratified and for which the details are still under discussion.
It’s actually amazing that the Trump administration advanced at all in the Middle East.
Trump could not have been more clear upon entering office that Israel would be one of his policy priorities. He jumped in early, with a trip to the region within his first year, including an announcement that Jerusalem is Israel’s capital, and he relocated the US Embassy to Jerusalem the next year.
The issue was not commitment or vision; rather, an unprecedented Israeli electoral crisis robbed him of precious time. Unlike most US presidents who had four years in which to make his mark, Trump had less than three.
From December 2018, he has had only seven months in which he could consummate any diplomatic initiative. That is because in the last two years there was only a seven-month period – May until December this year – when there was an Israeli government that could be his full partner in peacemaking.
Historians will ponder what impact Trump might have had on the region and the opportunities lost, if Israel had had a government during that time.
There was something oddly symbolic about the last act of Netanyahu’s government.
In Rabat, Israeli, US and Moroccan officials spoke of peace and pledged to work toward the full normalization of ties. Then, in Jerusalem, at precisely the same time, the Knesset dispersed, bringing down the curtain on that deal before the final act.