Washington Watch: Trump is Bibi’s Santa Claus

What little we do know of the peace plan itself - being crafted by Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, and a pair of lawyers from his real estate business – is not encouraging.

U.S. President Donald Trump speaks at a campaign rally on the eve of the U.S. mid-term elections (photo credit: REUTERS/CARLOS BARRIA)
U.S. President Donald Trump speaks at a campaign rally on the eve of the U.S. mid-term elections
We may never know if US President Donald Trump was ever very serious about brokering the “deal of the century” between Israelis and Palestinians. So much of what he says is pure hype.
Remember when he said he would make no cuts in Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid, release his income taxes, take no vacations, replace Obamacare, not push a tax bill that would personally benefit him and build a wall and make Mexico pay for it?
Sometimes promises kept can undermine promises made, like recognizing Israel’s sovereignty in Jerusalem and relocating the US Embassy there. Add to that his decision last month to recognize Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights. Taken together, they put in jeopardy Trump’s hopes of playing peacemaker, if they didn’t doom it entirely.
What little we do know of the peace plan itself - being crafted by Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, and a pair of lawyers from his real estate business – is not encouraging. All three are Orthodox Jews with long ties to the Israeli settler movement and the Israeli Right.
Hints about the plan coming from Ambassador David Friedman, one of Team Jared, suggest that it will fail to meet the minimal Arab threshold: Palestinian statehood (something Friedman himself opposes).
Donald Trump is Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Santa Claus. The president, who boasts that he made it acceptable to say Merry Christmas again, is Bibi’s gift that keeps on giving.
If Trump were ever serious about brokering peace – and that’s still a big IF – he’s backing the wrong horse. Bibi is no more interested in making a serious deal with the Palestinians than the Ayatollah Khameini is in having a bar mitzvah at the Western Wall.
Trump’s Golan decision is seen throughout the Arab world and by many in Israel, particularly by Netanyahu and the Right, as a green light to cross the Green Line (1967 border) and annex major parts of the West Bank.
Speaking at the recent AIPAC conference, Friedman said the Trump plan would give Israel “security control” of the West Bank and “permanent defense positions in the Jordan Valley.” He said future presidents, unlike Trump, might not understand Israel’s need to retain control over the West Bank, suggesting that Trump would not force Israel to relinquish territory. That sounds a lot like a go-ahead for annexation.
TRUMP HAS taken giant measures to help Netanyahu win next week’s election. But Netanyahu has promised voters that there will be no Palestinian state on his watch; what’s more, he’s called for vigorous expansion of construction for West Bank settlers.
Yes, back in 2009 he seemed to endorse the two-state solution, but only under pressure from president Barack Obama, whom he loathed, and with so many caveats as to make it meaningless.
Netanyahu is running for reelection with partners even more extreme than in his current coalition, notably the racist, Kahanist Jewish Power Party and the religious-nationalist Jewish Home Party. Both also espouse strong anti-democratic positions in the Trumpian style of waging war on academics, artists, the media, dissent, the judiciary and liberal institutions.
The centrist Blue and White Party headed by former IDF chief of staff Benny Gantz is on record supporting the two-state solution. With two other former chiefs of staff in the top ranks, they have credibility on security issues, although Netanyahu has been trying to brand them as weak leftists. That’s another similarity between Trump and Netanyahu – demeaning opponents and branding them “leftists.”
The real difference between the two front-runners is that Gantz has promised a government with “no Kahanists running our country,” “no racists leading our state institutions” and most of all “no corruption.” Netanyahu is facing indictment on fraud, bribery and other corruption charges.
Most important may be Gantz’s promise to repair broken relations between Israel and American Jews, which have gotten alarmingly wider and deeper under Netanyahu. That trend will worsen if Netanyahu forms the next government and brings in the Kahanists and ultra-religious and nationalist parties.
IT IS UNCLEAR whether Trump will seriously endorse a two-state solution, but if he does not, his plan will be a non-starter for the Palestinians and America’s Arab allies, notably Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Jordan – and many Americans.
That doesn’t get the Palestinians off the hook; they are no more prepared for serious negotiations than Netanyahu is. But any American plan, endorsed by the Jerusalem government that rejects Palestinian statehood can only lead to new violence and more international isolation for the Jewish state.
Trump is a transactionalist who will feel he has the right to expect Bibi to embrace his peace plan. The prime minister successfully persuaded the president to delay the plan’s unveiling until after next week’s election, but time is running out.
Whether he is reelected or not, Bibi will praise his friends Donald and Jared’s commitment to Israel’s security, cherry-pick the parts of the proposal most useful to him, say some nasty things about the Palestinians and let them reject it first and take the heat from Trump, who already has shown his considerable disdain for them.
If Gantz forms the next government, he will be anxious to welcome the American proposal and promise to give it serious consideration – not because it is realistic or viable, but because showing a new face of reconciliation is critical to rebuilding broken bridges to the Palestinians and to American Jewry.
Gantz may be more receptive, but Trump has locked his arms tightly around Netanyahu, who not only has billboards and real estate to show for that, but is now running videos of last week’s White House visit and endorsement.
After the votes are counted next week and presents are opened, we’ll find out what Santa Trump wants in return.
[email protected]