Trump’s remaining 10 week window on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict

If Trump's legacy in Judea and Samaria is to last, Netanyahu will have to move quickly.

US President Donald Trump supporters take part in a rally ahead of the US presidential election day in Beit Shemesh, Israel November 2, 2020 (photo credit: AMMAR AWAD/REUTERS)
US President Donald Trump supporters take part in a rally ahead of the US presidential election day in Beit Shemesh, Israel November 2, 2020
(photo credit: AMMAR AWAD/REUTERS)
Former US president Bill Clinton made a last ditch effort to make his mark on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict during his final months in office.
In December 2000, he brought together Israeli and Palestinian negotiators at Camp David in a series of talks that did not yield a resolution, but which led to the publication of the Clinton parameters in which he outlined guidelines for a two-state solution.
It was a blueprint that went unheeded by former US president George Bush, whose Road Map and Annapolis process never came to fruition. Bush then attempted to solidify gains made under Annapolis with United Nations Security Council Resolution 1850, approved in December 2008.
Former US president Barack Obama discarded the Annapolis process for his own peace initiatives, which came to a halt in April 2014. With no hope of resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, he made his mark on the situation by refusing to veto UNSC Resolution 2334 which upheld a two-state resolution to the conflict based on the pre-1967 lines and condemned Israeli action over those lines.
With his failure to secure another four years in the White House, US President Donald Trump’s Deal of the Century will now most certainly be shelved by President-elect Joe Biden, and has no hope of execution.
The Palestinian Authority had already rejected Trump's plan when it was first unveiled and no negotiations were ever held under its rubric.
Unlike Clinton, Trump cannot bring the Palestinians and Israelis together for talks. Nor can he turn to the UN Security Council to cement his vision, because he has no international support for his plan.
The only step he could take would be to cement his map of the conflict by approving Israeli annexation and giving Israel the green light to do so as well.
Trump is prevented from recognizing Israeli sovereignty over the West Bank settlements, however, by his agreement to suspend annexation in favor of US-brokered Israeli normalization deals with Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates through the mechanism of the Abraham Accords.
These accords are one of his presidency’s more significant legacies in the Middle East. Not just because of their impact on Israeli-Arab relations, but because they are the basis for a burgeoning regional alliance against Iran, which is the basis of his other regional legacy.
So when it comes to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, these next ten weeks are more likely to be marked by what the US will allow Prime Minster Benjamin Netanyahu to do than any action the Trump administration might take.
Here, Netanyahu, like Trump, is limited when it comes to annexation. Netanyahu’s own political future is tenuous and the Abraham Accords are also a significant part of his diplomatic legacy. They also offer enormous economic opportunity for Israel and their significance with respect to Iran has only grown, given that Biden is likely to take a softer stance against Iran.
Netanyahu, however, can’t afford to politically waste these last ten weeks, which are much more critical for him than for Trump.
Should Netanyahu contemplate calling again for early elections, or should his government fall, he would have a hard time vying against Yamina Party head Naftali Bennett on the issue of settlements, since he failed to make good on his pledge to annex those communities.
Given that he can’t annex, the next best thing is for Netanyahu to shore up Israel’s presence in the West Bank as much as possible. The Abraham Accords do not include any restrictions on settlement activity, and so the Trump administration has not stymied Israel’s actions on this score.
Top of the list of actions Netanyahu can take is the approval of some 70 to 100 illegal West Bank outposts. These are fledgling communities that lack authorization. Veteran settler leader Pinchas Wallerstein headed a committee that disbanded this summer which had already completed some of the necessary legwork.
The idea would be to authorize as many of the outposts as possible as neighborhoods of existing settlements. This is a pattern that has already been established.
The Right and settler leaders will look to Netanyahu to approve the remainder of the outposts as new settlements. If there is not enough time for all the necessary steps to be taken, they will want Netanyahu to pass a government decision declaring in principle that the outposts have been authorized, while leaving the details for later.
In addition, they would want Netanyahu to allow for the outposts to be hooked up to utilities and be considered de-facto legal communities until they are authorized, so that life can be normalized there as much as possible.
Such steps are particularly necessary given that the illegal status of the outposts makes them vulnerable to legal petitions by left-wing NGOs asking the High Court of Justice to order their evacuation.
After that, the Right will look to Netanyahu to hold another meeting of the Higher Planning Council for Judea and Samaria prior to Trump’s departure from office, to approve as many plans as possible.
This would include validating construction of 3,412 apartment units for the contentious E1 project in an unbuilt area of the Ma’aleh Adumim settlement. Construction of these homes had also been a Netanyahu campaign pledge. He allowed for plans for the project to be deposited, but now settlers would want him to grant final approval for those plans.
In addition, the Right would also want to see the advancement of construction for 1,100 new Jewish homes in the newly created Givat Hamatos neighborhood of east Jerusalem that has been held up due to a technical dispute.
Trump might have begun his presidency by pledging to make the Deal of the Century. During its course he took significant steps to shore up Israel’s hold on Judea and Samaria, including by declaring that settlement activity was not inconsistent with international law. He also stated that the US would not distinguish in its dealing between the West Bank settlements and sovereign Israel.
But in these last weeks, the ball returns to Netanyahu’s court, to maximize or minimize the remainder of Trump’s term in office.