Analysis

The Real 'Deal of the Century' Is Peace Between Netanyahu and Gantz

The spectacle in Washington will be bizarre: Two claimants to the Israeli throne will discuss the peace plan at the White House with no Palestinian partner. Maybe Israel will at least get a government out of it

U.S Vice President Mike Pence gestures as he stands next to Netanyahu during a visit to the Western Wall, Judaism's holiest prayer site, in Jerusalem's Old City, on January 23, 2020. 
AMMAR AWAD/ REUTERS

After years of announcements and planning, accompanied by a generous portion of speculation, the diplomatic chapter of the Trump administration’s Mideast peace plan to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the so-called “deal of the century,” is finally expected to be unveiled in the very near future.

The team in charge of the plan, headed by U.S. President Donald Trump’s son-in-law and senior advisor Jared Kushner, has gotten tired of waiting for the results of Israel’s endless elections. With the leaders in both Jerusalem and Washington approaching the end of their terms, the people doing the work lost patience, fearing that the plan they crafted would be laid to rest without so much as a eulogy. The new American envoy to the region – former Kushner aide Avi Berkowitz, who replaced Jason Greenblatt – saw his job dwindling into insignificance.

Therefore, when Kahol lavan leader Benny Gantz gave Kushner's team an official green light this week to intervene in Israel’s third election campaign – having realized that the plan was likely to be published with or without him – the public countdown to the unveiling of the plan at the White House began.

Then, before the booby-trapped Gantz had even managed to assess exactly how much dynamite surrounded him, he discovered, wonder of wonders, that the launch date of the long-awaited plan is none other than the day on which the Knesset is expected to discuss Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s request for immunity from prosecution in the three corruption cases against him. And let us not forget that the host at the White House is also up to his neck in investigations.

That’s how the deal that was ostensibly supposed to lead to a peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinians became the deal to bring peace between Netanyahu and Gantz. Or to be more precise, it’s Netanyahu’s Deal of the Century. He and Gantz were invited to discuss it together, as if they were the ones who needed to reach an agreement.

This approach shouldn’t surprise anyone who followed the unveiling of the plan’s economic chapter at the U.S.-led Bahrain conference in June of 2019. It was clear from the get-go to everyone who attended that conference that the Palestinians weren’t a party to it. They appeared in the illustrations of the slick brochures and the Hollywood video clips, but the event wasn’t for them at all.

The few Palestinians who did manage to attend the conference didn’t really represent anyone. And one of the only ones who actually expressed some interest in the plan’s content was contemptuously brushed off by Kushner immediately after he had delivered his speech about the flourishing new Middle East. He was much more interested in the wealthy Arab tycoons who were gathered there. For them, he had smiles to spare.

On countless occasions aside from the symbolic event in Bahrain, the Americans have repeatedly proven that their peace deal wasn’t meant to achieve peace with the Palestinians. With every issue they sought to “take off the table” – from moving the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem through cutting funding for the Palestinians to recognizing Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights – the peace that was being kept was Netanyahu’s peace.

The combination of a “peace team” comprised of people who support the settlements – including U.S. Ambassador to Israel David Friedman, who acts more like Israel’s ambassador to Washington – and the fact that Trump and his vice president, Mike Pence, depend on evangelical voters for support meant there wasn’t much room for soaring fantasies to begin with.

Since September, Israeli officials have repeatedly promised that the plan would ensure Israeli sovereignty over all existing settlements and the annexation of the Jordan Valley as Israel’s eastern border.

They have also promised that the Palestinians’ immediate rejection of the plan would prepare the ground for carrying out these steps unilaterally. Thus, it’s fair to ask whether it wouldn’t be more accurate to call this an annexation plan. On the other hand, those same officials have warned that there could be another side to the coin: All Palestinian areas will remain under Palestinian control and defined as a demilitarized state.

Nevertheless, it’s important to remember that all of this is still just media leaks, which mainly reflect an interest in marketing the plan to Israel’s largely right-wing electorate. We’ll know for sure what the document really contains only when it’s published in full in the near future.

The spectacle will undoubtedly be bizarre: Two claimants to the Israeli throne will discuss the peace plan at the White House with no Palestinian partner, with backing from the right and objections from the left. But maybe we’ll at least get a government out of it.