Analysis

Trump Fulfills Netanyahu's Diplomatic Vision, but Is Unlikely to Save His Political Career

'Deal of the Century' paves the way for a unity government of Likud and Kahol Lavan, if the formula can be found to remove Netanyahu out of the way, or at least terminate his tenure while his trial is ongoing

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and President Donald Trump at the White House, Washington, January 28, 2020.
AFP

The Mideast peace plan that U.S. President Donald Trump presented on Tuesday fulfilled most of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s political dreams. The main new element of the plan is American recognition of the legitimacy of Israel’s claims over the West Bank for legal, security and historical reasons.

The plan pays lips service to UN Resolution 242, which was the basis for the “land in exchange for peace” process between Israel and its neighbors, but in the same breath it tosses aside hundreds of other decisions by international bodies that opposed the occupation and Israeli settlements in the territories as illegal, and for the first time grants a White House seal of approval for extending Israeli law to the settlements and the Jordan Valley.

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Netanyahu presented these principles in his book, “A Place Among the Nations,” which he published some 25 years ago as the answer of the Israeli right to the Oslo Accords. At that time, Netanyahu blamed the West for betraying Zionism and portraying Israel as an invader and occupier instead of as a victim of aggression in need of the “defensive wall” of the mountains of Judea and Samaria and the Golan Heights. When he returned to power in 2009, Netanyahu delivered his “Bar-Ilan speech,” in which he agreed for the first time to a demilitarized Palestinian state that would recognize Israel as the state of the Jewish people. He subsequently presented additional principles for an accord, such as total opposition to evacuating settlements and to the return of Palestinian refugees to Israel. But he always refused to present a map of what this future Palestine would look like, or to elaborate on the Bar-Ilan vision by presenting a practical plan. All that has changed now.

Trump’s so-called “Deal of the Century” translates Netanyahu’s ideas into a highly detailed document, with a map of future borders and a long list of security and economic arrangements. The plan is faithful to the basic principle that all the U.S. administrations of the past 20 years have presented, ever since the release of the Clinton Parameters: The land shall be divided into two states on the basis of the 1967 borders and land swaps will be carried out, with a highway from Gaza to Hebron in the West Bank that would create contiguity between the two parts of Palestine, with Israel retaining security responsibility along the external borders, in the air and sea, as well as on the electromagnetic spectrum. 

The main difference – compared to the proposals by former presidents Bill Clinton, George Bush and Barack Obama eras – is that Jerusalem's Old City would remain under Israeli control, with the Waqf, the Islamic custodian of the Temple Mount, and Jordan retaining their autonomy in the Temple Mount in return for Jewish worshippers being permitted to pray there.

The capital of Palestine would be in the “outskirt neighborhoods” beyond the security barrier. Another key difference of Trump’s plan is that it eliminates the Palestinian demand for the right of return for refugees or massive financial compensation. The world is busy now with the refugees from Syria and doesn’t have the interest or the money to deal with the Palestinians. Trump is basically telling the Palestinians: “You’ve spent 70 years in the refugee camps, it’s time for you to move on.”

Trump’s name may be on the plan, which is geared to help him muster support from evangelical and right-wing Jewish voters in his reelection campaign. But, more than anything, the Deal of the Century is the legacy of Netanyahu, who helped to forge it with while employing significant diplomatic skills and achieved his dream just hours after criminal charges were formally filed against him in the Jerusalem District Court.

His career in leading the country is evidently nearing its end; like all of his predecessors without exception, Netanyahu, too, has followed the tragic path of Israeli prime ministers, none of whom went willingly into retirement. With the dual drama in the courtroom and at the White House, Netanyahu outdid his predecessors with his take on the old story. But this may not help him survive for another term on Balfour Street.

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Now the election campaign for the 23rd Knesset will really get underway, with Likud clearly holding an advantageous position. Kahol Lavan Chairman Benny Gantz did get to have a separate meeting and photo ops with Trump, who called him “The General.”

In return, he declared his party’s support for the plan and gave up the possibility of forming a bloc with the Joint List alliance of Arab-majority parties, which vehemently opposes the Deal of the Century. Trump’s plan won’t achieve peace anytime soon between Israel and the Palestinians, who have rejected much more generous offers in the past. It is more likely to pave the way for a unity government of Likud and Kahol Lavan that are currently in agreement on foreign policy and security. All that remains is to find the formula for removing Netanyahu out of the way, or at least terminate his tenure while his trial is ongoing.