U.S. President Donald Trump’s plan for an agreement with the Palestinians is in its final stages of preparation. The prevailing view is that it will be submitted to the parties involved early next year. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will be forced to accept it, even if he’s not pleased with all its details. “Trump is about to put forward a plan, and I have no intention of quarreling with him,” he told a coalition party leader recently.
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A diplomatic source who is often in the U.S. and meets with Trump’s aides related that there’s disappointment with Netanyahu in Trump’s circles. “They think we stretched the rope too far,” he said. In what way, I asked. “They want us to implement confidence-building measures in relation to the Palestinians, and we say no to every request,” the source replied.
I pressed for details. The source noted that the Americans had recently submitted a variety of requests to Israel: grant the Palestinians building rights, offer them economic and commercial breaks, remove checkpoints, and the like. Each request triggered a meeting in the Prime Minister’s Office of all the relevant parties: army, Shin Bet security service, Office of the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories, Defense Ministry – and settlers.
The settlers? Do they have a seat at the table, I asked. “Of course,” he said. “They send a representative to every discussion and he objects to every request. Everything is ‘too close’ to their settlements. And their view is always accepted.”
The Americans are fed up with Israel’s rejectionist stance, the source added, and they were really riled by the freeze on the Qalqilyah plan. The plan, which was publicized last June, and agreed on between Netanyahu and Trump and his envoys, called for expansion of the Palestinian city by about 2,500 dunams (625 acres) and construction of 14,000 new residential units. The expansion would be at the expense of Area C (under full Israeli control), and spitting distance from the Trans-Israel Highway.
When Netanyahu proposed the plan in the security cabinet, he came under heavy fire from Education Minister Naftali Bennett and Justice Minister Shaked (Habayit Hayehudi), and from Likud ministers. You might have thought he’d handed the Western Wall to ISIS. The plan was hastily buried, and Bennett checked off another victory vis-a-vis the premier.
I asked the source if the Americans would be willing to hear from Netanyahu the eternal reply, “Yes, but ...” with regard to the question of establishment of a Palestinian state. The source said they would not. “With Trump there’s no ‘but,’” he asserted.
And what if Netanyahu nonetheless responds with a qualified answer? “That would be bad,” the source said. “In that case, it would become clear that we had succeeded in quarreling even with the most fawning administration of all time. That takes a special talent, no?”
I asked MK Michael Oren (Kulanu), a deputy minister in the Prime Minister’s Office and former ambassador to Washington – someone who knows a thing or two about America – whether that was indeed the situation.
The deputy minister chose not to comment, but shared a disturbing phenomenon he’s encountering among “liberal circles” in the U.S. According to Oren, some Democratic Party supporters are currently talking about a new “axis of evil” – which consists of Saudi Arabia, Trump and Israel. Opposing them is the positive axis, the “sons of light” – who include Iran and Europe.
What weight do such circles have, I asked. They’re a depressed and depressive minority.
Oren sighed: “They’ll be back,” he said. “They’ll be back.”
In response to the report, the White House told Haaretz's Washington correspondent Amir Tibon that: "It is hard to find the words to describe how false this story is and how out of the loop the sources are."