In his usual offhand manner, U.S. President Donald Trump deflated entire theories that had speculated on why Kahol Lavan chairman Benny Gantz had also been invited to Washington, confirming in his own voice why Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Gantz had agreed to meet him separately: the United States doesn’t really want to be seen as interfering in Israel’s election. He said that Washington had patiently waited for results in the two earlier election rounds, but they were tiring of this. He added that this was a sensitive topic for America, which is accusing other countries of interfering in its own elections.
While it’s difficult to argue that there is no interference here, at least with regard to the central issue around which the election will take place, it was important for the White House to clarify to Israel that both sides are cooperating with the unveiling of his plan, so that, ostensibly, this is not interfering on behalf of either of the two rivals. In other words, it was not only his old friend Benjamin Netanyahu who was cooperating with the president, it was, as Trump called Gantz, his “rival,” which is like calling Gantz “that other one” in front of the cameras.
Is it possible that it was Netanyahu who suggested inviting Gantz, as Vice President Mike Pence had said? Perhaps. And perhaps Pence only wanted to extricate Netanyahu from being embarrassed by the cordial invitation extended to his “rival.” Maybe this suited Netanyahu, who hasn’t quite relinquished the idea of a unity government with immunity for himself. The final decision was made in accordance with American interests, and this was used as leverage by Gantz to obtain the separate meeting he wished for, which allowed him to escape from the tight spot he was in. All this was done without the knowledge of Netanyahu’s long-time confidant, Israel’s ambassador to the U.S. Ron Dermer, as reported in Haaretz by Amir Tibon.
To Israelis it may not seem impressive, and be somewhat obvious given the circumstances, that the president devoted time to the two leading contenders in Israel’s election, but in an American context this was an unusual show. Not that anyone showed any interest in it, given the gloomy news that now opens newscasts in the U.S.
Further vagueness was disseminated by Trump in his short statements to cameras before his meeting with Netanyahu. It revolved around the timing at which his plan would be revealed. After all the waiting and guessing, it will all be over on Tuesday at 7 P.M. Israel time. No more leaks and spin. The thing itself will be released to the world and public debate will finally be able to be based on facts rather than on rumors cloaked in vested interests.
The Trump-Netanyahu meeting was a regular bilateral meeting dealing with current issues between the two states. It started with a small group and was then extended to include a larger one. Iran, Iran, Iran, including the implications of the Soleimani assassination, ending with a discussion of how the United States can lend further support to Israel in fending off dealing with the International Criminal Court in The Hague.
On Tuesday, the two will meet again to mark the revealing of Trump’s plan, which was originally supposed to be launched in the presence of Gantz, but he dodged that one and was on his way to Israel, where he will participate in the Knesset debate on removing Netanyahu’s immunity from prosecution.
Anxious to learn what this plan really contains, beyond the leaks released by the Israeli side in an attempt to placate them, several settler leaders are waiting behind the scenes in Washington. They will not let Netanyahu forget for a moment who’s the boss. With them, arm in arm, is the evangelical lobby. They too will tell Trump who’s the boss.
So much is supposedly known already about this plan, through words and through action taken by this administration throughout its term. Both Trump and Netanyahu are such controversial figures, to say the least, that anything they present will be judged through this prism. People who hate them will immediately oppose the plan, those who like them will immediately support it. The Palestinians have already announced that they’ll throw the document in the garbage without reading it, whereas moderate Arab leaders who are close to the United States and supported by it will probably express their support. The settlers and evangelicals are the only ones who are leading rather than being led.
A moment before all this unfolds, maybe it’s best for all respondents to take a deep breath and read a few sections of the plan before launching an automatic barrage of tweets. Supporters or opponents, the diplomatic issue has again proven that it’s not dead. It deserves a deeper, more reasoned discussion, and this might serve as the opportunity to have one.
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