Let’s imagine the next scenario: A unity government has been set up in Israel along the lines of President Rivlin’s proposal – which specifies a rotation of the premiership between Benjamin Netanyahu and Benny Gantz. Donald Trump lays the “deal of the century” on the table. Netanyahu would say this is no time to change a prime minister. This is a historic, one-time opportunity Israel is getting a de facto green light for annexation from the United States.
The Foreign Minister and acting Prime Minister Benny Gantz would find himself in an impossible situation with history knocking at his door. The president of the United States is, personally, pressuring him. Kahol Lavan would split in two – those in favor of annexation, Ya’alon and company, would implore him not to give up the chance. The leftists in Yesh Atid would push him to quit; Kahol Lavan might be divided.
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This has been Netanyahu’s plan from the outset: To lock Gantz and his people in a government they could not get out of, like the Hotel California. This explains his willingness during the talks to set up a unity coalition – which was hard to fathom in real time – to remain six, even five months in office, before giving up his seat. During this time he and Trump would have implemented phase B in the plan to save Bibi – and would have closed in on Gantz.
Now that the endless election rounds seem like a déjà vu mixed with a hangover, and in view of the faint chance that Netanyahu manages to form a government after March 2, the White House has decided to throw the mother of all strategic bombs into the arena.
On the face of it, as much as one can judge at this early stage, Netanyahu has more to gain from this move than Gantz. The plan is already portrayed as “extremely good for the Israeli right,” an opportunity that won’t come around again. The Palestinians won't hear of it, of course. This will pave the way for annexation of most or all of the settlements in the West Bank, with the Americans' consent.
The strategic dilemma facing Gantz is more complex than the one facing Netanyahu. The latter will merely have to calm the right’s anxieties, in his party and his bloc, about a Palestinian state. It won’t be established because the Palestinians will reject the plan out of hand, he will tell them, and he’d be right to a large extent. Gantz, on the other hand, unless he wants to fall out with the Americans, will be forced to conduct a large marketing campaign.
Gantz will have no choice but to approach the plan with positive rhetoric. This could again cause incoherence in Kahol Lavan’s ranks.
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Trump’s plan generates – for the first time in the last three election rounds – a heavyweight issue beyond the lines of “Bibi” or “not Bibi.” It can overshadow the immunity issue. This is clearly the president’s plan. Trump sees Netanyahu as a fellow victim – they’re both in the midst of an election campaign, both are in trouble, both are being harassed and there are forces that want to throw them both out of office.
The meeting between Trump, Netanyahu and Gantz in Washington has been set for Tuesday next week, the same day the Knesset will convene to discuss and authorize setting up the parliamentary committee to handle Netanyahu's immunity request. It will also be Super Tuesday, in which the American Senate is also supposed to reach the final stage in the president’s impeachment trial.
The sensitive timing could bring Speaker Yuli Edelstein to put off the Knesset meeting by a week, in light of the circumstances. He has a case, and if attacked by the left in the Knesset, so be it. After all the ire he received from the right over the past week, he’ll be glad for a few hugs at home.