When Yitzhak Rabin, Shimon Peres or Ehud Barak traveled to meet with the president of the United States, many of those on the right were filled with worry: What plans for retreat are they bringing with them to Washington, what dictates are expected – and how will they deal with them? Even the trips by Menachem Begin and Yitzhak Shamir raised fears, mostly because of the suspicions as to their ability to hold their ground – and as for Begin, these suspicions were justified.
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Interestingly, it is actually Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who does not stand out in his steadfastness even in the face of minor functionaries from his own party, who relatively and honorably withstood the pressures of the Obama administration, manipulated the president more than once and even appeared before the two Houses of Congress. The sulking by the opposition, and the local and American media, did not deter Netanyahu – nor did the rupture that the Foreign Ministry and intelligence community predicted.
So why now, on the eve of his trip to meet a declared ally such as Donald Trump, has the latent suspicion, even in Likud, arisen again: that this time Netanyahu might well ask the president what he thinks about annexing settlement blocs only – and he will receive a positive response, and when he returns he will present it as Trumps plan. The same Trump who, as Netanyahu has said, will be the friendliest U.S. president to Israel of all time.
When he announced the construction of some 5,500 housing units, Netanyahu emphasized that almost all would be built in the settlement blocs. He even hinted that the new administration in Washington was aware of the announcement in advance. Here is the trap: If coordination did exist, then Netanyahu sketched out in the new awareness in Washington the maximum he is aspiring to, a maximum that Yair Lapid and Isaac Herzog can both claim for themselves.
If over the years Trump has heard from his friends and family about the rights of Jews to settlement and sovereignty in their entire homeland, now comes the prime minister of the Jewish state and declares, to the presidents complete surprise, that he will be satisfied with the blocs, which are just a few percent of the territory of Judea and Samaria. Beit El, which Trump contributed to its development – as did his son-in-law – with his own money, is outside the blocs.
To the best of my knowledge, Netanyahu was asked about these suspicions. His answer: I did not intend that at all. If he truly did not have that intention, then he will have to prove it. Before his trip he will have to announce that new communities will be built, and in the rest of the settlements, not just in the blocs, thousands of housing units will be built. If he does not do so, this will serve as an admission that he truly does have such intentions, and the border of the blocs is the border he is promoting.
When this framework is presented to Trump, he will give it his blessing. If Netanyahu is not afraid of a Hamas state that from the hilltops of Judea and Samaria dominates the population centers of his country, then why should the president of the United States worry about it?
If we have in the White House, as Netanyahu says, a friend unlike any other who came before him, then why not try to enlist him (in addition to canceling the Iranian nuclear agreement) to achieve goals that are much more crucial than building in the settlement blocs, such as ending U.S. support for the establishment of a Palestinian terrorist state in Judea and Samaria, and American support in the United Nations Security Council for the annexation of Area C.
It is reasonable to assume that at this stage in the Trump presidency it is possible to gain his support for these strategic goals, and even for more ambitious ones. But Netanyahu, as far as is known, does not intend to present them. The leadership of Likud and Habayit Hayehudi are aware of this.
In the few days remaining before his trip, they must make it clear to Netanyahu that he has a mandate to present – and achieve – these attainable goals. If not, the coalition will be dismantled and he may very well lose the only thing he really cares about: his position as prime minister.