With Trump, Against Israel's Annexationist Right

Fear of the U.S. president's unexpected reactions is helping Netanyahu mobilize forces to block the ministers of the extreme right. This is good news

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and U.S. President Donald Trump at Ben-Gurion International Airport on May 22, 2017.

As a demonstration of good will to U.S. President Donald Trump on the eve of his visit to Israel, and over the angry objections of Habayit Hayehudi ministers, the security cabinet on Sunday approved a package of economic gestures to the Palestinians.

The gestures include easing the passage of laborers between the West Bank and Israel, expanding the Shaar Ephraim crossing near Tul Karm; keeping the Allenby Crossing, which serves Palestinians crossing to and from Jordan, open 24/7; allowing the expansion of the Tarqumiya industrial zone into Area C; and the issuing of building permits for thousands of homes on land adjacent to Palestinian cities in Area C. The ministers also agreed to examine the feasibility of connecting the Valley Train line to Jenin.

These gestures follow a long period in which the Palestinians weren’t getting any breaks from Israel, and come a few weeks after a decision to restrain construction in the settlements. These are steps in the right direction for which Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is to be congratulated.

“Mr. President, Israel also shares the commitment to peace that you expressed yesterday,” Netanyahu told Trump at the reception ceremony at Ben-Gurion Airport on Monday. “We’ve already made peace with Egypt and with Jordan, and Israel’s hand is extended in peace to all our neighbors, including the Palestinians. The peace we seek is a genuine and durable one.”

Israel is doing the right thing by backing the prime minister’s declarations with actions. We must hope that these plans don’t remain on paper.

The debate in the security cabinet revealed once again the fissure on the right that is getting deeper as Trump’s determination to achieve Middle East peace gets stronger. Its foundation is the question of ownership of the territories. The ministers had to hold two separate votes – one on easing the conditions at the crossings, which passed unanimously, and another regarding the building permits, to which Education Minister Naftali Bennett and Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked vehemently objected.

It’s becoming increasingly clear that the argument on the right is not over security (the proof is that the Habayit Hayehudi ministers voted to improve the conditions at the crossings); nor does it involve the question of whether or not there is a Palestinian partner. It has become even more obvious when faced with an American president who until recently seemed to be poised to make the extreme right’s dreams come true. The annexationist faction on the right is simply unwilling to yield a single inch.

Trump’s determination on the one hand, and his fickle character on the other, forced Netanyahu to act against his nature, which is always to do everything he can to do nothing. Moreover, the fear of Trump’s unexpected reactions is helping him mobilize forces to block the ministers of the extreme right, who are pushing him to annex land as if there are no Palestinians. This is good news, and we must hope it will continue.

The above article is Haaretz's lead editorial, as published in the Hebrew and English newspapers in Israel.