Why the Right Shouldn't Fear Trump's 'Deal of the Century'

Anyone who's holding out hope that Kahol Lavan will effect a revolution in the Israeli-Palestinian peace process can forget it. Just ask former U.S. Secretary of State Kerry

Secretary of State John Kerry meeting with PM Benjamin Netanyahu, at the David Citadel Hotel in Jerusalem, April 9, 2013.
Matty Stern/U.S. Embassy Tel Aviv

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry was more optimistic than ever at the entrance to the Prime Minister’s Office. He was about to present to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon the comprehensive security solution that U.S. Gen. John Allen had formulated along with a large team from the Israeli defense and intelligence establishments, headed by Israel Defense Forces Maj. Gen. Nimrod Sheffer. Kerry thought his strategy had succeeded.

Prolonged, professional work had created an impressive plan that would enable Israel to withdraw from the vast majority of the territory of Judea and Samaria, in the West Bank, and to establish a Palestinian state – without compromising on the issue of security.

The working plan mentioned American forces on the Jordanian side of the Jordan Valley and another U.S. force on the Palestinian side. The Palestinians agreed to allow the IDF to enter Judea and Samaria again immediately if it turned out that a threat from the east had developed.

The IDF would remain in the Jordan Valley for years after it left the rest of the area – two barriers would be erected between Jordan and Palestine and they would protect the border strip, where no one would be allowed to enter. The Palestinians agreed to further far-reaching concessions to deprive Netanyahu of his security excuse: The IDF would not withdraw as long as the Palestinians had not proved that they could act in a satisfactory manner.

Kerry knew that if the security solution would be agreed upon by all the parties, use of the “London channel” – the secret channel through which other issues were being discussed by Netanyahu and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas at the time – would seemingly be nearing an end, at least on the matter of territory. Kerry thought that Netanyahu was impressed at the meeting, the first of a few held during the first week in December 2013. He wrote in his memoirs that the premier said that if the process failed, it wouldn't be over that issue.

However, when Kerry returned to Netanyahu the next day, the tune had changed. Netanyahu trashed all the work that had been done. Kerry was convinced that the person who is today No. 3 on the Kahol Lavan slate, Moshe Ya’alon, caused the reversal. Then-IDF Chief of Staff Benny Gantz – as is typical of him – was not really involved in the whole story. He did not push to either accept or reject the plan, or seek a clearer understanding of why Ya’alon threw out the far-reaching understandings between the security establishments of the IDF, Palestinians and United States.

This story needs to serve as another reminder that Kahol Lavan – even if it wins the election – will not bring about a revolution in the peace process. Gantz thinks that maybe it is possible to do something about it but only with the leadership that comes after Abbas. Abbas is too tightly constrained by his past positions. In this context, Ya’alon is even further to the right than Netanyahu, who was willing to talk about a Palestinian state along the 1967 lines with land swaps on an equal basis.

It is even more important to kill off the new spin generated by Education Minister Naftali Bennett and his colleagues. The co-chairman of Hayamin Hehadash is under pressure, has learned the lessons from the trauma he suffered in the 2015 election, and is now trying to build a case for why it's necessary to vote for him and not Netanyahu. Bennett is trying to create a feeling that U.S. President Donald Trump is on the verge of appearing with a Clintonian withdrawal plan and hysterical pressure for a positive answer. The subtext is: Netanyahu needs a strong Bennett.

If only Trump had such an intention. An American who is in on the secret of the “Deal of the Century” was asked why the United States won’t propose a Palestinian state with East Jerusalem as its capital. Netanyahu won’t agree, he answered.

This deal isn’t a plan, they say in the administration, it’s more of a “vision.” What’s the difference? We have no intention of imposing anything. Trump’s team is so eager not to confront Netanyahu that they are even considering postponing the release of the plan until after a new government coalition is formed. They will certainly decide according to what is best for the prime minister.

It is already quite clear that establishment of a Palestinian state will not be mentioned in the plan, and certainly it will not speak of a capital in East Jerusalem or about the 1967 lines. We understand the Palestinians will reject it, say the Americans, but that is only the present leadership. Under them are many people who would be happy to join us.

It’s been a long time since we have heard that old and pitiful claim.