The Trump administration recorded a considerable diplomat achievement on Tuesday, when one after another Egypt, Jordan and Morocco announced their participation in the economic workshop the United States is coordinating in Bahrain in two weeks.
The efforts of Jared Kushner, U.S. President Donald Trump’s son-in-law and senior adviser, to convince these countries to participate have finally borne fruit. Jordan and Egypt – which desperately need economic aid and hope to also benefit from some of the funds the Gulf states will provide to the Palestinians – will send representatives to the meeting, even if it is still unclear as to the ranks and positions of the delegates. It is likely that Israel will also participate.
But the ones who are still standing firm in their refusal to attend are the Palestinians themselves. Hamas has gone without saying, but the Palestinian Authority has also completely rejected requests from America and the Gulf states. The PA is even strongly pressuring businessmen from the West Bank to not accept personal invitations they received to the conference.
According to promises from the White House, this summer was supposed to mark the presentation of the Trump administration's “Deal of the Century” peace proposal for Israel and the Palestinians. It looks like this probably will not happen, as the decision to call new Knesset election rained on their parade. But, to a certain extent, the Trump administration is also breathing a sigh of relief. From the information leaked about the peace plan thus far, it seems it was not completely baked. As far as the Palestinians are concerned, it was a complete non-starter. The Palestinians view the proposal and its American broker as so biased in Israel’s favor that there is no point in even coming to the negotiating table.
Now the initiative can be put off well into next year. The easy part of the proposal – the economic pledges worth tens of billions of dollars, which no one has promised to keep and are not on any tight deadline – will be presented to the world at the Bahrain summit. The hard part, the diplomatic plan that, does not seem to include an independent Palestinian state and also may very much limit the Palestinians' status in Jerusalem, will have to wait for the election results and the formation of the next Israeli government. By then, Trump will be busy with his own reelection campaign, so it would be possible to put it off again, indefinitely.
Given the circumstances, and in light of the complete lack of mutual trust between the parties and the proven difficulties of the Trump administration in promoting complex plans – this may be for the better. But the potential risk is a scenario alluded to every so often on the Israeli right, and even in Netanyahu’s own circle.
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If the Trump administration nevertheless does present its plan at some point and the Palestinians refuse it as expected – Trump and Netanyahu could very well take advantage of it to advance a unilateral step to annex some of Area C in the West Bank, the area under full Israeli civil and security control. Israel would seemingly have justification to do so, as it will respond positively (“Yes, but”) to the American initiative, which the Palestinians will have rejected.
The most right-wing member of the Trump administration’s Middle East negotiating team, American Ambassador to Israel David Friedman, hinted at the possibility of annexation in an interview The New York Times published last weekend. In an even more extreme scenario, and given that his political and personal future hang in the balance, Netanyahu could very well consider announcing annexation on election night in September, in the hopes of drawing even more right-wing voters to Likud, even without the American initiative having been presented yet.
Recent years have been filled with warnings by Israeli military intelligence of the possibility of an eruption in the Palestinian arena. Thus far, these forecasts have not come to fruition, even though there have been a few especially tense periods – most of all the “mini-Intifada” of stabbings and car ramming attacks that broke out in September 2015 and lasted for almost a year.
A move for unilateral annexation, if it occurs, would present the most difficult challenge to continued security cooperation between Israel and the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank. For now, security coordination continues to exist, despite the severe economic crisis the PA walked into with its eyes wide open, due to the dispute with Israel over the PA's continued financial support for security prisoners.
The speed that the two sides resolved Tuesday's shooting incident in Nablus, in which Israeli soldiers fired at Palestinian police officers because they mistook them for armed terrorists, demonstrates their desire to continue and stabilize the current situation. But an annexation plan would be a test of an entirely different nature.
For now, temperatures are once again rising gradually on the Gaza border. After a few weeks of intentional calm, Hamas has once again loosened the reins of the cells launching incendiary balloons into Israel, and the number of fires in the bordering Israeli fields has increased significantly. So far, the Israeli response has been rather restrained, and has been focused on limiting Gaza's fishing zone – and then expanding it, and then limiting it again in response to the launching of more balloons – time after time.
According to Hamas announcements, a larger and possibly more violent demonstration than usual is planned for Friday. As usual, attempts will be made to restore calm through talks with Egyptian intelligence officials and an additional monthly cash infusion – to the tune of $30 million – from Qatar. But five weeks after the last harsh round of violence in the Gaza Strip, which took the lives of four Israelis and dozens of Palestinians, it seems that another round of military confrontations is only getting closer.