Trump's Israeli-Palestinian Deal Will Present A Challenge For Netanyahu

Two points make it a bitter pill to Netanyahu
03/13/2017 08:05 am ET Updated Mar 20, 2017

Jason Greenblatt is President Trump’s envoy for negotiating deals, and the Israeli-Palestinian situation is one that can become, if we believe the President, the mother of all deals. Greenblatt is in Jerusalem to start the ‘’somewhat’’ complicated business of doing this particular deal. The choice of Greenblatt to the job, as well as that of the President’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, to play a role in the negotiations and that of the new Ambassador to Israel, David Friedman, all are interesting indications, that despite the aura of amateurism, even dilettantism which characterizes the President’s foreign policy, there is some strategic thinking behind it all.

The President wants to soften the Israelis, PM Netanyahu and his Right Wing coalition partners, by appointing friendly people, so that it will be nearly impossible for them to charge foul play with an administration which sends such well-proven pro-Israel envoys. The Nixon administration used Henry Kissinger, but that was not the same, as he was THE foreign policy guru of the President and never a self-admitted pro-Israel Jew. The fly in the ointment here, so far as Israel’s current government is concerned, is the fact that all these envoys are not coming to Jerusalem to tell their discussants what they want to hear, rather what the President wants them to hear.

In fact, what the President wants them to hear is becoming rather clear, judging by the volume of statements, leaks and actions, and here are the main points. He is more pro-Israel than President Obama was, he is not going to bad mouth Israel and send his spokesmen to criticize it almost as a matter of ritual. He will not allow the UN to continue being the verbal, possibly political kangaroo court of Israel, he wants to move the Embassy to Jerusalem, but not now-up to that point all is nice music to the ears of Netanyahu. But because he is SO pro-Israel, the Israelis need to give him so much political credit to concentrate on the Palestinian issue, to accept his polite but firm demand to suspend both talk of building new settlements and expanding existing ones, and move on with his idea about a regional settlement, to be achieved probably through a regional peace conference.

One element of his approach which goes beyond the realm of politeness, is the strict demand to evade any unilateral annexation act, including the Right Wing favorite idea, to formally annex Ma’ale Edumim and connect it with Jerusalem. Altogether, the package is NOT at all bad for Israel, but there are two points there which make it a bitter pill to Netanyahu, and very likely an impossible pill to swallow for his Right Wing partners. The first is the priority given by the President to an Israeli-Palestinian solution, contrary to expectations in the Israeli Right Wing, that President Trump is not really interested in this problem. Second, this is the question of settlements. On both accounts though, there is a difference between Netanyahu and Naftali Bennett, the militant Right Wing leader.

Netanyahu understands, that Trump being interested with the Palestinian issue will NOT stop him from dealing also with Iran, Syria and Islamic Jihadist terrorism, all issues of much concern to Israel, where common ground between Israel and the US is almost assured. Secondly, Netanyahu personally is ready to accept a freeze on settlements, surely a temporary one, and while he says the opposite in public, he says something else behind closed doors. He also has the advantage of his other coalition partners, Defense Minister Lieberman and popular treasury Minister Kachlon on his side on the issue of settlements. Netanyahu therefore has a problem on his hands―give the green light to Greenblatt now and other Trump envoys later to restart the process of negotiations and at the same time preserve his coalition intact.

A formidable challenge even for such a seasoned politician. He has another option-tell Naftali Bennett that his time is up, and he is free to leave. Isaac Herzog from Labor is just waiting for that to happen, and if he does not, then Yair Lapid from Yesh Atid will be happy to get the Foreign Ministry and start negotiations with the Palestinians. The current round of talks in Jerusalem may not still be the crucial one, but will definitely offer more than a glimpse to both Trump and Netanyahu thinking and priorities.

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