Earlier this year, just before Israel’s second election, Trump released his “peace plan”. Predictably, Netanyahu was able to use the plan to help him in the election. Also predictably, Abbas and the Bibi bashers screamed bloody murder. What was not predicted was that many Israeli settlers, especially religious settlers, would oppose the peace plan.
None of them needed to worry.
Trump’s Peace Plan is neither Trump’s nor is it a peace plan. It was Netanyahu’s plan to get both himself and Trump re-elected in 2020. So far, it has worked; Netanyahu is once again the Prime Minister. Netanyahu has downsides, but stupidity is not among them. He knows that the peace plan has absolutely no chance of bringing Israel peace; that will not happen until Iran/Hezbollah and Hamas agree. That will not happen.
The plan is Netanyahu’s not Trump’s. Dore Gold, a very experienced Israeli diplomat who has had a close relationship with Netanyahu for decades, explained. Both the Israelis and the Americans sought Gold’s assistance in composing the plan, which was produced over two years. During that period, Gold met closely with Jason Greenblatt, the leader of the American team. Greenblatt is an American real-estate lawyer who was the chief legal officer to Donald Trump and the Trump Organization in New York. Gold spent two years educating Greenblatt. According to Gold, Greenblatt came into the project a real estate lawyer and came out a middle-east expert.
The other key player on the American side was David Friedman. Friedman, now the American Ambassador to Israel, was Trump’s bankruptcy lawyer in New York. He has direct access to Trump. One of the key players in the negotiations on the Israeli side was Ron Dermer, the Israeli Ambassador to the United States. Dermer has similar access to Netanyahu. According to Gold, it was like having Trump and Netanyahu in the room.
Apparently, the Israelis educated the Americans well. The result was a peace plan which gave Israel everything it wanted and gave the Palestinians little. It provides for an undivided Jerusalem, including Israeli control over Al Aqsa/The Temple Mount. The only part of Jerusalem which is given to the Palestinians is a small section beyond the separation barrier. No Jews live there. Abbas is given almost no right of return; the plan contains numerous conditions which are impossible to fulfill. For example, Hamas must agree to a demilitarized Gaza. Most importantly, the original plan gives Israel the right to impose Israeli law on huge portions of the West Bank, including the Jordan Valley. This was exactly what Netanyahu was promising his supporters in the election.
Many settlers who supported Netanyahu in the elections object to the plan because it envisions the creation of a Palestinian State. However, the plan only envisions a Palestinian state, if the parties agree, something the Palestinians will never do.
While Netanyahu knew exactly what he was doing, Trump was, largely, clueless. My biases: Trump is a racist, sexist, egomaniacal, miserable excuse for a human being who cares about nobody but himself. I don’t think that he ever does anything for the right reasons, but, occasionally, he does the right thing anyway, especially when it costs him nothing.
He is wildly popular in Israel for several reasons. First, he appointed Nikki Haley as the Ambassador to the United Nations. There, she did an excellent job of standing up for Israel. That cost Trump nothing.
Second, Trump moved the American Embassy to Jerusalem. While I am sure Trump did not understand it, American law required him to do so. Under the Jerusalem Embassy Act of 1995, the President MUST move the American Embassy to Jerusalem unless the President signs a waiver stating that moving the embassy would impair the security interests of THE UNITED STATES. Since moving the embassy cannot possibly impair the security interests of the United States, no United States President can sign such a waiver in good faith.
What Trump does understand is that rewarding people whom he perceives to be his “friends” and punishing people whom he perceives to be his “enemies” has worked well for him. Netanyahu has made sure that he is perceived as Trump’s “friend.” The peace plan and the move of the American embassy to Jerusalem are examples of Trump rewarding his friend Bibi. In both cases, Netanyahu gave Trump the credit while getting what he wanted. In both cases, it cost Trump nothing. In contrast, Abbas, a swarthy Muslim who pays people who murder Jews, is to Trump an “enemy”.
Third, shortly before the first election last year, Trump officially recognized the Golan as part of Israel. Big deal. Israel has had military control over the Golan since 1967. In 1981, it passed the Golan Heights Law which applies Israel’s government and laws to the Golan. So far as Israelis are concerned, the Golan IS part of Israel. The fourth thing Trump did which rewarded Netanyahu was to withdraw from the Iran deal. Trump knew that while the Democrats would protest, he would look strong to his base. In both cases, rewarding Netanyahu cost Trump nothing.
Trump also values power. Power means getting re-elected. Supporting Israel, as his “peace plan” does, appeals to Trump’s political base, especially the evangelicals.
After the November election, things will change. After November, neither Trump nor Netanyahu will need the peace plan any more. After the election, Trump will have less need to pander to his base, nor will he need Netanyahu as his friend. Anything he does to help Israel will have a cost: he will be crossing his friends Putin and Erdogan, something he has refused to do before when, at Erdogan’s request, he removed American troops from northern Syria, so that Turkey could invade the area. Trump did so, even though it meant selling out both the Kurds and Israel. If Trump wins the election, I expect him to sell Israel out again.
In fact, it may have already started. The most prominent political issue in Israel right now is Netanyahu’s proposal to impose Israeli law on certain areas on the West Bank. During the campaign, Netanyahu promised to impose Israeli law on huge portions of the West Bank, including the entire Jordan Valley. More recently, according to news reports, the Israelis have proposed a more limited annexation than the one on which Netanyahu campaigned. Ambassador Friedman flew to Washington where he met with Trump to discuss the Israeli proposal. Trump was supposed to make an announcement Thursday or Friday, but called it off. A spokesperson for the White House said,”There is yet no final decision on next steps for implementing President Donald Trump’s peace plan” and Ambassador Friedman flew back to Israel. Can it be that Trump is not concerned about Israel at all, but wants to look good to his evangelical base, which means a more expansive imposition of Israeli law?
Of course, Trump may not win the election. Netanyahu can deal with that, too. Netanyahu knows that Biden is in a difficult position. As a Democrat, he is obligated to oppose the peace plan and give lip service to support for a two-state solution. After all, he, too, has a political base. Still, there is good reason to believe that if elected, Biden will be far less hostile to Israel than Obama was.. He has stated that as President, he would NOT move the American embassy back to Tel Aviv. This is hardly surprising; as a senator, he voted in favor of the American Embassy Act of 1995.
Like Biden, Hillary Clinton gives lip-service to a two-state solution, but Clinton said that it might take years to happen, noting that at Camp David in 2000, “It was Arafat who walked away.” Biden could well see things the same way. Biden has flatly rejected Sanders’ threat to try to “leverage” Israel by withholding military aid. He has said that when he disagrees with an Israeli position, he will say so privately. Moreover, Biden has long been Netanyahu’s “friend”. I have little doubt that he and Netanyahu will be able to work together, even when they disagree.
Peter Beinart, a long-time Israel critic, has reported that within the Obama administration, Biden consistently stood up for Israel. He tried and failed to get Obama to veto UN Security Council Resolution 2443, which provides that everything on the Jordanian side of the 1948 armistice line (“Green Line”), including the whole Old City of Jerusalem, constitutes an “illegal settlement”. I am confident that Biden will stand up for Israel in the United Nations.
Since the “peace plan” will serve no function after November, it will become almost irrelevant after that. Trump, who has a long history of dumping his friends when he no longer has use for them (ask Jeff Sessions or Michael Cohen), will no longer need Netanyahu. Biden, on the other hand, has a long history of caring about and standing up for Israel. Given that long history, Biden may well turn out to be a much better friend to Israel than Trump would be.