US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has said that his country's peace plan – dubbed the "deal of the century" – will not be unveiled until after Israel's general election on 9 April.
Speaking via video link to the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, yesterday, Pompeo said that "[the US has] been working on this for a long time. [Senior Advisor to the President of the United States Jared] Kushner has been in the lead along with [Special Representative for International Negotiations] Jason Greenblatt in developing our program." Pompeo then added:
Ultimately, the Israelis and the Palestinians will have to come to an agreement. But we think that the foundations that we have laid and the work that we'll do immediately following the Israeli elections will set conditions where we can have a constructive conversation.
Speculation as to when the "deal of the century" will be unveiled has been rife, with the US repeatedly delaying the announcement and refusing to set out a clear schedule for its imposition. That the announcement has now been postponed until after the Israeli elections will likely be interpreted as an attempt to protect Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu from any potential fallout.
Netanyahu has previously expressed concern that the US peace plan could harm his electoral prospects if it were revealed in the run up to the election. In November, the Times of Israel reported that "Netanyahu's camp believes [the plan's] release could hurt his Likud party in elections, with Trump and his envoys having previously said both sides will need to make compromises". The Israeli daily added that "Netanyahu [was] planning to reach out to the White House to try and push back the publication of the peace proposal until after elections." In light of Pompeo's statement at Davos yesterday, it now seems likely Netanyahu was able to do just that and influence the timing of the deal's release.
Netanyahu is no stranger to being able to pull strings in Washington. In November it was revealed that the Israeli prime minister had asked the US to stand by Saudi Crown Prince Mohamed Bin Salman (MBS) following the murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi. Citing information from US officials familiar with a series of telephone conversations made to Kushner and the US' National Security Adviser, John Bolton, the Washington Post revealed that Netanyahu had "reached out to the Trump administration to express support for the crown prince [MBS], arguing that he is an important strategic partner in the region". President Trump seems to have heeded Netanyahu's calls, supporting the Saudi version of events surrounding Khashoggi's murder and refusing to sanction the kingdom.
Protecting Saudi Arabia from ostracisation in the international community following Khashoggi's murder was of crucial importance to Israel given its warming relations with the kingdom and the latter's presumed centrality to the "deal of the century". Pompeo said yesterday that the US had "begun to share elements of [the plan] across the region," adding: "It won't be a US-driven process". While most have interpreted this to mean that Israel and Palestine will have to engage in dialogue to reach an agreement, his comments could also be interpreted as a nod towards the involvement of other regional powers who have offered their support, including Saudi Arabia and Oman.