The US plans to announce its long-awaited “deal of the century” after newly re-elected Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has formed a ruling coalition. Aides to President Donald Trump said yesterday that they expect him to release details of his peace plan shortly after Netanyahu gets his coalition partners together, which should happen next week, Reuters has reported.
However, the news agency also revealed that, despite the fact that the peace plan has been credited to the President, the reality is that Trump has not actually seen the document in full. Only four people have apparently had regular access to and input to the plan: Senior Advisor to the President and Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner; Special Representative for International Negotiations Jason Greenblatt; US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman; and Kushner’s aide Avi Berkowitz.
The report added that, although “Trump is briefed regularly on the contents” of the so-called peace plan, he “is not believed to have read the entire document of dozens of pages.”
The deal has been a long time in the making and its final announcement has been delayed repeatedly. In January, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said that details would not be revealed until after Israel’s election on 9 April, leading to speculation that the Trump administration was sheltering Netanyahu from any potential fall-out. For his part, Netanyahu had previously expressed concern that the deal could harm his re-election bid, and had reportedly reached out to his friends in Washington to delay its announcement.
Netanyahu has in recent weeks pre-empted the “deal of the century” by unilaterally promising to annex the occupied West Bank. In what was widely interpreted as a final bid to secure election victory, and buoyed by President Trump’s announcement that the US would recognise Israeli sovereignty over the occupied Golan Heights, Netanyahu said, “I am going to extend [Israeli] sovereignty [to the West Bank] and I don’t distinguish between settlement blocs and the isolated settlements.” In an interview at the weekend, Netanyahu doubled down on his promise, saying that, if possible, he planned to carry it out “with American support.”
A recent statement by Pompeo has lent credence to the idea that the US could support Netanyahu’s entirely illegal annexation plans. The Secretary of State this week declined to declare publicly US support for the two-state solution, telling a Senate hearing that, “We are now working with many parties to share what our vision (is) as to how to solve this problem.”
In doing so, Pompeo backtracked on years of official US policy, and added to speculation that the upcoming “deal of the century” will be biased in favour of Israel.
However, if the plan is revealed after Netanyahu forms a new coalition, it will prove to be the first test for his new government. Although its make-up is not yet finalised, it is expected widely to include Netanyahu’s traditional allies: ultra-Orthodox parties United Torah Judaism and Shas; centrist party Kulanu; and Avigdor Lieberman’s hawkish Yisrael Beiteinu. The coalition will likely also include the newly-formed Union of Right Wing Parties (URWP), a religious-Zionist alliance comprised of the Jewish Home, National Union and Otzma Yehudit parties.
Given such a group, each member of which holds markedly different agendas when it comes to the “deal of the century”, achieving consensus in the government will be difficult for Netanyahu. Indeed, some expected coalition members have already thrown down the gauntlet on this issue.
Controversial MK-elect Bezalel Smotrich – who heads the National Union faction and is placed second on the URWP’s slate –said yesterday that his party would not sit in a government which even considered President Trump’s peace plan. “I am not negotiating a plan that is going to establish a terrorist state on the border of the State of Israel,” he told Kan radio in reference to a future Palestinian state in what is left of the occupied West Bank after Washington hands over large chunks of territory to the Israelis. “If he [Netanyahu] thinks about the Trump plan, that’s OK. But if he moves forward with it, then he probably won’t have a right-wing government. Not only because of us, but because of his own Likud members.”
Meanwhile, Lieberman’s Yisrael Beiteinu has previously advocated for moving away from a solution based on the Armistice (“Green”) Line which was in place in June 1967, and which generally forms the basis of international negotiations in the post-Oslo era. Instead, it has called for Israel’s illegal Jewish settlements to be designated as Israeli territory. The party suggests that areas within Israel with a high density of Palestinian Israeli citizens, for example the “triangle” of Arab-Israeli towns near the Green Line such as Baqa Al-Gharbiyye and Umm Al-Fahm, be included in the Palestinian territories as a form of compensation for annexing the settlements.
Lieberman is in a strong position to force his agenda in the coming weeks. With 95 per cent of the votes counted Yisrael Beiteinu has won five seats, meaning that if Lieberman chose to withdraw his support from the coalition at any point, Netanyahu would be one seat short of the 61 needed to maintain a majority government. This could prove crucial in the coming weeks, as coalition members decide whether to support or reject President Trump’s “deal of the century”.