The announcement that Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and his electoral rival Benny Gantz are both coming to Washington at the beginning of this week to meet with President Trump ought to raise red flags in both countries. The President has been determined to demonstrate that he—and his son-in-law (“if Jared can’t do it no one can”)—can solve the longest and most intractable conflict in the Middle East. From the time that Trump ran for office he has consistently asserted that he is the best dealmaker ever.
To date, Israeli politics—three elections in a year–have stymied Trump’s determination to present his proposed solution to the Israeli and Palestinian stand-off. While paying no attention to the geo-political costs which could be incurred by choosing this moment—just prior to the next round of Israeli elections on March 2—Trump is determined to release his plan now. Whatever Israel’s regional problems are as well as the domestic consequences that this announcement will create for Israel, the President wants to demonstrate that he is a powerful actor on the global stage, even if his sense of timing continues to be totally wrong.
Despite the efforts of some of the world’s most sophisticated diplomats trained in Middle East politics, a resolution to the conflict has eluded them for decades. For strictly personal political reasons and electoral motivations, President Trump believes that he alone knows what is best and when the time is right. Finally, the theatrics which will be generated by this week’s visits, regardless of the substance and their outcome, will permit the President to distract the American people from his impeachment trial.
Underlying the White House decision to release its proposal in the midst of Israel’s election is once again a political game being played by President Trump to try to facilitate Netanyahu’s Likud Party to gain a larger share of the votes in this third round of elections. Bibi recognizes that playing along with Trump will incur even greater debts for him and Israel; but clearly, he senses that this electoral gambit needs to be played at this moment.
For Benny Gantz, once he too was offered an opportunity to come to Washington, he played his cards as well as he could. Gantz did not want to appear on stage together with Bibi but he also understood he could not reject a presidential invitation. By moving up his visit ahead of Netanyahu in order to enable him to return to Israel for a critical Knesset debate, Gantz is trying to take the photo op, receive the details of the “deal”, and return home before the actual “deal” is launched. He will undoubtedly try to flatter the President and claim that until he is Prime Minister, he has no authority to make any substantive comments. (It is still not clear if he will be required to do a press opportunity with Trump while in Washington if for no other reason than his command of English is nowhere near as fluent as Bibi’s.)
As to substance of the plan it is likely to be released on Tuesday. Much will be made of the scope and the details, but the bottom line on a geo-political level is that unless both sides will be seriously engaged in an actual negotiating process, this entire “Deal of the Century’ is indeed dead on arrival. Israel is in a position to implement virtually any agreement it wants regarding the status of Jerusalem as well as the West Bank, however elevating hostility and tension with the Palestinians will not produce a favorable resolution.