1. Always a PM’s maid, never a PM: Pundits and prognosticators in the Israeli press have been proved mistaken yet again after Blue and White head Benny Gantz announced he would fly to Washington for a White House meeting with US President Donald Trump to discuss his administration’s nascent peace plan.
- Over the weekend the widespread and nearly unchallenged consensus was that Gantz was stuck, forced to play a walk-on role in a peace plan and a leading role in a cage built by Netanyahu and Trump.
- “It seems Gantz will refuse his invitation to the White House to discuss the peace plan,” read the lede of a story on Channel 13’s website Friday. “That being said it could change.”
- A Channel 12 report on Saturday citing sources close to Gantz said that he did not know what role he would have in the “performance” in Washington and that it wasn’t clear what his standing would be.
- “In Blue and White, they fear it will be more political than diplomatic, and that Netanyahu is bringing Gantz to Washington, not to praise him, but to embarrass him, or diminish him,” the report said. Blue and White was also reluctant to publicly cooperate with rival Netanyahu, the TV report added, as the party’s main campaign focus has been on the need to remove the prime minister from office.
- “Gantz in a trap and Netanyahu’s victory,” read the headline in a column published by Kan news’s Yoav Karkovsky. “Gantz in his naivete or lack of options turned into a bit player in a war [by Trump and Netanyahu] to shift the conversation,” he writes.
2. From trap to door: By Saturday night, though, things had changed, and not only was Gantz out of his trap like a political Houdini, but he had the audience murmuring in approval at the neat trick he pulled to boot.
- “Gantz can register a small but significant achievement in dodging what his party had regarded as a Trump-Netanyahu trap. It may not be a perfect solution for him, but it’s emphatically better than the two other alternatives — staying away or looking silly,” writes Times of Israel editor David Horovitz.
- In Walla, Tal Shalev writes that Gantz managed to peel himself away from Netanyahu’s “bear hug.” “Gantz cut off contact with Netanyahu and will appear, courtesy of Trump, who will build him and and will be forced to praise him as a guest, as an incoming prime minister.”
- In actuality, he won’t appear as much of anything, as Haaretz notes, writing that the meeting “will be of a lower profile than Netanyahu’s meetings with Trump: The two will not deliver a joint statement and their meeting will take place without media presence.”
- Nonetheless, Haaretz says, “In Gantz’s circle, they believe that Trump does assign some importance in principle to their meeting, and that this isn’t an undertaking by the White House solely to benefit Netanyahu’s campaign.”
- He is also not doing his world leader image any favors by being photographed by a Kan reporter sitting on a table in an airport hallway, like the rest of us shlubs who search around for places to charge our phones or rest our weary dogs. (Never mind the fact that he’s not flying direct and will have to spend a few hours in Zurich downing Moscow Mules at the airport bar or whatever he does.)
— מיכאל שמש Michael Shemesh (@shemeshmicha) January 26, 2020
3. Not out of the woods yet: Channel 12’s Amit Segal also praises Gantz for avoiding the Netanyahu fly trap, but notes that his troubles are not over.
- “His bigger dilemma remains. He hinted at it when he said he will talk about his desire for an ‘agreed-upon arrangement with the Palestinians.’ In short, more than a hint that he will oppose annexation.”
- But the New York Times, while noting that Gantz is tacking right, especially his fawning comments about Trump, notes that he still chose his words about the plan carefully: “While couched in laudatory terms, Mr. Gantz’s remarks about the Trump administration’s proposal for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, about which he said he had been amply briefed, was full of subtle caveats, and referred to its potential rather than to the probability or certainty of its success.”
- Channel 13’s Raviv Drucker writes that Gantz will also face a challenge once Netanyahu brings the plan to the Knesset, where the prime minister will hope that Blue and White torpedoes it, so he can score some domestic political points.
- The bigger challenge, though, he writes (not altogether sensibly), won’t be dealing with the fallout, but keeping the right-wing flank of his party in line, “so they can oppose it in the Knesset and convince them that if he is elected he’ll pass it when he gets in.”
4. Pedal to the meddle: There’s also the problem that the release of the plan is seen as a form of election meddling, which now means that Blue and White would be a party to that.
- “To unveil such a plan five weeks before an election is very suspicious,” Yisrael Beytenu head Avigdor Liberman is widely quoted saying. “The very timing of it will prevent any serious, in-depth discussion of the proposal.”
- In Haaretz, Noa Landau writes that the White House was so keen to have Gantz come because he provides cover against that charge.
- “This isn’t a favor to Gantz, it’s because Washington needs him. He’s the Americans’ proof that this isn’t an attempt to influence a foreign election,” she writes.
- But in any case, BW #2 Yair Lapid tells Army Radio that Gantz’s trip is pretty much for appearances only. “The serious conversations will only happen after elections,” he says.
5. Best-laid plans: While Gantz’s big trip to Washington is big news everywhere else, in Israel Hayom it remains small potatoes when compared to Trump’s amazing, awesome, historic, wonderful, marvelous, spectacular, excellent, amazing again, plan (executive produced by Benjamin Netanyahu).
- At the same time, though, there is the same thread as everywhere else of little hope in the plan succeeding to bring anything other than unilateral annexation once its rejected, though in this case it is taken by the paper to be a good thing.
- Prof. Dan Shiftan writes in a column for the paper that even before its released, the plan has caused a “conceptual shift,” that replaces the Oslo peace accords, and could pave the way for annexation of the West Bank. As for those old paradigms about the 1967 lines etc. that were taken to be givens, “Trump’s plan removes the basis for this cliche,” he writes.
- Columnist Eyal Zisser writes in the same paper that even if the plan isn’t pursued, Israel should go ahead and make whatever one-sided changes it wants. “Israel’s current status and its economic, diplomatic and military clout allow it to advance strategic and even historic initiatives it could only have dreamed of in the past. It seems such initiatives are fundamentally palatable to the US administration and even coincide with the general outlines of its peace plan.”
- Likewise, evangelical Pastor John Hagee, who is seen as the target American audience for the plan to help boost Trump at the polls, says he doesn’t need to see the plan, since Trump “has shown himself to be the most pro-Israel president in U.S. history, and I fully expect his peace proposal will be in line with that tradition,” according to the AP.
- Speaking to Army Radio, Labour-Gesher-Meretz MK Yair Golan says it doesn’t matter what’s in the plan, “it’s all spin, spin, spin.”
6. Pander by number: While Israel is focused on peace plans that probably won’t bring peace, the rest of the West has its eyes on the Ukraine news train.
- That’s thanks to footage leaking of a video, apparently taken by Igor Fruman of a Trump fundraising dinner in which the president says he wants to get rid of the ambassador to Ukraine, in what seems the smokingest gun yet tying him to the scandal.
- But there’s also an Israel connection, since it ends with Fruman and buddy Lev Parnas presenting Trump with something from rabbis in Ukraine and Israel that references the fact that Hebrew numerology,or gematria, shows both “Trump” and “messiah” come out the same.
- “The messiah comes out to 424. Your name, your name, it adds up to his name. So it’s 424, 424,” Fruman is quoted saying by NBC, which calls it a “bizarre moment.”
- Donald Trump is indeed 424, as is Mashiah Ben David. Here’s a few things that also equal 424: Very smart man, holder of Iran, laptop computer, snake in bed, deep pit and half a falafel meal. Congrats.
- Fruman says that Trump is like a messiah to Ukraine’s Jews, but somebody seemingly forgot to tell Ukraine’s Jews. Instead, Times of Israel’s Sam Sokol finds a community that fled the war-torn east and is now struggling to put itself back together, with some 30 percent receiving help from charitable organization.
- “We came to Kyiv with our luggage in our hands and all the time the community [in exile] grew bigger and bigger and bigger,” says community administrator Nadiya Goncharuk. “Our halls didn’t have enough room for the whole community” but “God helped us and gave us his hand.”