On one of the darkest days of Benjamin Netanyahu’s long and lively career, Donald Trump handed him one of his greatest victories.
On Tuesday morning, the prime minister abandoned his doomed bid to secure parliamentary immunity from prosecution in the three graft cases against him, and shortly afterwards, the attorney-general formally filed the charges at the Jerusalem District Court — giving Netanyahu the unhappy distinction of becoming the first Israeli premier to be indicted while in office.
Hours later, his friend and ally, the president of the United States, unveiled an Israeli-Palestinian peace proposal that met just about every parameter set by Netanyahu.
It is founded upon the key, admirable premise that Israel’s security imperatives not be undermined in the effort to solve the conflict with the Palestinians.
As Netanyahu has long demanded, it provides for ongoing Israeli overall security control everywhere west of the Jordan River — to enable Israel to both guard itself against threats further to the east, and to quash any effort to revive the West Bank terrorist infrastructure that carried out the Second Intifada.
It rules out a “right of return” for Palestinian refugees to today’s Israel — the demand that represents an unsubtle effort to destroy Israel as a Jewish state by sheer weight of population influx.
It provides for Israel to annex the major West Bank settlement blocs.
It insists upon a demilitarized Gaza and a disarmed Hamas.
These and other elements of what Trump described as his “vision for peace, prosperity, and a brighter future for the Israelis and Palestinians” are consensually supported in Israel — seen as core components of any accord.
It also, however, meets Netanyahu’s pledge of recent years that no settlers will be uprooted from their homes in the cause of an accommodation. To facilitate this feat, 15 settlements deep in the heart of what would eventually become something akin to sovereign Palestinian territory are designated as “Israeli enclave communities.”
It reflects his promise not to divide Jerusalem, envisioning a Palestinian capital situated in Arab neighborhoods and parts of neighborhoods that sit formally within the expanded, post-1967 municipal borders of the city, but that later found themselves on the far side of the security barrier that Israel constructed to stop the onslaught of suicide bombers.
It provides for an eventual Palestinian state under terms that Netanyahu has long demanded, but that there is next-to-no prospect of being met — notably including Palestinian recognition of Israel as a Jewish state.
And in the interim, it allows Netanyahu to begin unilaterally annexing settlements and other West Bank territory where the US is promising recognition of Israeli sovereignty.
The retention of the isolated settlements in heavily Palestinian-populated areas, and the support for unilateral annexation, in particular, are not positions consensually backed by Israelis, for they prompt concerns that Israel will be deepening its entanglement among millions of hostile Palestinians.
In the absence of any negotiated accord, the president’s declared “realistic two-state solution” raises the risk of an ongoing drift toward the misnamed “one-state solution” — a binational state from Jordan River to Mediterranean Sea, which is no solution at all, since it would deprive Israel of its Jewish majority, or its democracy, or both.
While Trump spoke of his plan as a “‘win-win’ opportunity for both sides,” the other side, the Palestinian side, was conspicuous in its unsurprising absence from Tuesday’s White House event.
The US president noted on Tuesday that “all prior administrations, from President Lyndon Johnson, have tried and bitterly failed” to solve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Their efforts have foundered largely on the rock of Palestinian intransigence.
In relatively recent memory, the Palestinians turned down Ehud Barak’s 90 percent-plus West Bank offer in 2000. And Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas did not so much as respond to Ehud Olmert’s 2008 offer of 100% of the West Bank (with land swaps), a divided Jerusalem, and a role in an international trusteeship over the Holy Basin.
The Palestinians are not about to reverse their perennial rejectionism because Trump is warning them that his dramatically less attractive terms may be “the last opportunity they will ever have.”
For that same reason, Netanyahu-rival Benny Gantz’s stated desire to utilize the plan not unilaterally, but as “a basis for progress toward an agreed deal with the Palestinians and regional states,” would not work either. The Palestinians do not want a deal on any terms Israel could accept; that’s why this conflict is so intractable.
While Trump’s plan will not achieve its stated goal of Israeli-Palestinian peace, it marks a resounding success for Netanyahu, at least in the short term. Among other achievements, he evidently shifted a president who, on taking office, told the pro-Netanyahu Israel Hayom daily that he did not consider settlements “a good thing for peace.”
Whether — along with his retrieval of the unjustly jailed Israeli-American Naama Issachar from Russia, and any other diplomatic coups he still has in mind — it will help secure Netanyahu victory on March 2, in what Trump cheerfully called “the longest-running election of all time,” is something we have learned not to try to predict.