WASHINGTON — Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s stunning defeat earlier this week, when he failed to form a majority coalition and called new elections, threw Israel into a period of political paralysis and uncertainty.
Across the Atlantic, it also put a huge question mark on the fate of US President Donald Trump’s long awaited Middle East peace plan — which the administration had planned to unveil this summer.
Now, with Israel heading to elections on September 17, and as America has its own major election gearing up, former US diplomats and experts on the region say that Trump’s proposal may not see the light of day any time soon.
“Obviously, it means putting off until after the government is formed,” said Ambassador Dennis Ross, a veteran American diplomat who has worked on the Israeli-Palestinian portfolio for decades.
“That means, given the timing of the election and the holidays, you’re looking at November,” Ross told The Times of Israel. “Then the question is, how committed is the administration in going ahead at this point, since our own election will be getting underway?”
In the past, Trump has said Israel will “pay a price” for his decision to move the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, and White House officials such as Jared Kushner have indicated that the proposal will force both sides to make tough compromises.
But Trump may not want to put forth a plan that has components unpopular to major parts of his base.
“The question is whether the administration will be prepared to present things that some of their supporters — evangelicals, Orthodox Jews — will be unhappy about,” Ross said.
Kushner and White House Mideast Peace Envoy Jason Greenblatt had previously said the plan would be released in June. Last month, the administration announced it was hosting an “economic workshop” in Bahrain to discuss strategies for improving the Palestinian economy, slated to take place on June 25 and 26.
The Palestinian Authority has said it will boycott the conference, saying it is biased in favor of Israel. The Saudis, the United Arab Emirates and Qatar have said they will attend.
On Thursday, the State Department said the US will still participate in the confab. But some American onlookers are skeptical.
“I think there are real questions about the utility of such an effort under any circumstances, but especially now,” said Susie Gelman, board chair of the Israel Policy Forum, an advocacy group that pushes for a two state solution. “They’re not going to be able to hold the economic workshop and then follow it up with the political plan in a timely manner.”
But Aaron David Miller, a longtime Mideast peace negotiator in both Democratic and Republican administrations, predicted that the meeting will take place — at least to convince regional actors that they are, in fact, working on a peace plan.
“I think Bahrain will go on as what I call ‘proof of life,'” Miller told The Times of Israel. “That, in essence, something exists called the Kushner plan.
“I think they’re wrestling with the timing of the second part of this,” he added, referring to the political part of the plan. The Trump administration has suggested that its proposal has two main components — economic and political.
Miller said that the Trump team will also likely be looking out for Netanyahu, a close ally of the president.
Trump was seen to help out the Israeli premier when he was facing a tough re-election bid in March. In the days and weeks ahead of the April 9 election, Trump recognized Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights and later designated the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps a terrorist group — both were seen as campaign gifts to the prime minister.
“If the objective is to navigate a very fine line between utter failure on one hand and not putting Netanyahu in a very difficult position on the other, the elections have only increased the uncertainty and vulnerability of Netanyahu.” Miller said. “If there is anything in this that pushes the envelope, and we keep hearing that there will be something in it that will be difficult for the Israelis, it’s hard to see how putting this thing out between now and mid-September would make any sense.”
Meanwhile, those anxious to find out what ultimately will be in the intensely anticipated Trump peace plan shouldn’t hold their breath.
“My sense is that they’re factoring in three things,” Miller said, “not failing, not making things worse for Netanyahu, and always keeping their eye on 2020.”
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