President Donald Trump made sure Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu was standing alongside him at the White House as he presented his long-delayed “deal of the century” for Middle East peace, a welcome distraction for two leaders fighting for their political futures.
Yet the proposal — which makes far more demands of Palestinian than Israeli leaders — generated little enthusiasm, prompting an emergency meeting of the Arab League, scheduled for Saturday, and criticism from some key US allies.
Palestinian officials, who refused to take part in talks after Trump alienated them early in his term, denounced it outright.
The plan gives Israel tacit approval to annex a swath of established settlements immediately while offering Palestinians the possibility of a fragmented nation-like state years in the future: An offer they see as worse than what they’ve received in previous negotiation efforts that broke down.
Yet Palestinian approval may have been a secondary goal at best.
For Trump and Netanyahu, who both face mounting legal troubles and re-election campaigns this year, the 80-page plan was an opportunity to show their core supporters that they’re bold leaders willing to skirt failed conventional wisdom in the pursuit of peace. The hastily arranged White House event came as Trump’s impeachment trial continued in the US Senate. Netanyahu, at the same time, is looking for any advantage heading into an early March election and is confronting multiple indictments on corruption charges in Israel.
“Trump gets a distraction from impeachment and another opportunity to boost his support from Christian evangelicals and others who favour whatever the Israeli government wants,” said Paul Pillar, a former US Central Intelligence Agency officer and a non-resident senior fellow at Georgetown University in Washington. “Netanyahu gets another chance to show that it is he, and not Benny Gantz, who can get the US administration to do whatever Israel wants.”
Netanyahu wasted little time moving quickly to capitalise on Trump’s proposal, saying his cabinet would meet in the coming days to authorise the annexation of portions of the West Bank that Palestinians say is illegally occupied.
Trump signalled some ambivalence about the plan earlier in the week, saying “we’ll see whether or not it catches hold. If it does, that would be great. And if it doesn’t, we can live with that, too, but I think we might have a chance.”
For decades, American diplomats walked a tightrope in the region, seeking to appear impartial as they proposed ideas intended to somehow nudge both the Israelis and Palestinians towards some sort of consensus while also winning broader Arab support. But in a radical shift, Trump has dispensed with that approach altogether, aligning US policy decisively with Israel in a way few in Jerusalem could have imagined just years ago.
The American president has defended his unconventional approach to resolving what he’s called the world’s most difficult negotiation by pointing out that previous efforts have failed.