Israeli elections, US calculations delay Deal of the Century prospects

With Netanyahu’s political career hanging in the balance, support from Israel’s hard-right voters may decide the election.
Saturday 14/09/2019
Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu points at a map of the Jordan Valley as he gives a statement in Ramat Gan, near the Israeli coastal city of Tel Aviv, September 10. (AFP)
Costly gamble. Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu points at a map of the Jordan Valley as he gives a statement in Ramat Gan, near the Israeli coastal city of Tel Aviv, September 10. (AFP)

WASHINGTON - Political considerations in the United States and Israel appear to be hindering progress in the release of the long-promised US plan for a settlement between Palestinians and the Israelis.

No major milestones towards Palestinian-Israeli peace are expected until after Israeli elections on September 17. Washington’s postponement of the release of US President Donald Trump’s Deal of the Century lent further proof to that.

Trump announced September 5 that Jason Greenblatt was leaving his position as White House envoy for the Middle East peace process, which could further delay the release of the plan.

“Kushner’s Mideast peace plan will not see the light of day before November 2020 if at all,” said Ilan Goldenberg, director of the Middle East Security Programme at the Centre for a New American Security,

The delay in making details of the peace plan public may work in Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s favour as he is courting the Israeli hard right in the election. He is also facing a set of legal troubles. In February, Israel’s attorney general announced that he planned to indict Netanyahu on corruption charges.

Netanyahu has pursued his re-election campaign despite the allegations, adding to the unpredictability of the Israeli political scene.

“We have no idea what will happen in the Israeli election,” said Eugene Finkel, a professor at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies, adding that the vote would be decided on “domestic politics and a referendum of Netanyahu’s leadership.”

With Netanyahu’s political career hanging in the balance, support from Israel’s hard-right voters may decide the election. Many in Netanyahu’s pro-settlement constituencies would take issue with the release of a Middle East peace plan.

Netanyahu has been a close ally to the Trump administration, which has supported even his most extreme moves. Ned Lazarus, a visiting professor at the George Washington Elliott School, said a Middle East peace plan “would demand some kind of concessions from the Israelis and would be unpopular on the hard right.”

Netanyahu has previously vowed that a Palestinian state would never see the light of day.

His close relationship with the United States is also a key issue for voters. Lazarus said Netanyahu “does not want to be put in a position to appear to have a conflict with the Trump administration” ahead of the election.

However, the level of relationship between Trump and Netanyahu could sour any potential peace effort.

Khaled Elgindy, a non-resident fellow at the Brookings Institution said that, under Trump, the United States’ role in the Israeli-Palestinian peace process had gone from that of an “ineffective peace broker to one of an all-out spoiler.”

Elgindy said Trump’s policies led the Palestinians to realise “that they had more to lose from engaging with a Trump-led peace process than from avoiding it.”

One action particularly controversial to the Palestinians was Trump’s support of Netanyahu’s plans to annex most Israeli settlements in the West Bank.

Netanyahu has announced his “intention, after the establishment of a new government, to apply Israeli sovereignty to the Jordan Valley and the northern Dead Sea.” Netanyahu said there would be “maximum coordination” between Israelis and the Palestinians on the annexation.

In March, Trump supported Netanyahu’s claim of sovereignty over the Golan Heights. Additionally, the United States has drastically reduced its economic assistance to the Palestinian territories under the Trump administration.

Since August 2018, the Trump administration has phased out more than $200 million in Palestinian economic aid projects and its entire annual contribution to the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East, of which the United States was the largest donor.

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