Trump to unveil ‘deal of the century’ in middle of Israel’s election campaign
LONDON - A few weeks before Israel’s elections, US President Donald Trump invited Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and his election rival Benny Gantz to visit the White House January 28. He also announced his intention to unveil the US administration’s Israeli-Palestinian peace plan, dubbed the Deal of the Century, before the meeting.
Analysts said the White House invitation was intended to boost the political fortunes of Netanyahu and Trump himself.
The Deal of the Century is expected to be extremely favourable to Israel. Palestinians, who were not invited to the White House meeting, warned the United States and Israel against “crossing any red lines.”
Jeremy Ben-Ami, president of the liberal advocacy group J Street, said on Twitter that Trump’s plan to address the Israeli-Palestinian conflict won’t be a peace plan “but rather a plan to enshrine the Israeli settler movement’s agenda” as US foreign policy.
Trying to boost his political fortunes ahead of elections in March, Netanyahu revived his focus on Israeli annexation of settlements in the West Bank.
Israel faces an unprecedented third parliamentary election in less than a year on March 2 after several attempts to form a governing coalition failed following votes last April and September.
Addressing Likud Party supporters at a campaign event January 21 in Jerusalem, Netanyahu said he would “impose Israeli sovereignty on the Jordan Valley and the northern Dead Sea.” He said he would annex all Israeli West Bank settlements “without exception.”
Israel captured the West Bank in the 1967 Mideast war along with East Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip. The Palestinians seek those territories as part of a future state. Much of the international community considers Israel’s West Bank settlements violations of international law.
Israeli annexation of the Jordan Valley, which makes up about one-quarter of the West Bank and is the territory’s agricultural heartland, would make a future Palestinian state unviable. It would be opposed not only by the Palestinians but by much of the international community.
UN political chief Rosemary DiCarlo, at a UN Security Council meeting January 21, said “all settlements are illegal under international law and remain an obstacle to peace” and warned against annexation.
Palestinian Ambassador to the United Nations Riyad Mansour told the council that “neither threats nor attempts at annexation should go unchallenged.”
“The urgency of stopping Israeli annexation schemes cannot be underestimated. Immediate action is needed before it is too late,” he said, adding that the UN Charter’s prohibition on acquiring territory by force must be upheld along with Security Council resolutions regarding the illegality of Israeli settlements.
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’s office said in a statement that Israeli calls to annex areas of the West Bank “undermine the foundations of the peace process” and regional stability.
In her 2019 annual report, International Criminal Court (ICC) Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda said her office was following Israel’s proposed annexation of West Bank areas “with concern.”
The United States has not commented on Israel’s stated intentions to annex the region but, faced with its own election imperatives, the Trump administration is unlikely to oppose Netanyahu’s pro-annexation moves. However, such moves are likely to fuel tensions between Israelis and Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza.
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced in November that the United States no longer viewed Israel’s settlements on West Bank land as “inconsistent with international law.”
Israeli troops on January 21 killed three Palestinians who reportedly threw an explosive towards soldiers after attempting to cross the border from Gaza, Israel’s military said.
Two of the Palestinians killed were aged 18 and the third 17, a police source in Gaza told Reuters. The source said they were civilians without militant affiliation. He questioned Israel’s account that they threw explosives at troops.
Both Netanyahu and Gantz have tried to woo hard-line nationalist voters as the election approaches.
Gantz said his Blue and White would “work towards establishing sovereignty over the Jordan Valley and we will do so based on national agreement and in coordination with the international community.”
Many political analysts see Israel’s March election as a referendum on Netanyahu’s ability to lead following his indictment on corruption charges in November. Netanyahu, Israel’s longest-serving prime minister, has denied wrongdoing.
Netanyahu is also trying to mobilise world support for “concrete actions” against the ICC ahead of a possible war-crimes case against Israel.
Bensouda, in December, said there was “reasonable basis” to open a war crimes investigation into Israeli military actions in the Gaza Strip as well as Israeli settlement construction in the West Bank. She asked the court to determine whether she has territorial jurisdiction before proceeding.
Israel, which is not a member of the ICC, said the court has no jurisdiction and accused Bensouda of being driven by anti-Semitism.
In an interview with US Christian Trinity Broadcasting Network, Netanyahu praised US President Donald Trump for criticising the ICC and called on others to follow suit.