Trump's peace push faces multiple hurdles

This time around, Mr Netanyahu seems more willing to take on opponents within his own coalition.


News over the past week that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is planning to accept the Trump administration's requests to rein in settlement-building and to put together a package of "goodwill" gestures towards the Palestinian Authority has been met with a relatively muted response from the far-right component of the Israeli government.

Mr Netanyahu informed his ministers of the American requests at a special security cabinet meeting last week.

The settlers were somewhat mollified by the fact he also announced a new settlement would be built near Shiloh as part of the agreement with the 42 families evicted two months ago from the Amona outpost. The decision prompted the usual condemnations from the United Nations and European leaders, but a much more restrained statement from the White House.

However, Mr Netanyahu made it clear that for the time being, aside from the new settlement, Israel will not be building outside the existing built-up areas in the West Bank – and this got the settlers worried. Their main supporter in the government, Jewish Home leader and Education Minister Naftali Bennett, responded with a series of tweets complaining about a "strategic missed opportunity" to pursue an alternative policy of Israeli sovereignty over the settlements. Instead, he wrote, "we've returned to the same old two states which will lead to nowhere except frustration".

However, Mr Bennett made no political threats and said: "We have nothing to complain because this is Netanyahu's stated policy". In private discussions, he admitted he could do little as the policy had been agreed upon between Mr Netanyahu and President Donald Trump.

Mr Trump, who has held a flurry of meetings with Arab leaders including Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, Jordan's King Abdullah and scheduled to meet Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in Washington next week, is said to be "hugely in favour" of a regional initiative whereby Israel and the Palestinians will resume negotiations under an umbrella of support from "moderate" Sunni states, perhaps including the Saudis.

While all the sides are in favour of such an approach officially, it is important to remember that just a year ago a similar idea was being discussed with former secretary of state John Kerry, but Mr Netanyahu pulled out at the last moment citing pressures within his coalition.

This time around, Mr Netanyahu seems more willing to take on opponents within his own coalition. It is partly due to the fact that unlike in the Obama period, the current US president is not seen by the Israeli right wing as being "hostile". But other stumbling blocks remain before the process can get off the ground.

The "goodwill gestures" Israel is prepared to make to the Palestinian Authority are unlikely to include the two main demands Mr Abbas made in the past for renewing negotiations – a full freeze on settlement building and the release of Palestinian presidents. Even if he is prepared to waive those demands in the interest of improving his ties with the new US administration, Mr Abbas is under pressure at home not to make any concessions.

A hunger-strike by all Fatah prisoners in Israeli jails, led by Fatah leader Marwan Barghouti - currently serving a multiple life sentence for his role in directing the murder of Israelis during the Second Intifada - is planned to take place in two weeks’ time. This is likely to increase the levels of violence in the West Bank, making it very difficult for Mr Abbas to sit down with Israelis.

Another major question mark looming over the future of any talks has nothing to do with the region. With senior figures in the Trump administration under investigation for alleged ties with Russia, it is unclear whether the already chaotic team in the White House and National Security Council will have the attention span to deal with Middle East diplomacy. Neither has there been any sign from the new Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, who has been dealing mainly with other areas of the world since his swearing-in, that he is particularly eager to enter the quagmire that has bogged down so many of his predecessors. That is another reason the settlers are biding their time for now.

Share via

Want more from the JC?

To continue reading, we just need a few details...

Want more from
the JC?

To continue reading, we just
need a few details...

Get the best news and views from across the Jewish world Get subscriber-only offers from our partners Subscribe to get access to our e-paper and archive