The Israeli government’s decision to disband the Knesset and call for elections on April 9, 2019, threw the country into a whirlwind of uncertainties. The main question is whether Gen. Benny Gantz, the popular former chief of staff for the Israel Defense Forces, will be able to form a bloc that will succeed in overcoming Prime Minister Netanyahu.
Another curiosity involves the Israeli Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit. He is now reviewing the recommendation of the Israeli Police, made in early December, to indict Netanyahu on charges of bribery, fraud and breach of trust. If Mandelblit endorses the recommendation before elections, he will play into Netanyahu’s hands. The prime minister for a long time has said that law-enforcement agencies have been conducting a witch hunt against him. If, on the other hand, Mandelblit decides to indict after the elections, with the solid forecast that Netanyahu will win again, then the prime minister and his followers will certainly call it a judicial coup aimed at deposing a leader who had been democratically elected by the people.
One thing is definite: The Trump peace plan, which, as we had been repeatedly promised, was supposed to solve the Palestinian-Israeli conflict once and for all, was immediately put on the back burner. Whether it was a request by Netanyahu or the decision of a White House that feared the plan might be flushed by the cut-throat Israeli politics, we likely will wait until a new Israeli government is formed, sometime around May, to find out what this plan is about.
Personally, I am disappointed by the suspension of the plan. I was curious to find out how Trump and his team (mainly his son-in-law Jared Kushner and his special envoy to the Middle East, Jason Greenblatt) can possibly succeed where scores of presidents, secretaries of State and special envoys have failed. On Nov. 26, then-U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Nikki Haley addressed the Security Council and praised the Trump plan as “thoughtful,” compared with previous plans which, according to her, were “just a few pages, containing unspecific and unimaginative guidelines.” Haley promised that the Trump plan, on the contrary, “embraces the reality that things can be done today that were previously unthinkable.”
Like what? Transforming us, Israelis and Palestinians, into Swedes and Norwegians? What kind of trick can possibly convince the two parties to agree to any deal, when the maximum of what one party is willing to give does not even reach the minimum of what the other party is hoping to get?
In the meantime, the parties seem indifferent to the Trump plan. Israelis are happy, because they received the gift of moving the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem, without having to pay any price for it. They have doubts as to whether there is any plan in the first place, perhaps guessing that the embassy move was just another Trumpian whim without any thought behind it (the way Trump told Turkey’s President Erdogan that he can have Syria seems to vindicate this attitude).
The Palestinians, on the other hand, have lost any confidence in the Trump administration’s presumption to be an honest broker. In the recent Palestinian public opinion poll conducted in the West Bank by Khalil Shikaki of the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research (PSR), an overwhelming majority, 80 percent, believes that the Trump administration is not serious about launching a new peace plan, while only 16 percent believe it is serious.
Unfortunately, with the lack of peaceful political horizon, violence becomes an option. The survey found that 44 percent of Palestinians think that armed struggle is the most effective means of establishing a Palestinian state next to Israel, while 28 percent believe that negotiation is the most effective means and 23 percent think nonviolent resistance is the most effective. Three months ago, by the way, 39 percent said that negotiation was the most effective means and 33 percent said that armed struggle would be most effective.
Israel should neither wait for any magical deal to come from Trump, nor be taken hostage by Palestinian intransigence. Israel should move unilaterally to separate from the Palestinians in order to avoid a scenario of one, bi-national state, where Israel either loses its Jewish character or its democracy. The coming elections in Israel should revolve around this, and only this.