President Donald J. Trump and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem, May 23, 2017. Official White House Photo by Shealah Craighead
Trump’s Middle East Peace Plan: The top-secret White House Middle East peace effort to design the “ultimate deal” and solve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is a major discussion topic in the Knesset’s corridors. The deadline for the grand plan’s announcement continues to be extended. What used to be the end of the year has now turned into early next year and in some reports even March 2018. Several senior Israeli sources are already anticipating the inevitable political spasms that will follow. “What exactly the plan will include is the one million dollar question, but there is no doubt this could turn into a dramatic turning point for Bibi’s coalition,” one of them said. Netanyahu himself has said on several occasions in recent weeks that he is preparing for an American document or plan, but he told Likud ministers and MKs that he knows nothing about the details. Likud MKs assume that “it will be the friendliest plan Israel has ever had” as a senior Likud minister told Kafe Knesset this week, predicting that the US administration “will accept some of our positions and red lines” on issues such as security, the Jordan Valley and settlements.
Even if this is the friendliest deal ever, another source added, Netanyahu understands that he will have to concede on some “deal breakers” of his own, and make concessions which will not necessarily be accepted by his coalition partners, most notably Jewish Home’s Naftali Bennett. Some in the Likud, like Science and Technology Minister Ofir Akunis, are more worried about American pressure. Akunis, who attended the JFNA’s General Assembly in Los Angeles this week, said in an interview with JPost that he will vote against any plan demanding a two-state solution, and that he is confident that others in the cabinet will vote against, as well.
A senior Israeli official said: “The American proposal will shake things up, and many people – including the Prime Minister and his partners – will have to make a decision. To say “no” is also a decision, and a decision not to respond as well. But decisions will have to be made.” A senior member of the coalition told Kafe Knesset: “The Americans are spoiling us now, but there are no free gifts, they will submit the bill, and Netanyahu will have to decide whether to lose Bennett or lose Trump, and to avoid that choice – he could call for new elections.” The flexible deadline of Trump’s peace efforts coincides with another clock ticking these days, in the Israeli police interrogation rooms. There is growing talk of a peace plan that is set to accompany the upcoming publication of Police recommendations in Netanyahu’s criminal affairs. In any case, from Bibi’s point of view, talk about peace is a welcome break from cigar and champagne scandals. If the PM needs a plan to dodge both the criminal investigations and the Trump peace plan, new Knesset elections could turn out to be the perfect solution.
The Political Return of Ehud Barak: Former PM Ehud Barak has been twitter-teasing Netanyahu and the political system for months. Now, Barak appears to be closer than ever to a comeback. “I am more mature and capable of than any of the candidates around, including Netanyahu,” Barak declared. This statement by Barak was part of an interview by veteran journalist Amnon Abramovich, and was broadcast last night. Barak said that tweeting is “the most convenient mode of operation” at this stage, and added that many people ask him whether he will run for office. Some of them presented a poll, he claimed, which showed that if he would run against Netanyahu, he would win a majority of the secular votes – never mind that religious people’s votes count, too. “I am immodest enough to realize that objectively, from the point of view of an internationally recognized record, experience, intimate familiarity with security problems, statesmanship and economics, I am now more mature and able to lead the State of Israel than any of the candidates around, including Netanyahu, who is experienced but incapable of making decisions,” Barak said.
Barak has regained many fans in recent months with his unfiltered, biting opposition to Bibi on social media, but he is still considered highly unpopular and his declaration was widely mocked by members of all sides of the political system. Coalition chairman David Bitan suggested that Barak “should run for the US Congress from New York” as the former PM spends a great portion of his time abroad. Barak’s tactics were also dismissed by his Labor party colleague, Eitan Cabel, as a pure strategy to promote Barak’s private consulting business. “I do not know many people who go to a doctor who almost killed them twice. How much can you turn someone into something he is not. It is fun to sit with him for a conversation. He is very thorough, but he’s a petty politician, and he has proved time after time that he is not a leader,” Kabel said on Army Radio.
A potential Barak comeback also threatens to undermine Avi Gabbay. Barak supported Gabbay just a few months ago when Gabbay won the Labor party leadership. Now Barak is challenging Gabbay’s leadership. However, Gabbay tried to lower the flames this morning and to project that he does not see Barak as a political threat. “I welcome every good man to join the political world. I figured this would come sometime … There’s no drama, he supported me in the primaries, I did not talk to him after the interview but we do talk from time to time.”