Israeli leaders embrace peace plan as Democrats criticize lack of vision

ultimate deal

Koby Gideon/GPO

President Donald Trump is expected to release the long-awaited White House Mideast peace plan during a joint appearance with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Tuesday at noon EST. 

What we know: Sources familiar with the plan toldThe Wall Street Journal that it “heavily tilts toward the Israeli position on key issues.” That includes Israeli sovereignty over Jerusalem, with Palestinian control over some neighborhoods in East Jerusalem, and land swaps that would likely leave Palestinians controlling 70% to 80% of the West Bank.

The visuals: Yesterday, the president met with Netanyahu and Blue and White leader Benny Gantz for back-to-back meetings in the Oval Office. Netanyahu got the protocol treatment for a visiting head of state, including a photo spray with an additional brief Rose Garden appearance. The meeting with Gantz, who holds no official position in the Israeli government, was widely reported as an achievement for the de facto opposition leader, who even got a photo opportunity at the Oval Office’s Resolute Desk and a White House tweet.  

The substance: During his remarks in the Oval Office, Trump did not reveal any details about the forthcoming plan or indicate he would support unilateral annexation of the West Bank. But he suggested that it’s “a plan that’s very important to peace in the Middle East.” Trump added, “We have the support of the prime minister. We have the support of the other parties. And we think we will ultimately have the support of the Palestinians.” 

Gantz speaks: In a statement to the media before departing for Tel Aviv, Gantz said that he thanked the president for his support for Israel. Gantz called the plan “a significant and historic milestone” and added: “Immediately after the elections, I will work toward implementing it from within a stable functioning Israeli government, in tandem with the other countries in our region.”

A non-starter? Shira Efron, a special advisor on Israel at the RAND Corporation and a policy advisor for Israel Policy Forum, points out that the composition of the trilateral discussion — between Washington and two opposing political opponents in Israel, and without the Palestinians — indicates that even the Trump administration knows that the Palestinians cannot accept the plan.” Efron added that “even if the plan does not change the status quo at the moment, it could have long-term effects by creating a new blueprint for addressing the Israeli-Palestinian conflict that is remarkably different than the Clinton parameters and all other similar internationally-acceptable two-state frameworks. Such new terms of reference could make it hard for any Israeli leader in the future to make more substantial concessions for the sake of a peaceful two-state solution.”

Will Bibi show restraint? David Makovsky, the Ziegler distinguished fellow at The Washington Institute, tells JI’s Jacob Kornbluh that “Netanyahu will have to show some restraint” — despite his domestic political imperative — in not pushing for immediate annexation because “it will impact the success of the Palestinians to mobilize other Arab countries against the plan, and it could alienate the Trump administration who wants some space for this plan to play out.” 

Spotted: While waiting for Gantz to brief the media about his White House meeting at the Jefferson Hotel, reporters spotted former British Prime Minister Tony Blair walking out of the hotel. Blair, who served as the Quartet Mideast envoy and offered advice early on in the Trump administration, declined to comment on the expected plan rollout.  

On the Hill: As Netanyahu was meeting Trump at the White House, Democratic members of Congress issued statements reiterating their support for a two-state solution. Sen. Bob Menendez (D-NJ), ranking member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and Rep. Eliot Engel (D-NY), chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said in a joint statement that “unilateral actions do not contribute to a sustainable peace and would not serve U.S. interests.” Rep. Ted Deutch (D-FL) expressed his frustration that he’s “been trying to get briefed on this plan for two years” to have input on preserving “the possibility of a two-state solution.”

Pushing back: Former Sen. Norm Coleman, national chair of the Republican Jewish Coalition, tells JI that Democratic opposition — before even reading the plan — is pure politics. ”We’re just kind of mired in our own petty politics and it’s just tough for the Democrats to get to objective evaluations because they’re so caught up in whether they like or dislike the president,” Coleman alleged. “If Benny Gantz and Bibi Netanyahu can agree on it, you would think that there are some Democrats that would say this is a good thing.” 

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