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Trump helped Netanyahu with election, but now Bibi's on his own

President Donald Trump did all that he could to ensure that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu won yesterday’s election, but now that the votes are in, Israel can't count on his support for any unilateral moves.
A supporter reacts as results of the exit polls are shown at Benny Gantz's Blue and White party headquarters, following Israel's national election, in Tel Aviv, Israel March 2, 2020. REUTERS/Corinna Kern - RC2WBF9A844E

The Israeli election was a no-confidence vote in the rule of law and the judicial system. Half of Israel’s citizens (and a decisive majority of Jewish voters) gave their votes to parties that stood behind a man accused of bribery, fraud and breach of trust. In this election, which took place after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was indicted and on the eve of his trial set for March 17, Netanyahu's Likud received a whopping 36 mandates after 90% of the votes were counted.

Netanyahu should send the White House flowers. The serial temporary prime minister owes his achievement to no one more than US President Donald Trump. The Jan. 28 ceremony unveiling Trump's “deal of the century” was the Likud's most important campaign event in 2020.

But as we know, Trump doesn’t usually give free gifts, especially during a presidential campaign. The US administration expressed support for the UN Security Council's Feb. 24 call to pursue a two-state solution for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The council emphasized the need for a common effort to begin credible negotiations on permanent status issues.

Under the thunder of the election, the United States joined the rest of the 14 members of the Security Council in calling for the parties to refrain from damaging the possibility of realizing the two-state solution and to uphold the chance for a just, comprehensive and sustainable peace. The last bit threw ice water on those celebrating Israel's annexation and sovereignty over the West Bank, from Yamina to the Likud. It should be read as a response to Netanyahu's declaration a day earlier that he would advance a plan to build 3,500 new housing units in the West Bank Area of E1, east of Jerusalem, in addition to 3,000 homes in a new Jewish neighborhood in Givat Hamatos in East Jerusalem and 2,000 new housing units for Jews in the adjoining Har Homa neighborhood.

Peace Now explains that construction in E1 will bisect the West Bank and thus prevent any possibility of realizing the solution of two states for two peoples. This area is also the last remaining region for potential development of a central Palestinian metropolis between Bethlehem, East Jerusalem and Ramallah, without which a sustainable Palestinian state can’t be established. The end of the declaration hints at Israel’s stated intention to build thousands of additional homes in East Jerusalem in an area claimed by the Palestinians.

The election also drowned out a statement by US Ambassador to the United Nations Kelly Craft at a Feb. 11 debate in the Security Council regarding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict that likely displeased Netanyahu. The ambassador said that Israel’s agreement to Trump’s plan constitutes “a historic step toward the creation of a Palestinian state with a capital in East Jerusalem.” Chairman of Blue and White Benny Gantz had announced in January that he intends to ask the next Knesset to adopt the principles of Trump’s plan. However, Yamina has made it clear that under no circumstances will the party support a decision that includes the phrase “Palestinian state,” and the Likud also has members who will never utter the words.

Without Blue and White (excluding its right-wing members Moshe Ya’alon, Zvi Hauzer and Yoaz Hendel), Netanyahu has no chance of recruiting a majority for the Trump plan. Borrowing from the worldview of Culture Minister Miri Regev, Trump will justifiably wonder, “What’s Netanyahu worth if I don’t control him?” The “deal of the century” was supposed to drum up support among the Jewish electorate for the president, in contrast to the Democratic presidential candidates who refused to attend the AIPAC conference and said nothing when their fellow candidate Bernie Sanders called Netanyahu a “racist reactionary.”

If even the Trump administration disagrees with unilateral steps that break the status quo in the Palestinian territories, the European governments will never accept them. The European Union’s Foreign Minister Josep Borrell said Feb. 2 during a visit to Jordan that Trump’s plan challenges many accepted international norms. In a debate at the Security Council on Feb. 11 the ambassadors from Britain, Germany, France and Belgium made clear that annexation of territories in the West Bank would be considered a unilateral move that contradicts UN resolutions. Further, in response to Trump’s plan, France, Belgium, Spain, Ireland, Portugal, Finland, Sweden, Malta, Luxembourg and Slovenia are debating an initiative for joint recognition of a Palestinian state.

The European Union’s foreign ministers decided to postpone the debate on the issue until a new government is formed in Israel. If it comes to fruition, minister of defense and Yamina leader Naftali Bennett's promised “sovereignty government” — referring to the intention to impose Israeli sovereignty over the West Bank's Area C — is guaranteed a sharp response from Europe.

It’s doubtful whether Netanyahu's progress with the Gulf States, primarily Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, will stand the test of annexation. The Arab League has made it clear that it would not cooperate with the United States in implementing the plan and warned that Israel should not attempt to do so unilaterally.

The White House's go-ahead for Netanyahu to erase the Green Line was very useful to the right’s election propaganda, but don't expect things to go so smoothly when the time comes to cash the check.

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