When U.S. President Donald Trump’s senior adviser, Jared Kushner, told Sky News Arabia on Monday that Washington’s yet-to-be-revealed Israeli-Palestinian peace plan includes a “redrawing of boundaries and resolving final-status issues,” right-wing campaign rhetoric went up a notch.
For days, those to the left of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had been happily slamming the merger he helped broker between the Jewish Home and National Union parties, together with Otzma Yehudit, an offshoot of the late Rabbi Meir Kahane’s outlawed Kach Party. The glee with which the “anybody but Bibi” camp responded to the national and international outcry was uncontainable. Finally, here was a move—made to ensure that the votes for right-wing parties at risk of not passing the electoral threshold are not lost—that would be the nail in Netanyahu’s political coffin. The feeling was that if the prime minister’s legal troubles didn’t topple him, the wrath of American Jewry might just do the trick.
Then came Kushner’s interview, which shifted the focus to criticism of Netanyahu from Education Minister and New Right Party chairman Naftali Bennett.
Bennett has been in a tricky position. On one hand, he wants and needs Netanyahu’s Likud Party to emerge victorious in the upcoming elections. On the other, he has to “steal” votes from Likud in order to become a force with which Netanyahu has to reckon while forming a coalition.
This paradox, coupled with the personal and political friction that has existed between him and Netanyahu over the years, requires that he walk a tightrope. Kushner’s interview appeared to provide him with a net.
Although Kushner was vague—and said that the Trump administration has been “trying to come up with realistic solutions that are relevant to the year 2019,” he did reiterate the age-old American mantra that “both sides” would have to make concessions.
Translated into both Hebrew and Arabic, this means Israeli territorial withdrawals in exchange for Palestinian terrorism.
Bennett took the opportunity to remind the public that without a strong right-wing flank in the government to keep Netanyahu from succumbing to pressure from Trump and the Israeli left, there would be no preventing the establishment of a terrorist Palestinian state in Judea and Samaria of the kind that exists, de facto, in Gaza.
To sound the alarm bells, Bennett went as far as to claim that Netanyahu intends to join a national unity government with the Blue and White Party, which, some polls suggest, poses a challenge to Netanyahu’s 10-year incumbency. According to Bennett, if this happens, Palestinian statehood is a done deal—a “deal of the century” that threatens Israel’s security, if not existence.
Discussing this development, pundits posited that by launching this attack, Bennett was “shooting inside his tank,” the Hebrew equivalent of sh***ing in one’s tent.
This is ridiculous, of course. Politicians running for election have no choice but to punch strategically in all directions, sometimes inside their own camp. Bennett is no exception. His task right now is to persuade potential supporters that he will look out for their interests in the next Likud-led government. He can only do this by warning that Netanyahu is too weak to stand up to Trump on his own.
But here’s why the right’s hysteria and the left’s hope are unwarranted.
In the first place, the Blue and White Party has indicated that it would ask Likud to join a “Zionist national unity government” if called upon to form the next coalition. However, this is predicated on Netanyahu’s exit from the scene, as the assumption is that he would not agree to join someone else’s government. The likelihood of this happening is so slim as to be a case of wishful thinking.
Secondly, the Palestinian leadership has vowed to reject any deal put forth by Trump. As Khaled Abu Toameh recently wrote for the Gatestone Institute: “Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas will hardly accept a plan that he has repeatedly referred to as a US ‘conspiracy’ and the ‘Slap of the Century.’ … Palestinian leaders have incited their people against the Trump and his advisers to the point where it would be almost impossible for them even to be seen meeting with any US official. In recent months, Abbas has been quoted as saying that he does not intend to end his life as a ‘traitor,’ [which] means that it would also be impossible to accept any peace plan presented by the current administration.”
Third, referring to the split and enmity between the P.A. in Ramallah and Hamas in Gaza, Kushner said that Washington’s aim is “to see Palestinians under one leadership that will allow them to live in dignity.”
The chance of this happening is nil.
Finally, hinting at the economic and other creative aspects of the peace plan, which the Trump administration has claimed is completely different from its predecessors, Kushner stated that Washington is “trying to come up with realistic solutions that are relevant to the year 2019.”
Unfortunately, the Palestinian mindset is more medieval than modern, thanks to the continued indoctrination by corrupt and evil rulers.
Netanyahu not only knows this—and has managed to contain it by fighting Iran and forging relations with other Mideast states—but has done a good job of convincing the Trump administration of the complexities involved. Indeed, unlike the Israeli left, Trump’s team has not held Israel accountable for a lack of peace with the Palestinians.
Whether Washington changes its tune when its plan doesn’t pan out will depend on Netanyahu’s remaining in power, hopefully with a coalition that includes Bennett.
Ruthie Blum is an Israel-based journalist and author of “To Hell in a Handbasket: Carter, Obama, and the ‘Arab Spring.’ ”