Trump Brings Netanyahu to Town to Reveal a Dream Come True
President Trump has summoned Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to Washington on Tuesday to give witness to Trump’s historic U.S. endorsement of Israel’s long practiced policy of “creating facts” on the West Bank.
Israeli reports anticipate that Trump will endorse Israel’s annexation of one quarter of the 5500 square mile West Bank.
Netanyahu has long waxed lyrical about the “historic opportunities” offered to Israel by Trump presidency. Trump has not disappointed—recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, the Golan Heights as part of Israel, and most recently declaring that settlements in the West Bank are legal. According to Netanyahu, next on the agenda is establishing the Jordan Valley as the recognized—by Washington, if no one else—sovereign border of the State of Israel—“things we could only dream of but now we have the opportunity to realize them.”
“[Annexation of the Jordan Valley] requires tacit agreement from the Americans,” explained Environmental Protection Minister and Netanyahu confidant Ze’ev Elkin back in December. “There is currently a rare opportunity that we cannot miss.”
The opportunity is now at hand. Netanyahu arrived in Washington Sunday to meet Trump and Benny Gantz, his rival in upcoming national elections in March, flew in, too, but separately. The men will also meet Trump separately early this week.
But the star of the show—aside from Trump of course—will be Israel’s embattled but longest serving prime minister.
Palestinians are all but absent from Trump’s and Netanyahu’s shared view of the world. Trump has wisely spared himself the minor irritation of their certain rejection. They have not been invited to witness, let alone endorse this historic occasion.
History rarely concerns itself with losers, but Palestinians have long been an exception to this rule. For almost a century the issue of Palestinian sovereignty has been at the top of international diplomatic concerns. From Geneva to Oslo and Annapolis, the “Palestinian problem” has consumed an outsized proportion of international attention.
That moment appears to have passed. The international community has tired of its failed effort to reconcile Israel and Palestine. The Palestinian national movement, under the sclerotic leadership of Mahmoud Abbas, has lost its way. Rival Islamists have stolen the national momentum in a military effort waged against Israel to claw some degree of sovereignty and well being in Gaza.
Israel remains intoxicated by the territorial vistas opened by its conquests in 1967. For just as long it has focused on minimizing the inescapable contradiction between its territorial appetite for the West Bank and the Zionist aspiration to create a Jewish and democratic state.
The Trump administration is not responsible for this state of affairs. But having inherited it from its predecessors, it has adopted, both conceptually and policy-wise, the views of Israel’s most adamant annexationists as the prescription for addressing it.
There are no American ideas in the forthcoming “deal of the century” but rather those that define the debate in Israel about how to best accommodate Israel’s territorial and demographic interests in territories it captured almost 50 years ago.
Israel rather than Washington is therefore where the key elements of Trump’s plan—concerning Jerusalem, the Golan Heights, and the West Bank—are to be found.
There has always been a remarkable national consensus across Israel’s political spectrum about how to wage the never-ending battle to prevent the creation of a competing and sovereign Palestine. One camp sees value in a Palestinian authority with the symbols if not the powers of sovereignty that will busy itself with sewers and schools and powerless to retard Israel’s ever-expanding settlement and security objectives. The others agree on a dynamic settlement and security agenda, but see no value to even a cosmetic attribution of Palestinian sovereignty in the West Bank. They view Jordan—not the West Bank and East Jerusalem—as the national address for West Bank Palestinians.
The outlines of these views and the political camps in Israel that came to represent them were defined in the first months and years of the occupation.
Israel’s formal annexation of East Jerusalem was effected within days of it’s 1967 victory. Its minimal territorial aspirations in the West Bank are defined by the Allon Plan. First presented to King Hussein in 1968, the plan’s centerpiece was Israel’s annexation of a 10 to 15 kilometer-wide strip of land along the Jordan River bordering Jordan, most of the Judean Desert along the Dead Sea, East Jerusalem, and other areas near the West Bank border with Israel. Altogether these areas to be annexed to Israel comprised about one third of the West Bank, but relatively few Palestinians.
The offer was rejected as a nonstarter by Abdullah’s father King Hussein.
As the diplomatic stalemate continued over the next decades, the dynamic unleashed by Israel’s policy of “creating facts,” realized by the establishment of more than 200 settlements and the transfer of more than a half million Israelis to the West Bank, came to dominate the map that was evolving in Israel’s national political security consciousness. These interests were defined in political turns by Menachem Begin’s Palestinian autonomy plan during the Carter years, and territorially by the Oslo agreement sealed by Rabin and Arafat on the White House lawn in September 1993.
The Oslo map gave voice to the map presented by Allon and the policy of creating facts—placing 60 percent of the West Bank under exclusive Israeli security and administrative control (Area C) while reserving the remainder for a weak Palestinian autonomous but certainly not sovereign regime (Areas A and B). Negotiations that ended during the administration of George W. Bush failed to reach a compromise between Israel’s insatiable territorial appetite and Palestinian national interests.
Enter Trump and the promised “Deal of the Century.” In quick order Trump channeled a series of decisions defined by Israel.
In a recent speech, U.S. Ambassador to Israel David Friedman offered the administration’s most coherent if fundamentally flawed presentation of the conceptual basis for U.S. policy moves—recasting U.S. policy on central issues outstanding since June 1967—most notably concerning “Judea and Samaria,” aka the West Bank.
According to Friedman, the “Pompeo Doctrine” declares that “Jewish settlement in Judea and Samaria is not categorically illegal.”
Friedman’s use of the biblical identity of the West Bank is deliberately instructive. It signifies the adoption of in integrated package of ideological, security and political assumptions embraced by Israel’s security and political establishment.
According to this view, the West Bank is a problem for Israel only “because of the large indigenous Palestinian population.” This is the construct long championed by Israel, not only but with particular insistence by its settler right wing with which Friedman is particular close.
The Oslo map is a reflection of this sentiment and it is the Oslo map that Israel (and thus Washington) uses as the territorial template for the next stage—annexation—previewed by Trump since his declarations on Jerusalem and the Golan Heights.
Abbas, representative of what Washington now considers merely a demographic problem undeserving of the presumption of sovereignty in Palestine, complains about this reality, but no one, including Palestine’s Arab brothers, seem interested in putting his concerns at the top of their agendas. Jordan’s King Abdullah knows that he has the most to lose by the current impasse and Trump’s policies to break it by foreclosing any sovereign Palestinian address in Palestine. He has communicated his concerns consistently to Israel and Washington, but his views are ignored.
As in most things, Trump is uninterested in promoting a negotiated settlement between these inveterate antagonists. The deal of the century marks a historic departure from business as usual, which is the key to Trump’s interest in it, and a dream come true for Israelis locked into a zero sum contest with their enemies.
Geoffrey Aronson is chairman and co-founder of The Mortons Group, and a non-resident scholar at the Middle East Institute.