Trump’s peace push faces mul­ti­ple hur­dles

The Jewish Chronicle - - WORLD NEWS - BY ANSHEL PFEFFER

NEWS OVER the past week that Prime Min­is­ter Ben­jamin Ne­tanyahu is plan­ning to ac­cept the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion’s re­quests to rein in set­tle­ment-build­ing and to put to­gether a pack­age of “good­will” ges­tures to­wards the Pales­tinian Au­thor­ity has been met with a rel­a­tively muted re­sponse from the most right-wing com­po­nent of the Is­raeli govern­ment.

The set­tlers were some­what mol­li­fied by the fact he also an­nounced a new set­tle­ment would be built near Shiloh as part of the agree­ment with the 42 fam­i­lies evicted two months ago from the Amona out­post.

How­ever, Mr Ne­tanyahu made it clear that for the time be­ing, aside from the new set­tle­ment, Is­rael will not be build­ing out­side the ex­ist­ing built-up ar­eas in the West Bank – and this got the set­tlers wor­ried. Their main sup­porter in the govern­ment, Jewish Home leader Naf­tali Ben­nett, re­sponded by com­plain­ing about a “strate­gic missed op­por­tu­nity”.

How­ever, Mr Ben­nett made no po­lit­i­cal threats. Pri­vately, he ad­mit­ted he could do lit­tle as the pol­icy had been agreed upon be­tween Mr Ne­tanyahu and Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump.

Mr Trump, who has ben meet­ing Arab lead­ers in­clud­ing Egyp­tian Pres­i­dent Ab­del Fat­tah al-Sisi, Jor­dan’s King Ab­dul­lah and is sched­uled to meet Pales­tinian Pres­i­dent Mah­moud Ab­bas in Wash­ing­ton next week, is said to be “hugely in favour” of a re­gional ini­tia­tive whereby Is­rael and the Pales­tini­ans will re­sume ne­go­ti­a­tions with the sup­port of “mod­er­ate” Sunni states.

While all the sides are in favour of such an ap­proach of­fi­cially, it is im­por­tant to re­mem­ber that just a year ago a sim­i­lar plan was be­ing dis­cussed with for­mer sec­re­tary of state John Kerry, but Mr Ne­tanyahu pulled out cit­ing coali­tion pres­sures.

This time around, Mr Ne­tanyahu seems more will­ing to take on op­po­nents within his own coali­tion. This is partly due to the fact that un­like in the Obama pe­riod, the cur­rent US pres­i­dent is not seen by the Is­raeli right wing as be­ing “hos­tile”. But other stum­bling blocks re­main be­fore the process can get off the ground.

The “good­will ges­tures” Is­rael is pre­pared to make to the PA are un­likely to in­clude the two main de­mands Mr Ab­bas made in the past for re­new­ing ne­go­ti­a­tions — a freeze on set­tle­ment build­ing and the re­lease of pris­on­ers.

Even if he is pre­pared to waive those de­mands in the in­ter­est of im­prov­ing his ties with the US ad­min­is­tra­tion, Mr Ab­bas is un­der pres­sure at home not to make any con­ces­sions. A hunger­strike by all Fatah pris­on­ers in Is­raeli jails is planned to take place in two weeks’ time. The re­sult­ing in­crease in vi­o­lence will likely make it very hard for Mr Ab­bas to sit down with Is­raelis.

Mean­while, with se­nior fig­ures in the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion un­der in­ves­ti­ga­tion for al­leged ties to Rus­sia, it is unclear whether the White House will have the at­ten­tion span to deal with the Mid­dle East. An­other rea­son the set­tlers are bid­ing their time.

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