Trump’s peace push faces multiple hurdles
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.