'One state, two states'! Whatever, it's up to you guys, the Israelis and Palestinians. Whatever they decided would be fine with US President Donald Trump - just make the deal already! Has the new US President just thrown out the window several decades of American support for a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict? Over at the UN, American Ambassador Nikki Haley was quick to correct any mistaken impression - the US still backed the two-state scheme. Apparently, the boss sometimes gets carried away with his own rhetoric. Go figure.
That is just what Bibi's friends and foes are now trying to do back in Jerusalem. Channel 10 got the jump on everyone by conducting a snap opinion poll in the wake of Trump's bomb-shell. Where do Israeli voters stand today? The results were startling:
Not surprisingly, after Trump's surprise statement, Bibi and Israel's Right wing were ecstatic. However, the Palestinians were flabbergasted as were Israel's Left and the rest of the international community. At the same time, a smiling but forceful Trump also expected Israel's leader to do his part. More specifically:
'I'd like to see you hold back on settlements a little bit.'
Let's get this straight: first Trump clobbered the Palestinians and then he lowered the boom on Bibi. But just what did 'a little bit' mean? Trump left it hanging in the air and unfortunately none of the political reporters asked him what he meant. Bibi was also keeping his cards close to his chest - he would first have to brief the Israeli cabinet before divulging to the public what he had cooked up with Trump in their private confab. Trump simply said, 'We'll work something out'. A senior Israeli source, possibly Bibi, told reporters that Israeli and American officials would now draft the fine print.
Before Bibi's trip to Washington, a White House statement said although settlements were not an impediment to peace, Israel should restrict construction to within the borders of existing settlements and no new settlement should go up. This could indicate the wording of the new US-Israeli understanding on settlement building. But just before flying off to Washington, Bibi had his cabinet approve the building of some 5,500 new housing units within existing settlements while also announcing that a new settlement would be constructed. It would be the first new settlement in some twenty years designed to compensate the Israeli families of the Amona settlement that was recently demolished because it was built on private Palestinian land. Was this new building also to be included in Trump's 'a little bit'?
Back in Jerusalem, hardline cabinet ministers Naftali Bennett and Ayelet Shaked hit the roof: 'No way, the cabinet had already approved the new building plan before Bibi met Trump!' In Israel, the gung-ho camp has been warning the PM that they expect him to proceed with the new building despite what Trump says. However, Bibi has stressed to Israeli reporters that it is vital to preserve the new-found cordiality with Washington. No doubt the PM wants to play ball with Trump on the controversial settlement issue. On this score, Trump may have helped Bibi halt the settlement fanatics. The PM will now be able to ask Bennett, Shaked and settlers if they want to risk running afoul of Trump after what he had warned about settlement building.
After the frosty receptions by former President Barack, the summit was a breath of fresh air for all Israelis. There was no mistaking the smiles, chuckles, kisses, hand shaking and back pats. Not only bilateral ties between the two allies were at stake. In addition, it signaled something new in the administration's approach to the Jewish state. But this has a proviso - only as long as Israel does not arouse Trump's dander.
This new-found cordiality is important for several other reasons. The President made clear he will oppose what he called the unfair campaign against Israel at the UN and other international forums. He will not allow this to continue, and, needless to say the US holds the UN's purse strings. At the same time it appears Trump has much bigger fish to fry both on his massive domestic agenda as well as trying to rein in America's huge trade deficit with China that he has promised to tackle. In other words, there will be no repetition of the anti-Israeli resolution that Obama refused to veto in the Security Council during his final days in office.
This had been heralded as an historic achievement by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, who has been waging a determined diplomatic war against the Jewish state for years. He has consistently refused to negotiate with Netanyahu and has been trying to exploit the 'automatic majority' against Israel at the UN with the goal of eventually imposing an agreement that would force it back to the previous lines of 1967. These were actually the old cease-fire lines of 1949. At that time, the Palestinians rejected the first two-state solution proposed by the UN. The Palestinians and the armies of the Arab states tried to annihilate Israel but failed.
But Trump may have just pulled the rug out from Abbas by saying the two-state solution is not the only option. Bibi picked up on this by referring to a regional plan that would include the Arab Sunni states that are eager to cooperate with Israel in facing the common enemy of Shiite Iran, possibly armed with nuclear weapons. This was one issue where Trump and Bibi definitely saw eye-to-eye - Barack Obama had made a terrible and dangerous deal with the Ayatollahs. Although it cannot be abrogated at this juncture because world powers are involved, Israel and the US will keep their eyes peeled on Iran's nuclear program.
When all is said and done, Trump plans on sending his son-in-law Jared Kushner to the Middle East to try and restart the stalled Israeli-Palestinian peace talks. It stands to reason that Bibi will not want to be blamed for sabotaging Kushner's mission by giving in to settler pressure and violating any settlement understandings he has with the US President. Some Jewish Home firebrands, the party of Bennett and Shaked, demand that the party bolt the coalition and topple Bibi's government if the PM does not build the new settlement and the other housing units. But at this point talk is cheap.
Summing up the summit, both Bibi and Trump needed it in more ways than one; the two leaders are waging a bitter battle with their respective media. Trump got to play President before an international audience and Bibi won popularity points with his supporters back home. Moreover, the PM is also facing three police investigations into possible fraudulent behavior. Back in Jerusalem, after reporting to his expectant cabinet, the PM will again get out of town and the country. This time he and Sara will be flying off to Singapore and Australia, to wrap up trade and high-tech ties.
Meanwhile in the political arena, the Center and Left wing opposition parties are beating their political tom-toms. They picked up on the fact that Bibi never once mentioned the two-state solution during his Washington visit, indicating he may have dropped the idea of an independent Palestine. This has supplied them with the burning question - do we Israelis really want to absorb 2.5 million West Bank Palestinians into Israel that will require granting them equal rights? Otherwise Israel would become an apartheid state, which is out of the question. So far, neither Bibi nor the Right Wing has given a rational answer.