President Donald Trump has decided to take the wraps off his “deal of the century,” a peace proposal for Israel and the Palestinians. This came in the middle of a heated Israeli election campaign with voters set to go the polls on March 2. VP Mike Pence conveyed an invitation to both PM Netanyahu and Blue and White leader Benny Gantz. They are to show up at the White House on January 28 to hear the details of his revolutionary peace offer.
This development is a big plus for Bibi, who is an experienced politician in the international arena, whereas Gantz is a political greenhorn. There is no question that Trump’s step gives Bibi a leg up with some voters, perhaps enough to break the deadlock after two previous ballots. It goes without saying that Donald and Bibi are very good palls.
Amid this surprising development, consider that the latest Channel 1 TV poll, taken before Trump’s bombshell, showed that Bibi and Gantz are locked in another tie. Blue and White was leading by a narrow margin of 35-31 seats in the 120-member Knesset. After a tally of the other parties, Gantz would wind up with a 57-seat lock, followed closely by Bibi’s supporters of 55 seats. Therefore, as in the two previous elections, both would have less than the required 61-seat majority. And once again, Avigdor Lieberman’s Russian Immigrant party would garner 9 Knesset seats and could enable either Blue and White or Likud to put them over the top for a 61-seat majority to form a new government.
Previously, Lieberman demanded that Blue and White, together with Likud, must establish a national unity government, which they failed to do, forcing another election on March 2. This is the background to Trump’s dramatic decision to put his peace plan before Israeli voters. Why is this a significant advantage for Netanyahu? Simply because Trump’s broker, Jared Kushner, has apparently consulted with Netanyahu about all the nuts and bolts of the peace deal, whereas Gantz has been left in the dark.
Gantz has been placed in a less-favorable position relating to the peace deal that will become the central issue in the remaining days before the election. Bibi, an experienced politician if there ever was one, will exploit this to his advantage. So what is Trump proposing at long-last? According to an unconfirmed report by Israel’s Ynet website:
- Israel would annex 30-40 percent of the West Bank for security and civilian control, including isolated settlements.
- Jerusalem would remain under Israeli control.
- There would be only a symbolic return of some Palestinian refugees. (The estimated 650,000 who fled in 1948 when the Palestinians and the Arab world declared war on Israel have now burgeoned into more than 3 million spread over Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, and elsewhere.)
- The Palestinians would receive a demilitarized state which would require a demilitarization of the Gaza Strip and disarming Hamas.
- Arab states would contribute 50 billion dollars for developing the new Palestinian state.
On the Palestinian side, this would be a total non-starter. President Mahmud Abbas, who governs West Bank Palestinians, has always insisted that Israel must withdraw to the old ceasefire line of 1967 and evacuate all the settlements in the West Bank. That’s just for starters – Hamas, which rules the Gaza Strip, totally opposes the very existence of Israel, as does its supporter, Iran, that promises to destroy the Jewish state.
The hardliners among the Israeli settlers in Judea and Samaria totally oppose the idea of a Palestinian state. Their position is also based on a theological contention that the land was bestowed on the Jewish people by the Almighty for eternity, and no temporary Israeli government has the right to relinquish it.
Trump’s decision to go public with his deal comes amid Bibi’s current campaign to receive parliamentary immunity for the three indictments he now faces for bribery, fraud, and breach of trust. Could Trump’s surprise decision be aimed at alleviating Bibi’s political headaches in Jerusalem? And, did I just hear someone whisper about “impeachment” in Washington?
Presidents and princes commemorate Holocaust and condemn Antisemitism …
Trump’s invitation to Bibi and Benny was extended by VP Mike Pence, who arrived in Jerusalem with 48 other leaders and dignitaries. First, they attended a moving service that marked the 75th anniversary of liberated the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp in Poland in 1945. It was the Red Army that liberated the death camp, but only after 1,100,000 Jewish children, women, and men had been tortured, starved, and murdered in the Nazi gas chambers. There was a monument depicting the Red Army’s liberating of the death camp, and Russian President Vladimir Putin gave a moving speech including how his father had died in defense of Leningrad.
During WWII, many Russian Jews, now known as the veterans, fought and died in the Red Army, and a very few who now live in Israel also attended the ceremony wearing their medals. Then, after the moving speeches, a choir of Russian-Israeli men and women sang a spirited rendition of the Red Army’s battle hymn during WWII that sent shivers down one’s spine. Even the straight-faced Putin showed a sign of emotion.
Following the morning ceremony, the foreign dignitaries, including Prince Charlies, drove a short way downtown to the Yad Vashem Memorial. At that event, all the speakers deplored the mounting cases of antisemitism, particularly in Europe and the US. So, the spotlight was on the last speaker, German state President Frank-Walter Steinmeier.
Now, there is no question that since the Holocaust, German leaders have adopted a tough, no-nonsense approach to antisemitism. Current Chancellor Angela Merkel has made this a top priority, including close ties with the Jewish state. Steinmeier has a similar reputation. The entire audience, and millions of Israelis watching TV and listening on the radio, were sitting on the edge of their seats waiting for Steinmeier to face the music for the ultimate antisemitic crime of the Holocaust, but also for the recent revival in antisemitic attacks in Germany today.
The solemn-faced German President took the podium; speaking emphatically, he declared Germany assumed full responsibility for the Holocaust, saying, “The industrialized mass-murder of the six million Jews was the worst crime in history and was perpetrated by my fellow German countrymen!”
So much for the reckoning with the past. Then, Steinmeier declared, “I wish I could have come here today to tell you that we Germans have learned the lesson of the past; but I cannot do that, for today in my country, we bear witness to new manifestations – the Jewish child being spat upon and an armed terrorist who was only prevented by a strong locked door from breaking into a synagogue and killing Jewish worshippers!”
Then, in a final moving moment at the closing of the speech, Steinmeier recited in Hebrew the Jewish prayer: “Blessed be the Almighty for enabling me to be here on this day!” With German leaders such as Merkel and Steinmeier, there is at least hope.