What happened: A day after the release of US President Donald Trump’s plan for Israel and the Palestinians, Benny Gantz, head of the opposition Blue and White party, said yesterday that he intends to put the full plan to a Knesset vote next week. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s declared intention to begin applying Israeli sovereignty to parts of the West Bank as early as Sunday have reportedly been delayed as Trump Administration officials appeared to cool on the idea.
- Speaking at the Institute for National Security Studies annual conference, Gantz said that the US plan was “consistent with the fundamental principles outlined in the Blue and White platform” and that the Knesset vote would seek to approve it in its entirety, adding: “This is an historic opportunity to influence Israel’s borders and its future.”
- Gantz seemed to reject immediate steps to apply Israeli sovereignty to Israeli settlements, stating that: “Rash, irresponsible measures, not coordinated with Jordan, Egypt and the moderate Arab countries, will jeopardise our ability to implement” the plan.
- Netanyahu may delay his original plan to put the sovereignty move to a cabinet vote (initially set for Sunday). Senior ministers from Netanyahu’s Likud party indicated the vote may be delayed by a few days, or even by a week, due to the need for “complex preparations.”
- Jared Kushner said in an interview yesterday that he hoped the Israeli government “would wait until after the [2 March] election,” adding that the US had agreed to form a “technical team [with Israel] to start studying” the parameters of Israeli applying sovereignty to settlements. “What we have now is almost like…a term sheet and then we have to work over a couple of months to turn that into a document that we both feel good about…but I think we’d need an Israeli government in place in order to move forward,” Kushner said.
- US ambassador to Israel David Friedman also seemed to walk back prior comments about US support for applying Israeli sovereignty to settlements, telling reporters yesterday that: “We will form a joint committee with Israel to convert the conceptual map into a more detailed and calibrated rendering so that a recognition can be immediately achieved….I’m not going to speculate how long that will take.”
- Protests broke out at a number of locations in the West Bank to demonstrate against President Trump’s plan. Confrontations between Palestinian protesters and Israeli security forces took place in al-Bireh, where Palestinian sources reported two injuries, and al-Arroub, north of Hebron, while protests were also held in Gaza.
Context: The Knesset vote called by Gantz comes amidst a heated election campaign and appeared to be a politically calculated move to co-opt the US plan and take the initiative away from Prime Minister Netanyahu.
- While the US plan is viewed as heavily favourable to Israel, including keeping all West Bank settlements in place, it does call for the creation of a Palestinian state and the possible ceding of territory in both the West Bank and inside pre-1967 Israel.
- These two concessions are anathema to most of Netanyahu’s allies on the Israeli Right, who will have to decide in a public Knesset vote whether to approve or reject a diplomatic initiative put forward by Trump that nonetheless calls for the creation of a Palestinian state with significant territorial concessions.
- The Trump Administration’s apparent reversal in green-lighting an immediate move by Israel to apply sovereignty to settlements is believed to stem from concern about the reaction of Arab states to any such move.
- Reports in the Israeli media today indicate that the Israeli security establishment is deeply concerned about the future of the Israel-Jordan peace treaty if Israel were to apply Israeli sovereignty to the Jordan Valley. Moreover, such steps could lead to an outbreak of Palestinian violence in the West Bank.
Looking ahead: It remains to be seen how the Gantz-led vote in the Knesset on the Trump peace plan will be formatted, and whether explicit mention will be made of the idea to apply Israeli sovereignty to specific settlements.
- Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas will travel to Cairo this weekend for a key Arab League meeting on the Trump initiative and will be seeking a clearer rejection of the plan by Arab foreign ministers. Abbas is also expected to address the UN Security Council in the next two weeks.
In addition, senior Palestinian officials said that a delegation from the Palestinian Authority will travel to Gaza next week in a bid to end internal divisions and perhaps prepare a visit to the breakaway territory by Abbas himself