WASHINGTON – Despite Israel being in the midst of another election campaign, the Trump administration is once again considering whether to publish its Middle East peace plan. While no decision has been made, there is real debate within the White House about releasing the plan in the next few weeks.
Some in the administration believe this is the very last opportunity to publish it. However, there are concerns over how it will be received during a contentious election – the third within the space of less than a year in Israel.
– Haaretz Weekly Ep. 55
Listen: Under Trump, haters don’t need an excuse to attack Jews. Ep. 55
Last weekend, the administration sent Avi Berkowitz to Israel for a short visit. Berkowitz – a special assistant to President Donald Trump and the person currently leading the administration’s work on the matter – met with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his main political opponent, Kahol Lavan Chairman Benny Gantz. The trip was described by White House officials as more of a “fact-finding mission” than an actual step toward releasing the plan.
It’s not clear what Berkowitz heard from Netanyahu during their meeting, but Gantz expressed concerns that releasing the plan in the midst of an election campaign would be blatant intervention by Trump in Israel’s democratic process.
Gantz repeated that message publicly on Monday during a media appearance at the Knesset. This was the first time since entering political life just over a year ago that Gantz had spoken in a combative tone about the Trump administration. In previous instances when Trump clearly intervened in Israeli politics to help Netanyahu, Gantz kept mum. This week, though, he signaled to the administration that such action would not find a political consensus inside Israel, unlike most of Trump’s policy steps so far.
Two weeks before the April 2019 election, Trump invited Netanyahu to the White House to attend his declaration recognizing Israel’s sovereignty over the Golan Heights. The U.S. president also praised Netanyahu publicly on several occasions during that campaign and shared Netanyahu’s campaign posters on his social media accounts. And three days before the September election, Trump and Netanyahu spoke over the phone and discussed a mutual U.S.-Israel defense pact – an idea that disappeared from view once the election was over.
A worker hanging a Likud election billboard in Tel Aviv, featuring President Donald Trump and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, September 8, 2019. The slogan reads: “Netanyahu. Another League.”Oded Balilty/AP
Throughout all of this, the White House has insisted that Trump wasn’t actually taking sides in Israeli politics and was simply implementing policies that he believed were right for the United States. However, when Netanyahu explicitly argued, days before the September election, that he has received Trump’s “support,” no one in the White House bothered to correct the public record.