This article was originally published in Hebrew in Ma’ariv.
The working assumption in President Trump’s inner circle is that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has a political option that enables him to take a major step on the Palestinian issue as part of President Trump’s regional initiative.
Jason Greenblatt, special representative for international negotiations to President Trump – who is now in the midst of intense discussion with all the sides and players in the region – has reached the conclusion that if Netanyahu is forced to make tough decisions and to cooperate with the president on the “ultimate deal” (a comprehensive regional agreement), he can broaden his government and change his coalition, as was discussed last year with Opposition leader Isaac Herzog.
Greenblatt met with Herzog during his last visit to Israel and also spoke with him on the phone. Greenblatt also hosted Herzog’s partner in the Zionist Union, Tzipi Livni, for a Shabbat dinner at his home last week in New York City. Herzog and Livni do not speak much at these meetings, but Israeli newspaper Ma’ariv has learned that Greenblatt “cross-referenced” the information that the President’s aides had heard from Netanyahu’s aides: that the prime minister is shackled by the right wing and that the feasibility of a major step on the Palestinian issue is very low. Washington, at least for the time being, thinks otherwise.
Herzog, in his speech this week to AIPAC in Washington, said that there is a rare opportunity with the new administration to adopt a regional approach on the basis of the Arab Peace Initiative. His statements were similar to what he said in the past about the negotiations he conducted last year with Netanyahu on forming a national unity government in order to move ahead on a regional initiative.
In the meantime, concern is mounting in Jerusalem over the focus being displayed by the Trump administration on the Palestinian issue. The assessment is that Trump himself is the driving force behind the energy bursting forth from Washington in the direction of the Middle East and that he intends to present a proposal for the “ultimate deal” after he concludes the first round of talks and meetings with all the relevant players.
Jerusalem officials are monitoring the fact that his envoy, Jason Greenblatt, is unprecedentedly taking part in the conference of the Arab League being held at this time in Amman. In the next two weeks, Trump will meet with Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi and then with Abu Mazen, before completing the formulation of his presidential plan.
In the meantime, the longed-for agreement between Israel and the US regarding settlement construction has not been reached. The Trump administration is turning out to be very supportive verbally, but much more businesslike and objective when it comes to actions: the Americans do not intend to approve indiscriminate Israeli construction in the West Bank and the fact that no agreements have yet been reached proves that the situation is not the one that the Israeli right-wing hoped for.
Also, it should be noted that Shas Chairman and Interior Minister Aryeh Deri tweeted last night that he met Herzog at the bar mitzvah of his director general’s son. He tweeted, “In light of the challenges facing the country, Herzog and his party must join the government.”