Imminent disclosure of the “deal of the century” will give Israeli politicians the opportunity to be for it or against it presenting Israeli voters with a clear choice
President Trump threw a bomb into the Israeli election campaign yesterday when he instructed his Vice President Mike Pence to invite Israeli PM Netanyahu to the White House this coming week to be briefed on the key details of the so-called “deal of the century”. Perverse as it may sound, Netanyahu’s political master stroke in suggesting that the Americans extend the invitation to his challenger Mr. Gantz to avoid any appearance of playing favorites in the Israeli elections only added to the claims that president Trump was interfering in the Israeli election.
Reality however is a stubborn thing and it is quite different than what the detractors of Messrs. Trump and Netanyahu make it out to be. Management of the Arab-Israeli conflict is the key issue in any Israeli political campaign. A major peace plan produced by Israel’s greatest ally and the world’s sole superpower, America should thus be disclosed at the start of the campaign, giving all participants in the election the chance to formulate and promulgate their views on it. Israeli voters can then decide whose position vis-a-vis the plan they like best and to what degree this may influence the ballots that they will be casting.
From that perspective, it would be the delaying of making the plan public until after the election that would be considered interference, rather the full disclosure of it at the very start of the campaign. The fact that, if the details leaked so far are true, half of Mr. Gantz’s Blue and White party will find itself to the left of the American administration, should also be known to the Israeli public before the election rather than after it when the votes had already been cast. How Mr. Gantz handles himself without his retinue of advisors and without his prepared remarks far away from his home base on the White House grounds should is another point of interest to the Israeli voting public. After all, maintaining and growing the alliance between Israel and the United States is one of the key responsibilities of any Israeli PM.
Mr. Gantz is well-aware that he is about to walk into a trap. Messr. Trump and Netanyahu are old friends. Mr. Netanyahu speaks fluent American English and has been a guest at the White House many times. In contrast, Mr. Gantz’s politics are more naturally in line with Mr. Trump’s political opponents who are now trying to remove him from office. Additionally, his English is heavily accented and quite poor, and he is unaccustomed to being in the company of those who are not under his command. Leadership is proven precisely at moments like these: can Mr. Gantz outperform the low expectations he would be facing on this visit, or will he chicken out and refuse to go?
Apparently, the decision has not yet been made and Mr. Gantz will announce it tomorrow evening when the Sabbath is over. Declining an invitation from an American president would be unheard of and it would expose Mr. Gantz as cowardly, weak, and ill-prepared to lead any country, let alone a country constantly at war sch as Israel.
It does not help that Mr. Gantz’s second in command, the left wing secular populist Mr. Lapid took every opportunity to both physically and metaphorically embrace House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and the other members of the Democratic delegation to the Holocaust conference. In his tweets, Mr. Lapid lavished praise on the Democrats and extolled their (nonexistent) support for Israel. By doing so, Mr. Lapid exhibited extreme political carelessness as he interjected himself into the political witch hunt against president Trump, which is orchestrated by the same Democrats he had been embracing and which is now reaching its crescendo on Capitol Hill. Should Mr. Trump beat the charges in the Senate and remain in office as is expected to happen, Mr. Lapid, who is likely to become foreign minister in any Blue and White government, will have made himself a bitter enemy out of the most consequential foreign leader, the American president.
The identification of Trump with Netanyahu and his arch-enemy Pelosi with Gantz is bad news for Gantz and great news for Netanyahu. Trump is exceedingly popular with wide swaths of the Israeli public, perhaps more so than Mr. Netanyahu, who is suffering from the voter fatigue that inevitably sets in after long tenure in power. Mr. Trump’s impeachment is perceived in Israel as a political witch hunt and the ready embrace of the Democrats by Blue and White leaders makes the legal jeopardy that Mr. Netanyahu now finds himself in seem similarly the product of politically-driven agenda pursued by legal means.
The toxic antisemitism of large swaths of the Democratic party from rank and file all the way to the top and the failure of Nancy Pelosi to in any way censure the extreme antisemites in her caucus are well known in Israel and as the election campaign heats up, we can bet that the Likud will make them better known yet.
In the end, this Israeli election campaign, the third one in a row, will focus on one thing only: can Jewish Israelis from the center of the political spectrum put aside their squabbles about the distribution of resources among the various interest groups and the very legitimate argument over the secular-religious divide in Israeli society and take advantage of a once in a century opportunity to set the eastern border of their state, the only border that is still in dispute, on favorable terms? If the answer to this question is in the affirmative, we may expect Mr. Netanyahu to form a new government in March because it is quite clear that no one else is up to the task.
If, on the other hand, most Jewish Israelis prefer their narrow sectorial interests over the national one, we are destined for another hung election result, one that would once again make it next to impossible to form a majority coalition and all but certainly make Israel miss the greatest opportunity to improve its fortunes since the 1967 Six Day war.