Trump congratulates Netanyahu as US readies its peace plan

Close co-ordination between US and Israel expected ahead of peace plan release

FILE PHOTO: White House senior adviser Jared Kushner smiles as he watches U.S. President Donald Trump talk with Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the White House in Washington, U.S., March 25, 2019. REUTERS/Carlos Barria/File Photo
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Benjamin Netanyahu’s win in the Israeli elections on Wednesday is welcome news to the Trump administration, which has aligned its policies with those of the returning prime minister.

US President Donald Trump warmly offered his congratulations to Mr Netanyahu in a call on Wednesday.

“The United States is with him and the people of Israel all the way,” Mr Trump tweeted.

Before the vote, the US administration took steps to shore up its relationship with Mr Netanyahu.

The Israeli Prime Minister was invited with Arab and European dignitaries to a conference in Warsaw last February on countering Iran's growing influence.

In late March, Mr Trump hosted "Bibi" Netanyahu at the White House and broke precedent by recognising the Golan Heights as Israeli territory.

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Mr Trump’s ally in the Senate, Lindsey Graham, also visited Israel and met the Israeli leader before the elections.

Experts now find it more likely that the Trump peace plan will be released in the near future, as the head of Likud proceeds with forming a new government.

The plan has been put together by Trump advisers Jared Kushner, Jason Greenblatt and US ambassador to Israel David Friedman.

“The Trump peace plan is now likely to be presented in full co-ordination with Mr Netanyahu,” said Daniel Shapiro, of the Institute for National Security Studies in Tel Aviv.

Mr Shapiro, an ambassador to Israel under former president Barack Obama, said that the plan would fall short of meeting Palestinian aspirations but could be accepted by the Israeli government.

“Recent comments by Secretary Mike Pompeo and other administration officials indicate that it will not contain the basic elements of a two-state solution,” he said.

In a testimony before Congress two weeks ago, Mr Pompeo ignored the traditional parameters for resolving the conflict.

“I’m very confident that what was tried before failed,” he said.

Mr Pompeo promised a new approach based on "the facts on the ground and a realistic assessment of what would get us a good outcome".

This approach, Mr Shapiro said, “will amount to some form of permanent limited Palestinian autonomy [not a sovereign independent state] in isolated enclaves in the West Bank under overall Israeli control".

He said such a formula would be immediately rejected by the Palestinians.

Mr Shapiro said that Mr Trump’s bet would then be that “Israel agrees to the plan as a basis for negotiations, with reservations.

"Then, in light of the Palestinian rejection, it will feel free to implement those parts that it favours, which could accelerate annexation.”

Last Saturday, Mr Netanyahu promised annexation of some areas of the West Bank.

“I’m going to extend sovereignty,” he told Channel 12. “I don’t differentiate between the settlement blocs and isolated settlements.”

But with the campaign over, Matthew Brodsky of the Security Studies Group, said unanswered questions about Mr Netanyahu's governing coalition could dictate the next moves.

“We don't yet know what Netanyahu will promise those parties to the right of Likud to gain their alliance,” Mr Brodsky said.

“Will it be protection from indictment, selective annexation of some Israeli blocs in the West Bank, specific cabinet posts? That remains to be seen."

Given the close co-ordination between the US and Israel, he said it was “unlikely that Bibi would annex any land before the peace plan is made public and [Palestinian President Mahmoud] Abbas turns it down”.

Mr Brodsky also pointed to the shift inside Israel, with Arab parties receiving nearly twice (10) the seats of the Israeli historic Labor party (6).

“Increasingly in Israeli politics, the opposition that poses the biggest challenge to the Likud is no longer presented by the political left but by the centre-right,” he said.