Thursday, January 30, 2020

Netanyahu and Trump, a brilliant maneuver

Yesterday, in a tremendously adept show of political theater, President Trump and Prime Minister Netanyahu stood in front of a carefully assembled cheering room to present Jared Kushner's "Deal of the Century," proposing a specific resolution to the Israeli/Palestinian conflict.  It was brilliantly done, having nothing to do with likely peace.  It does, however, paint a clear picture of what is likely to happen without a peace deal.

Gains for Netanyahu:

In a deadlocked electoral process about to face its 3rd stalemate in a year, Netanyahu's opponent Benny Gantz has been trying to push the peace process as a wedge issue to victory.  This has been slightly successful, mostly from the view the Netanyahu has done nothing in a long time.  That is neutralized.

Netanyahu has now received from Trump all of his 3 major goals regarding the Palestinian situation.  First, Trump recognized Jerusalem as the Capital of the State of Israel, and moved the US Embassy to straddle the green line in Talpiot.  Second, Trump recognized the total annexation of the Golan Heights into Israel proper.  Now, Trump has effectively embraced the annexation of all Israeli settlements in the West Bank.

This third issue is that of "the settlements," which refers to all Israelis living anywhere that was under Jordanian control before the 6 Day War.  That includes: Modi'in Ilit, a few hundred yards across the line in central Israel, with 70,000 inhabitants; Betar Illit, similarly situated to the south with over 54,000 people; Ma'alei Adumim with 37,000 people as a large city to the east of the major Palestinian towns of East Jerusalem, Abu Dis, etc; and the 40,000 Israelis living in the Gush Etzion bloc of towns between Bethlehem and Hebron.  These four districts alone total over 200,000 Israelis, all of whom have rallied to the Likud call for "one state from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea."

How does the Trump Peace Plan provide this third goal?  By declaring that there can be a "two state solution," and that the settlements will be incorporated in the peace deal, he has moved the lines on the map.  Effectively, he has recognized the permanent legitimacy of the settlements as a pre-emptive statement.  When the Palestinians reject the plan, Netanyahu can proceed with annexation lamenting their unwillingness to join him in hopes for peace.  De facto, he gets to add the settlements formally to Israel Proper, and blame the Palestinians for it at the same time.

Now, be clear:  I absolutely believe that those "settlements" which I have named belong as a permanent part of Israel in the future.  They are ensconced, and the days when they could be uprooted are long gone.  Smaller settlements can still be moved, but not those.  Ehud Barak and President Clinton suggested that exact scenario with "land swaps" once, which seemed a good combination of the pragmatic and the fair.  Everyone could have saved face with that solution, but it was rejected by Arafat.  I am not criticizing the Trump proposal.  As I read the maps and the possible solutions, I believe that Mr. Kushner and the President got the picture more or less correct.  Were the Palestinians and Israelis to accept this plan, it would produce a lasting peace with hopes for prosperity.

But it won't.  And everyone involved knew it wouldn't from the beginning.  There has never been an engagement with the Palestinians to create the space for agreements under Trump.  That is not the goal.  The purpose of the plan is to create the political climate for four things:  annexation of the West Bank settlements (check); political support for Netanyahu (check); a picture of diplomatic leadership for Trump (half-check); and to blame the Palestinians for lack of progress (check).

The fact that this also could all be done on what would otherwise have been the worst news day in Netanyahu and Trump's respective political careers is nothing short of brilliant.

How else could Netanyahu spin the news cycle on the very day that he was formally indicted back home on corruption and bribery charges? Brilliant.  How else could Trump spin the news cycle away positively on the very day the Senate is sitting as an impeachment trial? Spectacular.   It is political theater, pure and simple, and superbly executed.  Each of their goals achieved, and no negative outcomes.  Regardless of your political views, you have to recognize the competence of the moment.


1) Significant annexation of Israeli towns and cities in the West Bank.
2) Complete annexation of the Jordan River Valley, placing Israel in permanent control of the International border with Jordan.
3) Significant amounts of undeveloped land near the Egyptian border in the Sinai will be granted to the Palestinian State, with contiguous road access to the Gaza Strip.
4) Construction of a MAJOR series of highway tunnels and bridges that will directly connect Gaza to the West Bank, and all Palestinian towns with each other without need for Israeli checkpoints.  See this map for details.
5) Special access to the ports of Haifa and Ashdod for Palestinian import/export.
6) Establishment of a Palestinian State without moving any current populations, Israeli or Palestinian.
7) All depends on real and verified Palestinian institutions of good governance, demilitarization, removal of any and all delegitimization of Israel in education or politics, and complete freedoms of the press, etc.
8) [No mention of the status of Palestinian refugees/descendants overseas returning]

The picture painted certainly could work, but Palestinian political movements - particularly in Gaza - are often based on armed resistance to "occupation," insistence on the lack of validity for Israel "the nakba," and a long legal history and belief that settlements in the West Bank are illegal colonial movements of civilians into contested territories conquered in war.  Like it or not, if you don't have a magic wand, you will have to deal with those sentiments in a much more pragmatic way if you seek support from any Palestinian leadership.

Therefore, by painting a brilliant picture of a workable peace in a way that Palestinian leadership must reject in the moment, Trump has given Israel the green light to implement any or all of the plan that it sees fit to work on.

Expect the following in the near future:  annexation of the stated territories, and the construction of a network of bypass tunnels and bridges to segregate Palestinian traffic from Israel traffic in the areas of mixed population.

Final Impeachment Post

The impeachment of President Trump is about to come to a rapid and unspectacular close.  As previously noted, it has been a foregone conclusion that the Republican Senate is not going to remove a sitting Republican president without indefensible criminal activity.  However, the process chosen by the Democrats has been short-sighted and self defeating.  Victory: Trump.

Democratic Mistakes:

For the record, here are the mistakes made by the Democrats, and the likely ramifications.

First, the Democrats should have made a case for Bribery, which is a crime named in the Constitution as impeachable.  The case would have been at least as strong as Article 1, Abuse of Power, and would have eliminated a prime Republican defense/debating point about high crimes and misdemeanors. 

Second, the Democrats in the House needed to seek Judicial (Supreme Court) enforcement of their subpoena power.  It seems they were afraid of two things: that the trial would spill over into the Democratic primaries - with Iowa next week; and that the Republicans would in turn subpoena Joe Biden, Hunter Biden, and the whistleblower.  These fears are unfounded, and destructive to their case.  Article 2, Obstruction of Congress, can only be proven after the subpoena has been ordered in appeal at the Judiciary.  By side-stepping this, they undermined that article of impeachment.  Trump didn't just say "no," he made a legal claim that he had a right to say "no."  Only the courts can establish that legal argument's validity, and the House Democrats didn't pursue it. 

So, the Democrats missed the boat on both articles of impeachment, and unwittingly provided Republicans every inch of wiggle room they would need to make the Arlen Spector move from the Clinton impeachment: "not proven."  They made it easy on the Republicans, to their own detriment.

Now What:

The Ukraine issue has now been de-fanged politically for President Trump.  He will have been declared "not guilty" of the accusations, and as a result he will be largely immune in the fall on this topic.  Echoes of "Gore/Lieberman=Sore/Loserman" are sounding in the background for any Democrat who continues to harp on the Ukraine issue after acquittal.

Moreover, his exoneration will actually embolden the President to continue to do what he did: use foreign policy and resources of the United States to solicit and coerce their aid in his electoral politics. After all, if he "did nothing wrong," and was "fully exonerated," then it has been firmly established that it is fair game.  His defense team is clear: "even if" he did it [read: he did it], it is not impeachable.

Today, on the edge of the Senate vote to dismiss the articles of impeachment, Secretary of State Pompeo is traveling to the Ukraine to meet with President Volodymyr Zelensky.  The Senate vote will give the Secretary absolute permission to begin the conversation: "Now Mr. President, with that unpleasantness behind us, let's talk about what you can do to investigate Hunter Biden.  We would like everything you have or can find that will hurt Joe Biden this fall." 

President Trump and his team are being told, "Yes.  Yes you can absolutely pressure foreign leaders - using American resources - to harm your domestic political opponents.  Feel free to proceed in any obvious and open manner that you wish, because - 'even if' - you will have done nothing wrong."

The End.

This inevitable conclusion is very different than a legal accusation of bribery, and a thwarted subpoena ordered by the Supreme Court.  Neither of those occurred, and the weaker and quicker case will have only emboldened the President.  It is highly unlikely that they will successfully make hay on the topic with moderate voters in the Fall. 

Conclusion: Democratic incompetence has given the President an unmitigated victory, and legitimized what they were trying to accuse him of.