Mr. Netanyahu Goes To Washington

Very few capital cities in the world witnessed scenes of joy on the eighth of November 2016, when Donald Trump was elected President, and nowhere there registered a bigger, louder sigh of relief than in Jerusalem. PM Benjamin Netanyahu and President Barack Hussein Obama were not bosom buddies, to be as polite as possible, and the former simply could not conceal his sense of joy. Moreover, some of his Right Wing coalition partners seemed to be in seventh heaven, believing Trump's pre-election rhetoric about a dramatic change in the relationships between the US and Israel. Well, to the credit of the more experienced Netanyahu it is fair to say, that even his initial reactions, though so obvious, were toned down compared to his colleagues. He, after all, has seen a thing or two in his long tenure as leader of Israel, understanding that Trump was elected President of the US, not a correction officer of the faltering US-Israel relationships under President Obama. Events of the last three weeks were to prove Netanyahu right, whereas his hot-headed coalition partners looking detached from reality.

Netanyahu is in Washington, enjoying a far better hospitality than the one accorded to him by President Obama in 2009, when the Israeli leader, against protocol, and in a deliberate snub, was waiting in the corridors of the White House, waiting for the first family to finish their meal. Netanyahu already hears a sweet note from Trump about not condemning Israel repeatedly, contrary to what has become the usual procedure of the Obama Administration. Surely he likes it, but the complexity of the Middle East situation is such, that the tone here is not necessarily the music. Netanyahu will very well find himself under pressure to make unpleasant decisions, much earlier than anticipated. Take, for example, the issues of the possible move of the American Embassy to Jerusalem and the issue of settlements. There already have been many signals sent by the Trump Administration to the effect, that there will not be any move of the Embassy, surely not a quick one, and that settlements construction is not the cup of tea of the Trump team. Netanyahu, so we are told by unverified reports, is whispering to the Americans that he does not really prioritize the Embassy move as being important, and that he wants the Administration to publicly indicate its displeasure with continuing settlements talk and activity. According to these reports, the PM basically invites pressures on him, especially with regards to the settlements. It will not be out of tune with how previous Israeli Prime Ministers handled similar situations, however, this time the PM may be in a better situation than some of his predecessors. There are enough points of agreement between him and Trump, something which will make it easier for him to sell some flexibility about the settlements to his coalition partners.

To do that, Netanyahu will have to say in public what a Likud PM usually does not like to say, and this is, that he freezes settlement activity in accordance with the President wishes, while expecting the President to publicly and unequivocally reassure Israel, that the UN will cease to be the pro-Palestinian playground. Any specific statement from President Trump against anti-Israel unilateral steps will help Netanyahu back home when dealing with his detractors from the Right Wing. Besides, the parties can agree on the need to include Arab countries, like Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Jordan in future talks with the Palestinians, making it very difficult to Mahmoud Abbas to refuse such a course of action, though it will be a bitter pill for him to swallow, after the short time of unrealistic expectations he had following UNSC resolution no.2334. It will be useful for Netanyahu to urge the President to caution the Palestinians that going to Hague[the International Court] and steps like that, will lead to removal of the American recognition of the Palestinian Authority [PA] , and at the same time complete Congressional ban on any money allocation to the PA. While the sticks held by the new administration are obvious for all to see, and early indications are, that they consider using them, Netanyahu will have to deliver his part of the formula, and the settlements are the one issue which can make it to him.

The Israeli leader has a lot at stake here, going to Washington as a politician under domestic and external pressures. He can go back to Jerusalem with much less external pressures, and that in itself, will ease, rather than increase his domestic pressures.