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Israel's far right weaponises Trump's 'deal of the century' against Netanyahu

It should be the Israeli prime minister's trump card, but the US plan is now being accused of being too soft and a danger for Israel
A defaced election poster for Likud showing Trump, left, shaking hands with Netanyahu in Jerusalem (AFP)
By in
Jerusalem

On major roads across Israel the same giant image is repeated again and again: Benjamin Netanyahu and Donald Trump with their hands clasped together.

Clearly the Israeli premier is banking on his relationship with the US president to win him enough votes to navigate this fraught re-election campaign, set to conclude on Tuesday.

But this weekend, the far-right Yamina party has sought to weaponise that partnership against him, allegedly revealing more tantalising details about the so-called “deal of the century” along the way.

On Saturday night, Yamina party chairwoman Ayelet Shaked said the yet-to-be-released US peace plan would divide Jerusalem, which the United States controversially recognised as Israel’s capital in 2017.

'The plan includes giving East Jerusalem neighbourhoods to the Palestinians'

- Ayelet Shaked, Yamina

“The plan includes giving East Jerusalem neighbourhoods to the Palestinians,” she told Channel 12's Meet the Press programme.

Then on Sunday morning, Naftali Bennett, her long-term political partner and fellow Yamina candidate, tweeted an image of the occupied West Bank that he said showed how the territory would be divided under the plan.

In it, Israeli settlements are highlighted as “individual ‘islands’ in a single ocean of Palestine,” as Bennett described it, with the Palestinian-run areas in black.

The Israeli communities, Bennett said, would be “surrounded 360 degrees” by the Palestinian factions of Hamas, Tanzim and the Palestine Liberation Organisation.

“Hell for every resident of Ariel, Ofra and Kiryat Arba. The end of settlement,” he said.

Trump card

The US administration’s overwhelming bias towards Israel, and Netanyahu in particular, has been used consistently as a trump card over the prime minister’s rivals in this election and the previous inconclusive one in April.

Since coming into office, Trump has appointed pro-settlement figures as the ambassador to Israel and other key roles; attacked UNRWA, the UN agency for Palestinian refugees; and cut all funding to the Palestinian Authority.

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Netanyahu’s announcement last week that he would annex the Jordan Valley - which makes up nearly a quarter of the West Bank - if re-elected is widely believed to have been done with Trump’s support.

To many, including the Palestinians, Netanyahu and the Israeli right are scoring significant victories before Trump’s much-delayed proposal is even announced, which is now slated to happen after Tuesday’s elections.

Shaked herself has previously said with Trump in the White House “there is no better time” to annex parts of the West Bank.

However, on Friday, at a campaign event in Givatayim, Shaked said “Netanyahu doesn’t understand Trump’s solution” and warned it will be “bad for the country, and bad for settlements”.

“Netanyahu has explained the good things about the plan, but not the bad things, like what will happen with settlements,” she said.

“We are only being told part of the truth. The good before the elections, the bad after.”

Facts on the ground

How Shaked and Bennett - who were both sacked from Netanyahu’s government in June - are apparently so clued up on the Trump administration’s thinking is unclear.

When pressed on Channel 12 to reveal how she has become so familiar with the plan, Shaked simply replied: “I know.”

“Do they have any special information about the peace plan? I don’t think so,” Yontan Mendel, an analyst at the Van Leer Jerusalem Institute, told Middle East Eye. “They just know that the plan will establish facts on the ground.”

Alongside the Jordan Valley, Netanyahu has vowed to annex other parts of the West Bank in Area C, which amounts to over half of the territory.

'Do they have any special information about the peace plan? I don’t think so'

- Yonatan Mandel, analyst

That would be catastrophic for the Palestinians, Mandel conceded, but if recognised in the US peace plan it could also be a disaster for the Israeli far-right, who seek to make all of the land up to the Jordan River part of Israel.

Yamina has made extending Israeli sovereignty across the West Bank one of its key policies.

“Under Trump’s plan the Palestinians would not have a state, but in the areas given to them they would have more autonomy than today,” Mandel said.

“When you’re coming from an extreme right-wing view you need to prove that this is not enough.”

The pitch Shaked and Bennett are making to Israelis is that they can stop any semblance of restrictions on settlement and annexation in the West Bank from being implemented, if they win enough votes.

"I want to be part of a government that watches over Netanyahu - that makes sure that this doesn't happen," Shaked said.