Soon, Binyamin Netanyahu, Israel’s Prime Minister who is also the country’s acting foreign minister, will board an El Al airplane, to embark on a journey that takes him to meet the new US administration. No doubt, he will recall how the Obama administration had ambushed him 8 years ago: in a hitherto unprecedented, two-hours long “one-on-one”meeting with the newly minted American President, the latter confronted the Israeli Prime Minister with demands for a complete halt to settlement development as a prerequisite to a peace deal with the “Palestinians”. This was May 2009, and from then on, it all went downhill: the daylight put between “Barack and Bibi” never went away.
Netanyahu needs a successful meeting. He must be able to demonstrate that with Donald Trump in office, a page has indeed been turned to start a new chapter in the relationship. He needs proof positive that this President – father of a Jewish daughter, whose orthodox son-in-law is his special advisor on Near East policy and whose long term lawyer friend is his soon to be confirmed ambassador to Jerusalem – is willing and capable to do deals with the Jewish state as Israel-US relations had been, before Obama came along: no daylight, no surprises. No “who-the-f**k-is-the-superpower-here”, while Netanyahu is still within earshot, no pulling the cartet from under his feet on settlements, no throwing him under the bus in the UN Security Council – all, seemingly, for the sake of a delusional, and largely failed, policy towards the Mullahs in Tehran.
No doubt the US will demand a prize for this. For that is how deals are made, that is how business is done between responsible people. Likely the prize will be on the issue of “settlements”: Netanyahu will have to commit to his side of “no surprises”. Trump will make him prömischen to keeping a lid on settlement development. That probably means, no annexation of Maale Adumim, in the near future. Equally, upgrading the consulate general in Jerusalem into a full embassy will not in the cards, either, at least, not right now. But all of this will be done in a way that allows Netanyahu to claim success. It will be, because Israel also has a lot to offer, even beyond the immediate scope of Middle East peace: ever since coming into office, Netanyahu has shown the world that he knows how to work with an increasingly assertive Russia. Putin knows exactly how far Israel will allow him to shape the outcome of the Syrian civil war. Netanyahu and Liberman, both as defense and foreign minister, have clearly succeeded where others have failed: neither Turkey, nor Jordan, and not even Egypt have a working relationship with Russia. I expect both Trump and Netanyahu to make this point.
At yesterday’s cabinet meeting, Jewish Home – that is Naftali Bennett and Ayalet Shaked – apparently extracted a promise from Netanyahu that there will be no talk of the two-state-solution. And, even though Netanyahu has not backed down from his Bar-Ilan commitment to this, I fully expect Trump to come out in his support and to demand that the Arab side present a team that is committed to ending the violence and the incitement – an issue that Obama and Kerry had allowed Abbas and Erekat to dodge. Equally, there will be a clear signal that the financial lifeline that the US has also extended to the PA, and which Congress is already in the process of limiting, has its prize: meaningful negotiations on the core issues. The times when the PA could come to Camp David and remain holed up in their lodge, awaiting US mediators to deliver Israeli concessions to them, are gone for good.