September 21, 2019

Summer Is Coming: Three Comments

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu; Photo by Heidi Levine/Reuters

1. In less than two weeks, Israel is slated to install its new government. Its policies aren’t yet known, its direction unclear, its exact contour under discussion. But one thing is known: The right-religious camp added another layer of arrogance when voters gave it another term.

Some of the parties have over-the-top financial demands. Some want to use their acquired power to pass hasty, radical legislation. During previous terms, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was usually the man reining in the bandits and preventing them from doing “stupid s—” (to borrow from former President Barack Obama’s term). 

But Netanyahu is currently more vulnerable to manipulation. He must have his allies at his side to overcome his legal trouble. The result could be a lot of stupidity — and all it involves (that is, the s—). 

2. President Donald Trump’s administration’s peace plan, slated to be made public soon (but not very soon), is more of an opportunity to focus the mind than a real opportunity for the advancement of peace. The Palestinians will reject the plan, the Arab world will meekly follow, and in Israel, some political factions might also voice reluctance toward parts of the plan (example: Jerusalem as a capital of both Israelis and Palestinians). The plan isn’t fully known. The reaction to it is less of a mystery. 

And yet, the Trump plan is likely to mark an official recognition of a historic departure: The orthodoxy of a two-state solution is badly shaken, possibly gone. That’s why all involved parties ought to use the Trump plan as an opportunity for rethinking their aims and strategies. For the Palestinians, it’s an opportunity to reconsider the maxim that time is on their side. For Arab states, an opportunity to reexamine their commitment to a Palestinian lost cause. For European agents, an opportunity to readjust to realities. 

It is also an opportunity for Israel and its supporters to recalculate their presumptions and aims. What do we want? What is the end game? When there’s no clear path forward, navigation becomes more difficult because there’s no road map. On the other hand, no clear path forward means that all options are still open. A new way can be carved. 

3Paying attention to Iran could be tedious. It’s far away, it’s complicated and there’s a lot of nuance involved, from sanctions, to threats, to diplomatic talks, to reinforcement of troops, to mystery sabotage. And yet, the most important news of the week concerns Iran. Possibly, the beginning of a showdown. Possibly, the beginning of renegotiation. Trump applies pressure; Iran is testing how serious he is. This means two things: Iran no longer believes that Trump will soon be leaving office; and/or Iran no longer has the ability to wait out Trump’s term.   

What we’re currently witnessing in the Persian Gulf is an exchange of messages. Iran signals that it is no longer willing to accept a deteriorating situation, hat in hand. From this, it can attempt one of three things: to scare away the United States by making threats or using power; to surrender and accept America’s terms; or to renegotiate. Trump already handed his phone number to the Swiss, in case Tehran wants to make the call. What happens if it makes the call? 

A lot depends on Trump. If his main interest is politics, all he has to do is slightly improve the botched nuclear agreement and claim victory. His point made: Trump is a better dealmaker than Obama. Israeli policymakers, while having a lot of confidence in Trump, still fear such a result. Mainly because unlike in Obama’s case, an Iran deal signed by Trump will be much harder to oppose.

But senior Israeli leaders believe that Trump’s interest is his policy. They believe that if there are negotiations, they will be much tougher, and might not produce a positive outcome. 

All this becomes dangerous because both parties, the U.S. and Iran, pretty much exhausted all their signaling options short of violent action. The U.S. is using all available sanctions. Iran announced that it will move to reproduce enriched uranium in a few weeks. It’s a game of chicken, with two players whose main apprehension is to be suspected of being chicken.


Shmuel Rosner is senior political editor. For more analysis of Israeli and international politics, visit Rosner’s Domain at jewishjournal.com/rosnersdomain.