Israel’s election mess throws spanner into Trump’s peace efforts
New elections jeopardise US ‘deal of the century', analysts say, but Bahrain peace conference will go ahead
The Trump administration’s attempts at Palestinian-Israeli peacemaking were a long shot, even before Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's talks for forming an Israeli government collapsed at midnight on Wednesday.
But now with Israel heading for unprecedented new elections in September, experts agree that US President Donald Trump’s plan is in jeopardy even before it is released.
The political bombshell in Israel could not have come at a worse time for the US administration. Washington has been waiting for Mr Netanyahu to form a new government before it released its peace plan.
Mr Trump this week tweeted that he hoped “things will work out with Israel's coalition formation and Bibi [Mr Netanyahu]”.
His adviser and son-in-law, Jared Kushner, arrived in Israel on Thursday for talks with Mr Netanyahu about an economic peace conference in Bahrain in late June.
But with the Israeli leader’s own political future at risk, and the Palestinian Authority boycotting the Trump administration, the cards are largely stacked against US efforts.
The US State Department confirmed on Thursday that the meeting on the economic parts of the peace plan would be held on June 25 and 26. "As far as the rest of the plan rollout, we have long said that we will release the plan when the timing is right," a US official told The National.
But Hady Amr, fellow at the Brookings Institution and former US deputy special envoy for Palestinian-Israeli negotiations, said the new vote “deeply undermines stage one of Trump team’s Middle East peace conference in Bahrain”.
“Whether it is now cancelled or just feels more absurd, it has zero chance of progress,” Mr Amr said.
But the US could “use the Bahrain conference to bolster Bibi", he said, as the Israeli leader did at a summit in Poland last February to counter Iran.
Mr Amr said that the political clock in the US now posed another major challenge for the peace efforts.
“A failure during the slow summer of 2019 would not have been a headache electorally," Mr Amr said.
"But if Mr Trump has to wait until after a new Israeli government is formed in November to further roll out the plan, it will probably lead to the plan's embarrassing collapse in 2020."
The US Democratic debates start in June and the country effectively enters the primary season this autumn.
Matthew Brodsky of the Security Studies Group warned against using traditional methods to predict Mr Trump's tactics.
“We should have learnt by now that President Trump is not a traditional president,” Mr Brodsky said.
He said that Israeli politics was a factor in US thinking but it was entirely possible that the Trump team would defy expectations and embark on major political initiatives during an election year.
Former president George HW Bush hosted the Madrid peace conference – the first for Arab leaders and Israel – in 1991 but went on to lose the elections in 1992.
His successor, Bill Clinton, pursued Palestinian-Israeli talks until his last weeks in office but failed to get an agreement in 2000.
Daniel Shapiro, a fellow at the Institute for National Security Studies, said the Trump peace plan was on ice for now.
“His team correctly understood that you cannot roll out a peace plan while the Israelis at conducting an election and forming a government,” Mr Shapiro, former US ambassador to Israel, told The National. "Now that will be true until November."
Mr Shapiro said the Bahrain economic summit “may still go forward but it will be a ghost conference to pretend pledges in support of a phantom peace plan that may never exist”.
Updated: May 31, 2019 10:13 AM