Friday, May 12, 2017

Can Trump and Livni Create an Opening for Israeli/Palestinian Peace?

Israel will not end its occupation of the West Bank without outside help, said Noam Sheizaf in Oakland recently. Since the Jewish public has the assets, the army, and sovereignty over the West Bank, the key for ending the occupation lies in the Jewish public's hands, he said. And the Jewish public has not been particularly interested in making a change.  For 11 of the past 21 years Netanyahu has skillfully navigated to maintain the status quo. It seems unlikely that the status quo will change until Netanyahu is gone.

Is Trump maneuvering to create a political opening for Tzipi Livni, the head of Hatnua, and might this create an opportunity for movement on the Palestinian/Israel negotiations?

Yossi Vertner has an intriguing article in Haaretz this morning. He reports that New York billionaire (a Trump kind of guy!) and head of the World Jewish Council, Ronald Lauder, "briefed Mahmoud Abbas before the Palestinian leader's successful meeting with the President." According to a senior Israeli official, Abbas succeeded “With a charm offensive (that) persuaded Trump that (the Palestinians are) interested in peace and are willing to pay the price for it, and that the main burden must fall on Israel.” And in the meantime, Tzipi Livni has the ear of Jason Greenblatt--Trump's envoy for the peace negotiations.  "Several times during my conversation with Greenblatt" said the senior Israeli official to Vertner, "he said ‘Livni says,’ ‘Tzipi believes,’ ‘in Tzipi’s opinion.’ It’s like she’s become a quasi-mentor. It appears he appreciates her a lot and is very attentive to her views.” At the end of March, before the AIPAC conference, Greenblatt tweeted that he was hosting Tzipi Livni for Shabat dinner.

          "An Israeli official said Livni was not only briefing Greenblatt about her long talks with the Palestinians, but also refuting Netanyahu’s argument about being unable to reach an agreement because of his government’s makeup. Livni told Greenblatt that the prime minister was assured of the opposition’s votes in the Knesset. As she recently said, if Netanyahu says he can’t, it should be clear to everyone that he won’t. 
          "I called Washington to ask Livni if this was so. She didn’t want to expand on what seemed like the beginning of a wonderful friendship with Greenblatt. She stressed that her meetings with him, including one this week, aren't held underground but with the Israeli Embassy’s knowledge. 
          “We have a huge opportunity,” she said. “The president is talking about his determination to close a deal; that is, to end the conflict. We have a president who thinks big and addresses the hard core. He’s not beating around the bush. I certainly think something dramatic could happen.”
Does Livni smell an opportunity? Does she see political daylight? Could she force a non-confidence vote against the Netanahu coalition and go to the voters as the person able to make a deal with Trump and peace with the Palestinians?

Vertner seems intrigued:
          "Livni isn't some delusional peacenik. Her feet are planted firmly on the ground. She’s a sober realist, familiar with the facts and with the players. I told her I didn’t remember such a burst of optimism from her since the culmination of her talks with the Palestinians in 2013-14 as Netanyahu’s envoy. Come to think of it, she didn’t sound like this even then. 
          “It’s true,” she said. “This time it looks different. The Palestinians’ demands have been reduced. They’re ready to make concessions. President Trump can now succeed with them as well as with the Israelis.”
 Whether this turns out to be more pie in the sky may depend on Trump and Livni. There is reason not to hold one's breath, but if Trump is willing to empower Livni, this might turn out to be a more promising avenue for progress than the one pursued by John Kerry during his frustrating year of banging his head against a wall with Netanyahu and his coalition. Livni would have to sell the Jewish Israeli public that this is the right moment to compromise--a tall order.

President Trump will deliver a speech at Masada, of all places, on May 22, 2017.  Stay tuned . . . .

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