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OpinionColumnistsDan Raviv

Trump, Netanyahu peace-plan play

President Donald Trump shakes hands with Prime Minister

President Donald Trump shakes hands with Prime Minister of Israel Benjamin Netanyahu while unveiling his Middle East peace plan in the East Room of the White House, in Washington, DC on Tuesday. Credit: MICHAEL REYNOLDS/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock/MICHAEL REYNOLDS/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock

In the ornate East Room of the White House, President Donald Trump reveled in being described by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as "Israel's greatest friend ever, in these halls." The applause from evangelical pastors, politically conservative Jewish campaign contributors, and hawkish Republican members of Congress, was deafening.

At the Tuesday afternoon gala, Trump said he was unveiling a long-awaited peace plan.  But what he really released was a solution to Israel's greatest dilemma — what to do with the West Bank, captured from Jordan in 1967 — that Netanyahu and his rightwing Israeli voters will love.

That might seem odd, because the political right's demand for the West Bank is to have it entirely under Israel's control, with international validation for that, so that Israeli settlers could live anywhere they would like in the ancient Land of the Bible.  

Most of Netanyahu's Likud Party and certainly his more rightwing partners in recent coalitions walked away from the notion of a two-state solution: sharing the territory with an independent Palestinian nation. That was at the heart of the Oslo Accords of 1993, many rounds of negotiations since then, and all mediation efforts by pre-Trump America, but the Israeli right declared that that ship had sailed. They claimed that Palestinian leaders clung to terrorism and deceit as tools in their quest for statehood and thus did not deserve sovereignty.

So how can the Israeli right now live with a 181-page peace plan which includes Trump's offer of an independent Palestinian state? The answer is that the Israelis look at the detailed map, showing a nation composed of widely scattered bits and pieces, and the preconditions such as demilitarizing the Palestinians and negating a return by Arab refugees to prior home areas in Israel.

In short, Netanyahu and other Israelis who want to keep all the territory from the Mediterranean to the River Jordan believe that the Trump plan will never lead to a Palestinian state. They are relying on Palestinian leaders to say no to the plan, and that is already happening. And the Israelis doubt that Palestinians will take advantage of a four-year window offered to them by Trump, in which Israel will not build anything in areas designated for a Palestinian state — while Israel has a green light from Trump to annex all the other parts of the West Bank: every single Jewish settlement to be under the Israeli flag and Israeli law.

Netanyahu's cabinet may decide to act on that annexation as early as Sunday. The prime minister believes it will help him get reelected in the March 2 election, Israel's third bout of voting after indecisive results twice last year.  

It must be helpful to Netanyahu to pose with Trump, as two triumphant leaders and friends: one distracting from his impeachment trial, and the other changing the subject from his fraud indictment. Netanyahu's opponent in the election, retired Gen. Benny Gantz, was clever enough to get a 50-minute audience with Trump this week — but Gantz embracing the American "peace plan" seems just a damp squib compared with Netanyahu's gleeful moment in the White House spotlight.

Dan Raviv, senior Washington correspondent for i24News, is the author of "Friends In Deed: Inside the U.S.-Israel Alliance."