Hours before President Trump was expected to unveil his plan to address the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu suffered a major political setback when prosecutors in his own country proceeded with a three-count indictment against him for allegedly accepting millions of dollars in bribes and coercing favorable coverage from major Israeli media outlets.
Netanyahu, in Washington for the Trump announcement, said early Tuesday he was forced to withdraw his petition to the Israeli parliament, or Knesset, seeking immunity from prosecution. Analysts said he was almost certain to lose the appeal. That cleared the way for the Israeli attorney general’s office to proceed with an indictment against the country’s longest serving prime minister.
Netanyahu, like Trump, had hoped the announcement of a long-stalled U.S. plan to ease the Israeli-Palestinian conflict would give political boosts to both embattled leaders. The two close allies are mired in legal troubles: Netanyahu’s looming corruption trial and Trump’s impeachment trial for abuse of power.
Netanyahu has dismissed the case against him as politically motivated.
“This is in line with the persecution campaign that the ‘Anything but Bibi’ camp has waged,” Netanyahu wrote on his Facebook page, using his common nickname. “In due time, we will demolish the disproportionate charges contained in the vacant accusations filed in my case.”
Also like Trump, Netanyahu has referred to the legal charges against him as an attempted “coup,” and scolded his nation’s judicial authorities for putting “cheap politicking” above “the gravity of the hour” and a “decisive moment” in Israeli history.
But despite efforts by both Trump and Netanyahu to portray Tuesday’s announcement as “historic,” most experts see the plan as a political stunt that will merely repackage old, failed ideas to resolve the conflict. And they predict it will swiftly fail due to the lack of any Palestinian participation or support.
At the same time, Trump sought to downplay expectations of what he once called “the ultimate deal,” saying Monday the plan was “a suggestion” that he hoped Palestinians would eventually come to accept.
The Trump administration, in nearly three years of talks led by Trump’s son-in-law and senior advisor Jared Kushner, did not consult with Palestinians in drafting the document. By all accounts, the plan closely hews to Israeli demands for security and control over much of the West Bank territory it has occupied since 1967, and of the holy city of Jerusalem, with few concessions to Palestinian demands.
Palestinian leadership boycotted any dealings with the Trump administration after a series of pro-Israeli steps, including recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel — Palestinians also claim the city as their capital in an eventual independent state — and of Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights, a fertile plateau captured from Syria in the 1967 Six-Day War.
Trump also cut off much U.S. aid to Palestinians in a bid to force their leaders to the negotiating table, and abandoned the U.S. commitment to a “two-state solution,” the idea that foresaw an independent Palestinian nation living peacefully alongside Israel.
Palestinian representatives said they were not invited to Tuesday’s White House ceremony, and it was unclear whether any Arab diplomat would attend. Despite previous hopes that Arab Gulf states were on board, Kushner and other administration officials have been unable to secure public support from any major regional leader beyond Israel.
Trump surprised Israelis last week when he abruptly invited Netanyahu and his chief political rival, Benny Gantz, to the White House this week to share the peace plan.
Netanyahu and Gantz, a former army commander who heads a centrist political party, faced each other in elections twice last year, both resulting in a virtual tie and rendering both unable to form a government. A third election attempt is scheduled for early March, an unprecedented era of political chaos in a country where politics are rarely smooth.
“In order to move forward with the ‘deal of the century,’ it is our responsibility to march united under a prime minister who has the public legitimacy to enact it,” Gantz said after his meeting on Monday with Trump and before returning to Israel on Tuesday. “There is reason to fear that a prime minister with three indictments against him will make decisions based on the personal interest of his own political survival.”
Staff writer Wilkinson reported from Washington and special correspondent Tarnopolsky from Jerusalem.
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