- - Tuesday, February 11, 2020

JERUSALEM — Israel has waited a long time for President Trump’s vaunted “deal of the century,” and now it is waiting some more.

The peace plan rolled out late last month was widely seen as a diplomatic triumph and security coup for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, but he is finding his country in a state of suspended animation.

The Trump administration has pressured the Netanyahu government to delay formal annexation of land as set forth under the deal. A national election March 2, the third in less than a year, and a never-ending corruption probe threaten to end Mr. Netanyahu’s long dominance of the political scene. Arab reaction to the plan has ranged from tepid to hostile, and Palestinian frustration and violence have flared again.

“The lawless conduct of the Hamas leadership is bringing us closer to action against them,” Defense Minister Naftali Bennett said Sunday.

The center-left Blue and White party under Benny Gantz, a former chief of the Israel Defense Forces, fought Mr. Netanyahu’s Likud party to a draw in two elections last year. With some polls now showing Mr. Gantz edging ahead, Blue and White officials are warning Mr. Netanyahu not to endanger the U.S.-backed peace process by using it for his own political purposes.



“Nobody expects Israel or the Palestinians to take the plan at face value the way it is and just make sure it happens,” Yair Lapid, widely tapped to be foreign minister in a Blue and White coalition government, told reporters this week. Mr. Netanyahu’s call for an immediate, unilateral annexation of West Bank land claimed by the Palestinians is a political ploy that will backfire, Mr. Lapid said, as reported by The Associated Press.

“This is too serious to become a stunt in the campaign,” he said.

Mr. Netanyahu has hailed Mr. Trump as the most pro-Israel president in history, but even U.S. officials are warning the Jewish state against moving too quickly to implement the peace deal. A Cabinet vote on annexation announced by Mr. Netanyahu has been postponed indefinitely.

U.S. Ambassador to Israel David M. Friedman said in a Twitter post this week that any annexation should be delayed until a joint U.S.-Israeli mapping committee is able to complete its work.

“Any unilateral action in advance of the completion of the committee process endangers the plan [and] American recognition,” the ambassador said.

Palestinian violence

As Israeli officials try to forge a path forward, they are dealing with renewed violence from Palestinians who have broadly rejected the U.S. blueprint. Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas traveled to New York on Tuesday to make a personal plea to the U.N. Security Council to reject the U.S.-sponsored peace plan.

The Trump plan, spearheaded by White House adviser and presidential son-in-law Jared Kushner, would make Jerusalem the undivided capital of Israel and clear the way for annexation of lands in the West Bank and Jordan Valley occupied by Jewish settlers. Palestinians would be given control of linked enclaves in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, with a new capital on the outskirts of east Jerusalem and the promise of an independent state after major internal reforms are completed.

The plan also envisions a $50 billion redevelopment fund to build infrastructure and expand economic opportunities for Palestinians.

Israeli forces came under sniper fire in the Palestinian city of Jenin in the West Bank a week after the plan was announced. Israel is preparing for increased escalation from Hamas in the Gaza Strip by beefing up forces in Gaza and the West Bank and by carrying out airstrikes this week in response to rocket fire from Gaza.

Since the Jan. 28 announcement of the peace deal, the often-feuding Palestinian factions — Hamas, the Islamic Jihad and Fatah — have united in condemnation of the plan and Israel’s calls for annexation of parts of the West Bank. Rockets and mortars have been fired almost daily from Gaza, and balloons with explosives attached have been launched.

A Palestinian hurled a Molotov cocktail at Israeli forces Feb. 4 in Hebron in the West Bank.

In one of the most serious incidents, a Palestinian drove his car into a dozen soldiers in Jerusalem last week, severely injuring one soldier. In Jenin, Israeli forces executing an order to demolish a terrorist’s home were caught in a sophisticated ambush. Improvised explosives detonated near their vehicles and sniper fire targeted at them resulted in a lengthy gunbattle.

The challenge for Israel is that Palestinian groups, including Hamas, are trying to leverage the peace plan to their benefit by seeking popular opposition.

Hamas wants to be relevant after being isolated in Gaza for a decade and a half. The Palestinian Authority’s aging leadership under Mr. Abbas is also isolated because they have lost much of their support from regional states.

The U.S. and Israel are looking to the March 2 elections in hopes that they will provide clarity and an Israeli government that can act. U.S. officials are clearly wary that the Netanyahu government may try to accelerate a delicate process for political gain.

President Trump “put out a plan for the next hundred years, not the next 30 days,” Mr. Friedman said over the weekend.

But Mr. Netanyahu, who faces criticism from the Israeli left for moving too fast and criticism from settler groups and his conservative political base for not moving fast enough, is urging all sides to stand down, for now.

“We have been waiting for this since 1967,” he told a rally of supporters Saturday, “and people are making a big deal over a few weeks.”

⦁ David R. Sands contributed from Washington to this article, which is based in part on wire service reports.

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