Despite the belief by some that events prior to the April election, including American recognition of the Golan Heights, did not massively sway voters, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s seemingly cozy relationship with various world leaders may have in fact played a larger role in shoring up his base and preventing defections to Benny Gantz’s Kachol Lavan than appreciated. The prime minister was able to call on the likes of some of the world’s most notable politicians during his campaign as a means of sending the message that he remains an indispensable figure who is alone among Israeli politicians in his capability to navigate the complexities of international affairs. Even under the best of circumstances, a political novice like Gantz could simply not compete following visits from a powerhouse lineup including President Donald Trump, Russia’s Vladimir Putin, and Brazil’s Jair Bolsonaro, all displaying their confidence in Netanyahu’s leadership abilities. 

While September’s election campaign has remained relatively muted thus far, Netanyahu has continued utilizing this strategy, hoping it will once again reap dividends; it is difficult to view the over-the-top unveiling of ‘Ramat Trump’ on the Golan Heights–a literal Potemkin Village—as anything other than a naked play for votes. And yet, for many of the prime minister’s loyalists, this fact suits them just fine. The so-called establishment of this allegedly new community is less a matter of concrete action  – the Golan has, for the most part, remained neglected by successive governments despite its genuine strategic importance -and more a nod to the alignment between the American and Israeli administrations. This has been further solidified by recent comments made by U.S. Ambassador to Israel David Friedman, who explicitly came out in support of Israel’s right to annex occupied territory , and by National Security Advisor John Bolton’s recent visit to the Jordan Valley, where he expressed his skepticism about Israeli forces vacating the area under any future agreement.

Yet nowhere is the prime minister’s so-called diplomatic prowess more heavily emphasized than in regards to Arab-Israeli rapprochement, where every minuscule gesture is blown well out of proportion to its actual importance. From being granted the permission to play the Israeli national anthem at a judo competition to a visit with the sultan of the relatively benign regime in Oman (the same Oman that is now considering opening an embassy in Ramallah), these actions are often heralded by the right as significant cracks in the wall of a deeply entrenched anti-normalization that has existed since Israel’s establishment. This, of course, brings us to this week’s event in Manama. Originally envisioned as a launching pad for a much grander initiative, the just-concluded “Peace to Prosperity” in Bahrain’s capital has suffered blow after blow to its prestige, widely derided as a form of economic extortion aimed at the Palestinians with the express goal of downgrading their national aspirations. It has thus been reduced to nothing more than a curiously labeled ‘workshop’ meant to act as a precursor to the supposed peace plan that may finally be revealed following September’s elections.  

Much has been made of the spectacle of officials from various Arab states openly mingling with Israeli journalists, the participation of a small Palestinian business delegation, and the overall friendly atmosphere. Yet if visuals are of key importance, then the very fact that not a single Israeli government was invited because such an image might prove too scandalous for the Arab public should put to rest any notion of meaningful reconciliation. Arab leaders reliant on American aid are astute enough to understand that an outright refusal to participate might have invited Trump’s wrath, forcing them to pay some form of lip service; nonetheless, they are not insane enough to sign onto a plan that would condone Palestinian national suicide. As Ofer Zalzberg of International Crisis Group points out, participation in the event was conditioned by some on a lack of Israeli presence and after reiterating that the parameters of any peace deal retained a two-state solution as its end goal. Bahraini Foreign Minister Khalid bin Ahmed Al-Khalifa’s comments recognizing Israel’s legitimacy, its right to defend itself, and Jewish belonging in the Middle East are indeed monumental, sure to make even the most cynical of Israelis sit up and take notice (and, one hopes, eases the siege mentality so diligently maintained by the right). But these statements cannot be divorced from the rest of his interview, which explicitly conditions full normalization with Israel on the establishment of a Palestinian state. 

Netanyahu and his cohorts may very well have known that the event would amount to nothing and yield little in the way of any concrete steps. He might, in fact, welcome this development; even the basic rudiments of a peace plan that appears to make any concessions (and from what we’ve heard of the plan so far, there are in fact elements in it that the right will absolutely find problematic) are poison for his reelection campaign and, especially in light of his corruption charges, he will be looking for any attempt to stave off conciliatory moves that would anger his future right-wing coalition partners. Furthermore, it was already understood that the constant browbeating of the Palestinians by the Americans would inevitably lead to any plans put forward as being DOA. But the glaring optics of such an event (or, in this case, non-event) should once again call into question the oft-repeated insistence by the prime minister that diplomatic progress on the Arab-Israeli front is now free of constraints. 

While much of the focus has justifiably been on how the event may be dangerously exploited as ‘proof’ of Palestinian intransigence, the Israeli opposition may itself be able to benefit from Manama’s failure. Over the course of the last decade, many on the right have tried to convince the wider public—and possibly themselves—that Israel can have its cake and eat it too: it can either choose to remain in perpetuity in the West Bank or even annex large swathes of territory, and pay no price in the regional or international arenas. Recent upbeat comments made by Israel’s foreign ministry regarding Al-Khalifa’s statements reflect this cognitive dissonance: no mention is made regarding the concessions needed in order to bring a meaningful relationship between the two countries to fruition–to say nothing of action, like annexation, that would actually set relations back.

This softening attitude towards Israel has been chalked up to fatigue with the conflict, and, more significantly, a realization by the Arab world that Iranian regional hegemony poses a threat to it as well. But regardless of those common interests, and taking into account the immense pressure applied by the Americans, the best the Trump administration could muster was a self-congratulatory gathering in a tiny and politically lightweight capital lacking a single Israeli official. Current leaders of the opposition Gantz and Yair Lapid must, therefore, call the prime minister’s bluff, detailing instead a foreign policy vis-à-vis the Arab world that doesn’t rely on wishful thinking, but level-headed pragmatism that understands that little progress can be made without real concessions. More than that, they must be adamant in fighting the false perception that annexation, in any form, will be met with anything but a severe blow to Israel’s diplomatic relations on all fronts. 

Ramat Trump and the Bahrain workshop then have more in common than appears at first glance. Both are shameless publicity stunts short on substance, featuring exaggerated promises unlikely and incapable of ever being fulfilled. Yet, just as all the Ramat Trumps in the world will not change the international consensus regarding Israel’s presence in the Golan, so too will these gatherings organized by the Trump administration fail to quell the Palestinian quest for sovereignty. More notably, both events, like the Jerusalem embassy move, have proven to have the opposite effect of their intended goal, confirming an international consensus surrounding these issues rather than transforming it. A foreign policy that recognizes these realities should be an integral part of the opposition’s platform in its quest to offer Israelis an alternative vision for the country.