Blue and White debating whether Gantz should reject White House invite – reports
Gantz expected to make statement Saturday evening

Blue and White debating whether Gantz should reject White House invite – reports

Party said to be wary of facilitating ‘re-election gift’ to Netanyahu ahead of March 2; PM and centrist chief invited to Washington on day of Knesset immunity vote

Benny Gantz at the Eli Hurvitz Conference on Economy and Society organized by the Israel Democracy Institute, December 17, 2019 (Michal Fattal)
Benny Gantz at the Eli Hurvitz Conference on Economy and Society organized by the Israel Democracy Institute, December 17, 2019 (Michal Fattal)

The Blue and White party is reportedly considering rejecting an invitation from US President Donald Trump for leader Benny Gantz to visit Washington next week for a meeting on the long-awaited Middle East peace plan.

Gantz and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu were invited to the White House next Tuesday, the day the Knesset is set to vote on establishing the committee that will weigh the premier’s request to be protected from corruption charges in three criminal cases.

Senior officials from the party told Hebrew media that they are “having second thoughts” about accepting the invitation on the grounds that it could help Netanyahu’s re-election campaign.

Gantz is expected to make a statement on the latest developments at 7:30 p.m. on Saturday.

According to Channel 12 news, lawmakers from Blue and White have been told to withdraw their participation from public events on Saturday where they may face questions.

Yisrael Beytenu party chief Avigdor Liberman attends a Tel Aviv conference, December 31, 2019. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

Yisrael Beytenu head Avigdor Liberman on Friday slammed the timing of the likely release of the plan.

“I have no doubt that the peace program that the US president intends to present will include quite a few positive elements,” Liberman wrote on his Facebook page.

“Presenting the plan five weeks before elections, precisely on the day when the debate on the removal of the prime minister is decided, will prevent a substantive and in-depth discussion of a political initiative,” Liberman said. “The sky won’t fall if the plan of the century is delayed until March 3.

“This Tuesday, we must focus only on removing immunity and applying sovereignty over the Jordan Valley, as the prime minister has promised,” Liberman said.

US President Donald Trump, right, and visiting Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu walk along the Colonnade of the White House in Washington, March 25, 2019. (Manuel Balce Ceneta/AP)

US Vice President Mike Pence confirmed Thursday that Netanyahu will visit the White House next week. He said that at Netanyahu’s urging, he also invited Gantz, the premier’s top rival in the upcoming elections.

US President Donald Trump said that he’ll likely release the plan before his meeting with Netanyahu and Gantz.

“It’s a great plan. It’s a plan that really would work,” Trump told reporters on Air Force One en route to a Republican Party meeting in Florida.

Trump said he was surprised that both Netanyahu and Gantz were willing to take a break from campaigning for the March 2 elections to join him Tuesday in Washington.

US President Donald Trump arrives at Miami International Airport en route to attend the Republican National Committee winter meetings, January 23, 2020. (AP/Evan Vucci)

“They both would like to do the deal. They want to see peace,” Trump said. “Look, Israel wants peace, Palestinians want peace. They all want peace. Not everyone wants to say it.”

The plan is expected to strongly favor Israel, and is unlikely to garner any international support if it is seen as undermining the prospect of a two-state solution.

Trump said his administration has talked briefly to the Palestinians, who have rejected the administration’s peace plan before it even comes out.

According to Channel 12, the peace plan is the most generous US proposal ever for Israel, likely providing for Israeli sovereignty over all West Bank settlements and sovereignty throughout Jerusalem. The TV report, which was unsourced, said the plan also offers potential eventual recognition of Palestinian statehood, provided the Palestinians demilitarize Gaza and accept Israel as a Jewish state — conditions the Palestinians would presumably reject.

Blue White reportedly asserted Thursday that the White House was trying to help Netanyahu delay the Knesset from deliberating his request for immunity from graft charges, by inviting him to Washington

“When [Knesset Speaker] Yuli Edelstein declared the deliberation will take place Tuesday,” a Blue and White source told the Haaretz daily, “we estimated he did so with the knowledge that Netanyahu and Benny Gantz would be invited to Washington on the same day.”

The source said that at this point, Blue and White had no intention to push off the immunity proceedings.

Blue and White’s Benny Gantz and Yair Lapid during a faction meeting at the Knesset on November 18, 2019. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

Netanyahu’s Likud party, on the other hand, was seeking to delay the vote, citing the Trump administration’s intention to unveil its peace plan, according to Hebrew media reports.

Likud ministers were considering asking Edelstein to delay convening the plenum that day, the Kan public broadcaster said.

Netanyahu has sought to prevent the forming of a House Committee to weigh his immunity request prior to the March 2 election, as under the makeup of the current Knesset it is all but assured of rejecting it.

Blue and White MK Avi Nissenkorn, head of the Knesset’s Arrangements Committee, on Tuesday penciled in January 30 at 2:30 p.m. as the start of Netanyahu’s hearings, which are expected to take a week and include six sessions.

The start, however, depends on Tuesday’s scheduled plenum vote to form the House Committee.

Edelstein on Sunday agreed to convene the Knesset plenum next week in order to vote on forming the House Committee, a decision that immediately drew fire from within his party’s ranks.

Edelstein was caught in a political vise, between Likud’s anger on the one hand and a threat from Blue and White to oust him from the speakership on the other, if he failed to order the plenum convened. Blue and White is believed to have enough votes to carry out the threat.

Blue and White leader Benny Gantz (L) and Knesset Chairman Yuli Edelstein at the President’s Residence in Jerusalem on January 22, 2020, as President Reuven Rivlin hosts over 40 world leaders as part of the World Holocaust Forum. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

Once formed, the House Committee could conceivably debate and potentially vote on Netanyahu’s immunity request in the coming weeks, ahead of election day. Even if it fails to reach a verdict by then, its meetings are likely to keep Netanyahu’s criminal proceedings front and center in the election campaign.

The prime minister and his supporters have argued that the committee should not be formed because the Israeli government is in transition, and also because there is insufficient time before the elections for it to properly weigh the immunity request.

Netanyahu announced at the start of January that he would ask the Knesset for parliamentary immunity, as he faced a legal deadline to do so, following Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit’s decision to charge him in three corruption cases. Mandelblit cannot officially indict Netanyahu until the Knesset votes on his request.

With the House Committee unstaffed because of Israel’s continued political stalemate, it appeared the Knesset would not take up the immunity debate until after the upcoming elections — giving Likud and its allies a chance to win a majority that could secure Netanyahu’s immunity request, or at the very least delaying a trial by months.

But Knesset legal adviser Eyal Yinon later ruled that Edelstein does not have the right to prevent the Knesset plenum from forming a House Committee, clearing the way for the panel’s establishment.

Netanyahu has been charged with fraud and breach of trust in three cases, and bribery in one of them. He denies any wrongdoing, and claims, without evidence, that the charges are part of an attempted “political coup” against him involving the opposition, media, police and state prosecution.

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