Aide says Gantz urged Trump not to push deal before March 2

Gantz hails Trump’s peace plan, says he’ll work to implement it after elections

After unprecedented Oval Office meeting, Blue and White chief calls peace proposal a ‘historic milestone,’ says it should be promoted ‘in tandem with other countries in our region’

Raphael Ahren is the diplomatic correspondent at The Times of Israel.

US President Donald Trump meets with Blue and White party leader Benny Gantz in the White House in Washington on January 27, 2020. (Elad Malka)
US President Donald Trump meets with Blue and White party leader Benny Gantz in the White House in Washington on January 27, 2020. (Elad Malka)

WASHINGTON — Blue and White leader Benny Gantz on Monday met with US President Donald Trump at the White House to discuss the administration’s forthcoming peace proposal. He called the plan historic, and promised to work to implement it — along with other regional players, and after the March 2 Israeli elections.

It was Gantz’s first sit-down with the US leader. The meeting was highly unusual, as Americans presidents almost never meet opposition leaders from foreign countries. Earlier on Monday, Trump also hosted Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for a meeting. Unlike with Netanyahu, Trump did not speak to the press together with Gantz.

Addressing reporters in his Washington hotel afterwards, Gantz said his Oval Office sit-down with Trump was “important and exceptional,” and praised the president as a “true and courageous friend” of Israel.

“We discussed matters of the utmost importance to Israel’s future and security, the details of which I will not disclose for the time being,” he said, flanked by Israeli and American flags in Washington’s posh Jefferson hotel, about two hours after the meeting concluded.

“The Trump administration’s peace plan is a significant and historic milestone indeed,” Gantz said, first in Hebrew and then in English. “Immediately after the elections, I will work toward implementing it from within a stable, functioning Israeli government, in tandem with the other countries in our region.”

According to a member of Gantz’s entourage, the prime ministerial hopeful also asked Trump not to move to implement the so-called “Deal of the Century” before the March 2 elections.

Gantz went on to say that he and Trump discussed the “importance of dialogue with the Palestinians, the neighboring countries and the king of Jordan.”

Speaking to a room full of Israeli and foreign reporters, Gantz said he thanked Trump for his “profound support of Israel’s citizens and for his commitment to their security, particularly in responding to Iran and its terror proxies threatening our borders over the past few years.”

Blue and White chief Benny Gantz speaking to reporters in Washington, DC, January 27, 2020 (Elad Malka)

The two men also spoke of threats posed by the Lebanese Iran-backed Hezbollah terror group “and the recent increased activity on the Syrian and Lebanese borders,” Gantz said.

He thanked Trump and the other administration officials he met for the “unusual invitation,” which he acknowledged went against diplomatic protocol.

Also in attendance were Vice President Mike Pence, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman, Trump’s senior adviser Jared Kushner, Trump’s special envoy to the peace process Avi Berkowitz, National Security Advisor Robert C. O’Brien and US Special Representative for Iran Brian Hook.

Remarkably, Israeli Ambassador to the US Ron Dermer was not present. Dermer is seen as very close to Netanyahu.

Gantz said he was swiftly heading home to Israel in the hope of attending Tuesday’s Knesset deliberations about Netanyahu’s request for parliamentary immunity.

These discussions are “important for the future of our democracy,” Gantz said.

“No one has the right to lead an entire country with such a complicated diplomatic and security-related situation, while all his activities and thoughts are dedicated to his personal interests. That’s what Netanyahu said about Olmert, and that’s what I say about Netanyahu,” he said.

Gantz was referring to a comment then-opposition leader Netanyahu made about then-prime minister Ehud Olmert to the effect that a premier “sunk up to his neck in investigations has no moral or public mandate to make fateful decisions for Israel.”

Earlier in the day Netanyahu met Trump in the Oval Office. The president said the plan would be presented on Tuesday at noon.  “It’s been worked on by everybody. And we’ll see whether or not it catches hold. If it does, that would be great. And if it doesn’t, we’re going to have to live with that too. But I think that it might have a chance,” he said.

US President Donald Trump greets Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as he arrives for a meeting on the South Lawn of the White House in Washington, DC, January 27, 2020. (SAUL LOEB / AFP)

Trump predicted that the Palestinians will “ultimately” come round to giving their support. He said that “without them, we don’t do the deal.” He said he believed the current rejection of the proposal was an “initial” response, as the Palestinians were “great negotiators.”

The so-called Deal of the Century is said to be the most pro-Israel peace proposal ever published by an American administration, and is reported to include an endorsement of Israeli sovereignty over all of Jerusalem and significant parts of the West Bank. Reliable information about the plan’s details remain elusive, however, with sources in Jerusalem saying the plan has not been finalized.

Netanyahu thanked the president for his ongoing support for Israel, reiterating his hope to “make history” with him.

“I look forward to making history with you tomorrow. And I think we’ll talk about the plan,” he said, adding that the president’s vision for an Israeli-Palestinian peace is “historic.” He said the proposal was “the opportunity of the century. And we’re not going to pass it by.”

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