Netanyahu, Gantz to go to Washington, reportedly ahead of peace plan unveiling

TV report says Trump’s proposal to be revealed next week, will be the most generous ever toward Israel; IDF said bracing for potential fallout in West Bank

Blue and White chair Benny Gantz (R) meets with US Vice President Mike Pence in Jerusalem on January 23, 2020. (Courtesy)
Blue and White chair Benny Gantz (R) meets with US Vice President Mike Pence in Jerusalem on January 23, 2020. (Courtesy)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Blue and White chair Benny Gantz will go to the White House next week for an update on US President Donald Trump’s Israeli-Palestinian peace plan, US Vice President Mike Pence said Thursday evening during a meeting with Netanyahu in Jerusalem.

The political rivals will fly to Washington on Tuesday, the White House confirmed, the same day as a Knesset plenum vote to establish the committee that will weigh Netanyahu’s request for parliamentary immunity from graft charges.

Netanyahu met Pence and David Friedman, the US ambassador to Israel, on Thursday evening at the American embassy in Jerusalem.

“We just completed a conversation about plans for next week. President Trump asked me to extend an invitation to Prime Minister Netanyahu to come to the White House next week for talks” on regional issues, including peace, Pence said alongside the prime minister Thursday night.

“At the prime minister’s suggestion, I also extended an invitation to Benny Gantz,” he added, noting that the Blue and White leader had accepted the invitation.

“I suggested that Benny Gantz be invited to this event as well because I think it is important that we not lose this historic opportunity with such friends in the White House,” Netanyahu said. “We should get as broad as consensus as possible.”

“President Donald J. Trump will welcome Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel to the White House on January 28, 2020. LTG. (Res.) MK Benjamin Gantz, Blue and White Chairman, has also accepted the President’s invitation to come to Washington,” the White House said in a statement. “The United States and Israel are strong partners, and the Prime Minister’s visit is an opportunity to discuss our shared regional and national security interests.”

The plan will be unveiled next week, and is the most generous US proposal ever for Israel, an unsourced Channel 12 report said, likely providing for Israeli sovereignty over all West Bank settlements alongside a recognition of Palestinian statehood.

The network said the plan apparently includes a “significant moving of the [Israeli] border” eastwards, without specifying.

The Palestinian Authority, which has boycotted the US administration since Trump recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital in December 2017, is expected to reject the proposal.

Bracing for potential Palestinian unrest over the plan, the Israel Defense Forces will boost its level of preparedness next week in the West Bank, Channel 12 reported.

An Orthodox man walks past an election poster in Jerusalem for the ruling Likud party showing US President Donald Trump (L) shaking hands with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, September 16, 2019. (Ahmad Gharabli/AFP)

The White House is expected to make an announcement on its peace plan in the coming day, according to the reports.

The reports come amid growing speculation that Trump could release his plan before the March 2 elections in Israel.

Responding to the reports, Defense Minister Naftali Bennett said his right-wing Yamina alliance would oppose any plan that includes “transferring land to Arabs or the establishing of a Palestinian state.

“President Trump, [Jared] Kushner and Ambassador [David] Friedman are true friends of Israel. It is likely that Israel faces a historic opportunity, along with significant risks,” he said in a statement.

Gantz met earlier Thursday with Pence for talks that Blue and White said were scheduled in advance.

“The two discussed diplomatic and security issues that concern regional developments,” a statement from the party said.

Gantz had long maintained that the United States should wait to publish the plan until after the election, but on Tuesday reversed course.

“I hope the president will move up [the roll-out] and I expect the plan will be released very soon,” he told reporters while touring the Jordan Valley. “Several weeks have passed. A lot of dramatic things are happening in the Middle East, and I look forward to the publication of the plan.”

Gantz also said he would push to extend Israeli sovereignty over the Jordan Valley “in coordination with the international community” after the upcoming elections.

Netanyahu later voiced support for a Knesset vote in the coming weeks to apply Israeli sovereignty over the area.

But according to a Channel 13 news report Wednesday, the Trump administration opposes any unilateral Israeli moves in the West Bank — such as extending sovereignty to the Jordan Valley — before the release of its peace plan.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (R), US National Security Advisor John Bolton (C) and US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman tour the Jordan Valley on June 23, 2019. (Kobi Gideon/GPO)

Israel captured East Jerusalem, the Gaza Strip and the West Bank in the 1967 Six Day War. The Palestinians claim these areas for a future state, a position backed by the international community.

Since taking office, Trump has refrained from backing a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, a formula backed by past US administrations and many other countries.

Kushner, Trump’s senior adviser and son-in-law, was expected in Jerusalem this week for meetings with Netanyahu and Gantz, but canceled on Wednesday.

A White House official cited weather-related issues in Davos, Switzerland, where Kushner was accompanying Trump for the World Economic Forum.

Over the course of the last two elections in 2019, Trump officials repeatedly said they would wait until Israel’s democratic process resolved itself before unveiling the proposal. With a third election on the way, however, continuing that policy could mean the White House shelving the plan indefinitely so as not to release it in the middle of America’s 2020 presidential election cycle.

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