Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Thursday hailed US President Donald Trump’s Middle East peace plan as a new opportunity, after flying to Moscow to discuss it with Russian President Vladimir Putin.
“I think there’s a new and perhaps unique opportunity here,” said the premier, who stood alongside Trump at the White House when the plan was announced Tuesday and called it a victory for Israel.
Trump’s plan angered Palestinians by proposing Israel retain control over Jerusalem as its “undivided capital” and giving the green light to annex Jewish settlements in the West Bank. It also said a potential Palestinian state would remain under overall Israeli security control and set other conditions that the Palestinians have long rejected including that they recognize Israel as a Jewish state and give up on the demand for a “right of return” for refugees.
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas on Wednesday firmly rejected the plan, calling it the “the slap of the century.”
“I’d like to speak to you and hear your insights and see how we can combine all our forces for security and peace,” Netanyahu told Putin at the start of their Kremlin meeting.
“You’re actually the first leader I’m speaking with after my visit to Washington about President Trump’s Deal of the Century,” he added.
The Russian leader did not mention the peace plan in his public remarks, and the Russian foreign ministry’s spokeswoman later said the ministry has only “begun to study” the 181-page document.
“The decision on issues of a long-term and fair peace agreement must belong to the Palestinians and Israelis themselves, because it concerns their future,” spokeswoman Maria Zakharova told journalists.
Netanyahu, facing graft charges, is contesting March elections and hoping the proposal will boost his re-election chances.
The March 2 vote is Israel’s third in less than a year, with polls suggesting the prime minister’s right-wing Likud party is again neck and neck with the centrist Blue and White party led by ex-military chief Benny Gantz.
Netanyahu was visiting Russia on the same day that it released Naama Issachar, a young American-Israeli woman jailed for drug trafficking over a small amount of cannabis found in her luggage as she transited a Moscow airport.
Her case caused an outcry in Israel and her release came after Netanyahu pleaded her case with Putin, who pardoned Issachar on Wednesday on what the Kremlin described as a “humanitarian” basis.
“I just want to say thank you to everyone,” Issachar told reporters upon landing at Ben Gurion International Airport on Thursday evening, before being whisked away to her home.
“I’m still in shock because of the whole situation. Thank you for everything.”
Earlier, an Israeli official said Issachar’s release was the result of a Russian goodwill gesture toward the United States, stressing that Israel did not give Moscow anything in return.
“There was no deal with Russia. Naama’s release was done as a gesture by President Putin to the US,” the official, who sits on an inter-ministerial committee that dealt with the case, told reporters in Netanyahu’s entourage.
However, according to Hebrew media reports, Russia asked Israel to transfer a piece of Russian Orthodox Church property near the Old City of Jerusalem’s Church of the Holy Sepulchre to the Kremlin, as a goodwill gesture ahead of her release.