Netanyahu: White House peace plan an ‘opportunity that cannot be missed’
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Netanyahu: White House peace plan an ‘opportunity that cannot be missed’

Ahead of trip to Washington to discuss much-awaited deal, PM praises Trump as ‘greatest friend that Israel has ever had’

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks during the Kohelet Forum Conference at the Begin Heritage Center, in Jerusalem, on January 8, 2020. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks during the Kohelet Forum Conference at the Begin Heritage Center, in Jerusalem, on January 8, 2020. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Saturday that the Trump administration’s much-awaited peace plan was a “historic moment” and an opportunity that should not be missed.

“An opportunity such as this comes once in history and cannot be missed,” Netanyahu said in a short video released Saturday evening. “Today, we have in the White House the greatest friend that Israel has ever had; therefore, we have the greatest opportunity that we have ever had.”

“For three years, I have been talking to President [Donald] Trump and his team about our most vital security needs which must be included in any political settlement. I have found a listening ear in the White House for these needs,” he said.

The prime minister added he was headed to Washington “with a sense of great mission, of great responsibility and [amid] a great opportunity that will not repeat itself, to ensure Israel’s future.”

Netanyahu’s office said on Saturday that the prime minister will meet privately with Trump on Monday, in addition to the planned meeting on Tuesday. That announcement came moments after Blue and White leader Benny Gantz, Netanyahu’s political rival, said in a live TV speech that he had accepted a personal invitation from Trump to meet with him privately in Washington on Monday on the administration’s peace plan.

Gantz said he would sit down with Trump as the “leader of the largest party in Israel.” The Blue and White leader is Netanyahu’s main political rival. Elections last April and September ended in deadlock between the rival blocs they head; further elections are to be held on March 2.

Blue and White chairman Benny Gantz addressing press in Ramat Gan, on January 25, 2020. (Elad Malka/Blue and White)

Gantz had been invited to Washington alongside Netanyahu to discuss the plan and the two were set to meet with Trump together on Tuesday. The two Israeli leaders will leave separately for their trips and will hold separate schedules in Washington. Both will take off for the US capital on Sunday. Gantz will return, he said, ahead of a vote in the Knesset Tuesday that starts the process by which the parliament will discuss a request from Netanyahu for immunity from prosecution in the three graft cases against him.

On Saturday night, several dozen right-wing activists rallied outside the Prime Minister’s residence urging him to unilaterally annex parts of the West Bank before flying to Washington, and demanding that he reject any plan that includes Palestinian statehood.

The Palestinian Authority has preemptively rejected the Trump plan and is reportedly threatening to cancel its security coordination with Israel in the West Bank if it moves ahead. The PA has had no substantive dealings with the US administration since Trump recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital in December 2017.

The US is seeking to encourage allied Arab foreign ministers to attend Tuesday’s White House meeting, thus far to no avail, Channel 12 said Saturday.

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, according to a report this week by Israel’s Channel 12. According to that TV report, which was unsourced, 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.

Trump last week said that he would likely release the plan before his meeting with Netanyahu.

The Tuesday meeting at the White House will coincide with the expected Knesset vote on establishing the committee that will weigh the Netanyahu’s request to be protected from corruption charges in three criminal cases.

Netanyahu has sought to prevent the forming of the 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.

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.

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.

During his speech on Saturday, Gantz said that to lead any sort of peace process, Israel needs to be led “by a prime minister who has the public legitimacy to implement it.”

Gantz predicted that he would win March 2’s vote, and then lead the efforts for diplomatic progress.

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