Top White House official says peace plan could be rolled out before March vote

‘We’re not timing anything based on domestic politics’ of the two sides, says Robert O’Brien, confirming Israeli reports that Trump administration may release proposal within weeks

US President Donald Trump in the Oval Office of the White House on March 6, 2019, with Vice President Mike Pence, and Special Presidential Envoy for Hostage Affairs Robert O'Brien. (AP/Jacquelyn Martin)
US President Donald Trump in the Oval Office of the White House on March 6, 2019, with Vice President Mike Pence, and Special Presidential Envoy for Hostage Affairs Robert O'Brien. (AP/Jacquelyn Martin)

A top White House official has said US President Donald Trump’s administration will not necessarily wait until after Israel’s March 2 elections to release its long-awaited peace plan.

The launch of the so-called “deal of the century” has been delayed repeatedly by the political uncertainty in Israel, which will hold an unprecedented third vote in the span of a single year after two indecisive elections.

“I don’t think it necessarily depends on the elections,” White House national security adviser Robert O’Brien told the Axios website in comments published late Sunday. “They will have had three elections in a row, we’ll have to see.”

“The [US] president is looking for a solution on the Israeli-Palestinian front that is durable, is long-lasting, and we’re not timing anything we do based on the domestic politics, either the Palestinians or the Israelis,” O’Brien said.

The comments dovetail with recent reports in Israel that the unveiling could happen in the next few weeks.

The first part of the proposal was presented last summer during the so-called Peace to Prosperity workshop in Manama, Bahrain. It dealt exclusively with financial incentives for the Palestinians in case a peace plan was concluded. The publication of the other part, which deals with the political dimensions of a proposed solution, was repeatedly delayed due to the lack of a full-fledged elected government in Jerusalem.

Reports quoting both Israeli and American officials suggested last week that the Trump administration could push ahead with the announcement. The White House was said to have grown increasingly frustrated as US elections draw near, a period during which any major foreign policy move could be seen as electioneering.

Outgoing US Middle East envoy Jason Greenblatt is seen with successor Avi Berkowitz in an April 2019 photo. (Twitter)

Avi Berkowitz, the US administration’s new envoy to the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, came to Israel last week for a series of meetings with senior officials, sources in Jerusalem and Washington said. It was Berkowitz’s first trip to the region since replacing Jason Greenblatt in the role.

He met Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem and Blue and White party leader Benny Gantz, Netanyahu’s main challenger in the coming March election, though neither of the meeting was confirmed on the record by either side.

Unnamed Israeli officials told Channel 13 last week that Berkowitz’s visit had been part of the preparations for a possible launch of the plan soon, discussing the matter with both Netanyahu and Gantz.

Montage: Head of Blue and White, Benny Gantz, left; and prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, right. (Photos: Flash90)

A separate report by the Haaretz daily last week said there was a “real debate” within the White House over whether the plan should be released in the next few weeks.

That report said Gantz had warned Berkowitz that unveiling the plan before the election would be “blatant intervention by Trump in Israel’s democratic process” — comments he also repeated publicly in a media briefing last Wednesday.

But O’Brien seemed to dismiss that remark, saying it would not affect the timing of the peace plan’s release.

“We’re not focused on the Israeli election calendar or when the Palestinians end up having an election,” he said.

Raphael Ahren contributed to this report.

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