US President Donald Trump said Thursday that he’ll likely release his long-awaited Middle East peace plan before his meeting early next week at the White House with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Blue and White party chief Benny Gantz.
“It’s a great plan. It’s a plan that really would work,” Trump told reporters on Air Force One en route to a Republican Party meeting in Florida.
Trump said he was surprised that both Netanyahu and Gantz were willing to take a break from campaigning for the March 2 elections to join him Tuesday in Washington.
“They both would like to do the deal. They want to see peace,” Trump said. “Look, Israel wants peace, Palestinians want peace. They all want peace. Not everyone wants to say it.”
He said his administration has talked briefly to the Palestinians, who have rejected the administration’s peace plan before it even comes out.
“We’ve spoken to them briefly. But we will speak to them in a period of time,” Trump said. “And they have a lot of incentive to do it. I’m sure they maybe will react negatively at first, but it’s actually very positive to them.”
“We took away their money,” Trump added. “That’s a lot of money for them.”
The US stopped funding the UN agency that focuses on Palestinians, which slashed hundreds of millions of dollars in aid for projects in the West Bank and Gaza. Trump also closed the Palestinian diplomatic mission in Washington, saying the Palestinians refused to engage in peace talks with Israel.
US Vice President Mike Pence announced the invitation for Netanyahu and Gantz to visit during a meeting with the prime minister in Jerusalem after addressing the international World Holocaust Forum on Thursday. He said that at Netanyahu’s request, the invitation was also issued to Gantz.
Asked when he would release the plan, which has been shepherded by the president’s adviser and son-in-law Jared Kushner, Trump said it would be rolled out “sometime prior” to his meeting with Netanyahu and Gantz.
“Probably we’ll release it a little bit prior to that,” Trump said.
The plan is expected to strongly favor Israel, and is unlikely to garner any international support if it is seen as undermining the prospect of a two-state solution.
“We have had no better friend than President Trump,” Netanyahu said. “With this invitation, I think that the president is seeking to give Israel the peace and security that it deserves.”
The Palestinians rejected Trump’s peace efforts after he recognized Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and moved the US Embassy there in May 2018.
“If this deal is announced with these rejected formulas, the leadership will announce a series of measures in which we safeguard our legitimate rights, and we will demand Israel assume its full responsibilities as an occupying power,” said Nabil Abu Rdeneh, a spokesman for Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.
He appeared to be referring to oft-repeated threats to dissolve the Palestinian Authority.
“We warn Israel and the US administration from crossing the red lines,” Abu Rdeneh said.
Channel 12, citing unnamed Israeli sources, reported earlier Thursday that the US administration’s plan calls for Israeli sovereignty over Jerusalem and 100-plus settlements and the establishment of a Palestinian state on condition that the Hamas terror group gives up its weapons and the Palestinians recognize Israel as a Jewish state and Jerusalem as its capital.
The channel also reported that the US plan would grant Israel full security control in the Jordan Valley, and provide for some minor land swaps and a possible absorption of some Palestinian refugees in Israel; it also said if Israel accepts the plan and the Palestinians reject it, Israel would have US support to begin annexing settlements unilaterally.
It ultimately provides for a Palestinian state but under conditions that no Palestinian leader could conceivably accept, the TV report said. Channel 12 reported that Abbas does not know the details of the plan, and that it is regarded in Ramallah as “dead on arrival.” The PA has had no substantive dealings with the US administration since Trump recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital in December 2017.
Trump himself seemingly cast doubt on the reports, tweeting shortly after their release that “reports about details and timing of our closely-held peace plan are purely speculative.”
Next week’s meeting could produce an awkward scene. Gantz has made Netanyahu’s indictment on graft charges a focus of his campaign, and his Blue and White party is pushing an effort to counter Netanyahu’s immunity bid before the election. At the same time, they will be joined by an impeached president who is being tried in the Senate.
The US was believed to be holding back on releasing the peace plan until Israel had a permanent government. Those calculations may have changed as the deadlock in Israeli politics looks to be further prolonged.
Trump may also be looking for a boost from evangelical and pro-Israel supporters as the Senate weighs whether to remove him from office after he was impeached last month, and as he gears up for a reelection battle this year.
Pence was among dozens of world leaders in Jerusalem on Thursday for the World Holocaust Forum. Many of the participants, including Russian President Vladimir Putin and French President Emmanuel Macron, also paid visits to the Palestinians in the West Bank. A Palestinian official said Abbas asked the visiting French and Russian presidents to support the Palestinian position when the plan is published.
“He asked them to refuse and act against any Israeli annexation of Palestinian lands,” said the official, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was discussing closed meetings.
While the plan is expected to be friendly to Israel, it could still face opposition from Netanyahu’s right-wing partners.
Defense Minister Naftali Bennett, leader of the right-wing Yamina party, called Trump a “true friend” of Israel and said the country likely stands before a “historic opportunity.” But he said his party would not allow the transfer of any land to Palestinian control or for a Palestinian state to be established.
Other right-wing politicians similarly voiced alarm at the possibility of a Palestinian state, while left-wing leaders lambasted the purported outline as a threat to a Democratic Jewish state.