US President Donald Trump will reportedly tell Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Blue and White chief Benny Gantz that they have until the Knesset elections to work on the administration’s long-awaited peace plan, potentially throwing the high stakes diplomatic gambit into Israel’s domestic political stew.
According to a report by the Reuters news agency, citing a US official, Trump will not announce details of the plan until after he receives buy-in from both Netanyahu and Gantz so that it does not lose any momentum.
According to the unnamed official, Trump will tell the two, “You have six weeks to get this [plan] going, if you want it.”
It is unclear what either side could accomplish in even jump-starting talks based on the deal with neither having the confidence of the nation until the March 2 election. However, a number of politicians have expressed fears that releasing the plan before the vote will turn it into a political football as electoral campaigns ramp up.
The last year has seen Netanyahu and Gantz facing off in successive elections for almost a year, with neither side able to form a majority government.
Both Netanyahu and Gantz are scheduled to meet with Trump, separately and privately, in the White House on Monday.
Netanyahu will meet with Trump at 11 a.m. (6 p.m. in Israel) for two meetings, including one without aides, and then Gantz will arrive at the White House at 12:30 p.m. (7:30 p.m.) for a 45-minute discussion.
Netanyahu and Trump are set for a higher-profile meeting Tuesday, which will include a joint statement.
The US source, who is familiar with the administration’s deliberations on the matter, told Reuters that by meeting with both Gantz and Netanyahu, it was hoped that Trump’s announcement of the proposal would not be seen as a political move.
“The rationale…is it depoliticizes this to the point that, no matter what happens on March 2, the two leaders of the two largest parties can potentially be supportive,” the source said.
The timing of the announcement has been criticized in Israel as an attempt to rescue Netanyahu from immunity proceedings. Many politicians and commentators also say it appears to be an effort by the US leader to boost Netanyahu’s prospects ahead of the March 2 election.
At the same time, Trump himself is in the middle of an impeachment trial.
On Sunday, former US envoy Nikki Haley said the administration had grown tired of waiting for Israel to move beyond its political deadlock.
Trump is expected to deliver remarks after his Tuesday meeting with Netanyahu, where he may reveal some details of the plan.
The plan, which Trump earlier said he would release before the Tuesday meeting, 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.
Trump said his administration has talked briefly to the Palestinians, who reject the administration’s peace plan altogether. The Palestinian leadership has long called for the establishment of a Palestinian state along 1967 borders with East Jerusalem as its capital and a “just” solution to the refugee issue.
According to various Hebrew-language media reports, the peace plan is the most generous US proposal ever for Israel, likely allowing Israel to annex all West Bank settlements and backing sovereignty throughout Jerusalem.
According to the reports, 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.
Jordan’s King Abdullah II on Sunday noted his opposition to any elements of the plan which were at the expense of Jordan. Jordan, along with Egypt, is one of only two Arab nations to have a peace treaty with Israel. But relations between the neighbors have become increasingly tense, particularly with Netanyahu repeatedly vowing to annex the Jordan Valley.
Netanyahu on Sunday vowed to “make history” as he headed to Washington.
“Over the last three years, I spoke countless times with President Trump — a huge friend of Israel — and his team about these vital security needs, about our security, about our justice,” Netanyahu declared. “I will meet with President Trump tomorrow, and on Tuesday, together with him we will make history.”
Netanyahu’s main political rival, Gantz, also took off for Washington on Sunday for a separate meeting with the US president.
Gantz on Saturday announced that Trump had invited him to meet “in person, as the leader of the largest party in Israel.” Previously, Israel’s de facto opposition leader had been invited to join Netanyahu’s meeting with Trump, and had reportedly been disinclined to do so.
Asked at Ben Gurion Airport whether he would endorse the plan or ask Trump to push off its release until after the March 2 elections, Gantz demurred.
“I’ll hear from him about the plan and exchange views, but what is done behind closed doors will stay behind closed doors,” he told the Kan public broadcaster.
The meeting, set to be Gantz’s first with the US president, will be closed to the press, Blue and White said on Saturday.
Gantz said Saturday that Trump’s plan would come to constitute a “significant milestone,” setting out the path for the conflicting sides in the Middle East “to march toward a regional, historic deal.” The US framework, he also said, “is likely to cause major and painful internal disagreements” within Israel. “I pledge to minimize those disagreements, but to work to make the framework a basis for progress toward an agreed deal with the Palestinians and regional states, while maintaining and deepening the strategic partnerships with Jordan, Egypt and other states in the region.”
Defense Minister Naftali Bennett, leader of the pro-annexation Yamina party, on Sunday said his party would support the plan if it allows Israel to annex large swaths of the West Bank “immediately.”
In a speech in the northern West Bank settlement of Ariel, Bennett called the plan a potential “once-in-50-years opportunity to apply Israeli law to half a million Israelis next week,” a reference to Israelis living in the major settlements of the West Bank.