Trump invites Netanyahu, Gantz to D.C. to discuss peace plan

Peace Talks

Kobi Gideon/GPO

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and U.S. President Donald Trump meet at the King David Hotel in 2017 with Jared Kushner.

On Thursday afternoon, President Donald Trump extended an invitation to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Blue and White leader Benny Gantz for a briefing in Washington, D.C. next week on the long-awaited Mideast peace plan. The White House said that both Netanyahu and Gantz accepted the invitation. 

Details: Vice President Mike Pence said during a photo op with the Israeli leader in Jerusalem that the president asked him to invite Netanyahu to the White House, and that Netanyahu urged the administration to invite Gantz in an effort to get a broader consensus on the plan. According to Channel 12’s Amit Segal, the White House will present a plan that includes applying Israeli sovereignty to most Israeli settlements in the West Bank while creating territorial continuity that would allow for the creation of a Palestinian state at a later date. Trump tweeted that “reports about details and timing of our closely-held peace plan are purely speculative.”

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu meeting with U.S. Vice President Mike Pence at the U.S. Embassy in Jerusalem.

Timetable: Speaking with reporters aboard Air Force One on Thursday evening, Trump said that he will release the plan some time before Tuesday and that he’s spoken to the Palestinians “briefly” about it.  “But we will speak to them in a period of time.” Trump further described it as a “great plan” that “really would work.”

Trap for Gantz: Netanyahu’s overture to Gantz will likely play to the former’s advantage ahead of the March 2 election. Initial polling indicates an outcome similar to the last two elections; a continued political stalemate could push Gantz to drop his objections to a unity government.

Second thoughts: The White House announced yesterday that both Netanyahu and Gantz accepted the invitation. But according to Israeli media reports, Blue and White leaders have had a change of heart overnight, after assessing that they may fall into Bibi’s trap. Gantz will announce on Saturday night whether he will travel to D.C. or turn down the invitation.

According to Shalom Lipner, a 26-year veteran of the prime minister’s office, Gantz’ chances of becoming Israel’s next prime minister “stand to take a big hit” now that Netanyahu is shaping the narrative of the campaign. “Gantz now faces the unenviable choice of either riding shotgun alongside Netanyahu, whose name is all over this scheme to seize the agenda, or standing on the curb as the Trump convoy drives past.”

Saving Bibi: Michael Koplow, policy director at the Israel Policy Forum, described next week’s event as “a very transparent ploy” by the White House to help Netanyahu. Tuesday’s White House meeting is scheduled to take place at the same time the Knesset is set to vote on establishing a committee to withhold the prime minister’s parliamentary immunity from indictments. “Netanyahu is counting on this to take over the headlines and TV broadcasts. By having Gantz there too, he’s hoping that it will pressure Gantz into forming a unity government that will — in Netanyahu’s thinking — hopefully push off his legal day of reckoning.” 

Marketing strategy: A former U.S. official suggested that Trump’s invitation of Gantz was a “smart” decision to bridge the political divisions in Israel and in the U.S. By inviting both leaders, if neither one “will reject the plan, that will constrain U.S. politicians,” the official said, adding that this “it isn’t good news for Bibi” because “Trump is treating Gantz as his equal and showing Israel will get along fine without Bibi.”

Palace intrique: Defense Minister Naftali Bennett, head of the right-wing Yamina alliance, said in a statement that his party would oppose any plan that includes “transferring land to Arabs or the establishing of a Palestinian state.” 

The other side: Tamara Cofman Wittes of the Brookings Institute noted the absence of Palestinian input in the peace plan. “Given that the Trump administration has no relations with one half of the parties to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, one wonders why anyone would call what President Trump is planning to announce a ‘peace plan,’” she posited. Former U.S. Ambassador Martin Indyk told JI that the only explanation as to why the Palestinians were not invited to D.C. is that the meeting was timed to help Netanyahu win re-election and advance his annexation of West Bank territory.”

Not the right time: Robert Satloff, executive director of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, tells JI that it “makes little sense to issue a plan that will be rejected by one of the sides unless the rationale for issuing it is premised on that rejection and has some other objective than making peace. In this case, there is no doubt that the Palestinians will reject this plan, in its entirety, and it is by no means clear that a critical mass of Arab states will find enough to work with to give it a stamp of approval as a starting point for negotiations.”

Maintaining status quo: Khaled Elgindy, a senior fellow at the Middle East Institute, stressed that Trump’s whole approach is “premised not only on sidelining Palestinian claims and rights but on a rejection even the idea of Palestinian agency. Thus, in their view, it would be nice to have Palestinian validation, but it is not necessary for what they hope to achieve.”

Trump’s 2020 plan: Aaron David Miller, a senior fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, tells JI that the plan has little to do with solving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Rather, “it’s tethered to his politics and his political clock. Releasing all or part of a plan, which for the most part is made in Israel, may or may not help Netanyahu. But it certainly won’t hurt Trump with his base. And Kushner, who is charged with running Trump’s re-election. wants the decks cleared to focus on that.”

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