diplomatic dance

Trump to hold separate meetings with Gantz, Netanyahu ahead of peace plan release

Amos Ben-Gershom/GPO

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks to President Donald Trump at the White House.

Israel’s major party leaders, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Blue and White leader Benny Gantz, will meet individually with President Donald Trump in the Oval Office on Monday to discuss the administration’s proposed Mideast peace plan, which is expected to be released on Tuesday. 

Details: On Monday, Trump will meet with Netanyahu at 11 a.m. and with Gantz at 12:30 p.m. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo will join both meetings. Netanyahu will have a second meeting with the president on Tuesday, followed by a press conference in the East Room at noon.

Why it matters: The meeting with Gantz comes after Gantz told U.S. Ambassador to Israel David Friedman that his party was likely to support the plan but would not be sidelined during the Washington visit. “Granting Gantz a separate meeting partially mitigates Trump’s intervention in the Israeli election,” former U.S. Ambassador to Israel Dan Shapiro tells JI, though the timing of the announcement is “transparent.” In Haaretz, Chemi Shalev points out that “Trump’s willingness to cater to Gantz’s needs dealt an unanticipated blow to Netanyahu’s hitherto successful efforts to deploy the U.S. president as a strategic asset in his reelection campaign.” Nonetheless, a Blue and White official conceded that Netanyahu “will squeeze this lemon to the very end” to play it to his advantage. 

Frequent flyer: Speaking to reporters prior to departure, Netanyahu drew a distinction between the trip he took in March 2015 to warn the administration about the Iran deal, a plan he said “would endanger the vital interests of the State of Israel and its very existence,” to this week’s trip, during which he said he will “stand alongside an American president, who is offering a plan, which I believe will advance our vital interests.” 

Friendly gesture: In a speech on Saturday, Gantz said that Trump’s plan “will go down in history as a meaningful landmark, mapping the way for different players in the Middle East to finally move ahead towards a historic regional agreement.” He added, “As the president’s full and committed partner, I wish to say to him from this stage: Israel is forever thankful for the United States’ friendship, and the United States can always count on Israel’s partnership.”

Keeping cards close to chest: Before departing for D.C., Gantz wouldn’t say if he plans to ask Trump to push off discussions about the deal until after the election. “Our conversation will stay behind closed doors,” he said. In an interview with Kan News, Gantz indicated that decisions about the implementation of the plans could wait until after the election. 

Whisperer: Accompanying Gantz on the trip is Gen. Re. Amir Eshel, former Israeli air force chief who has served as Gantz’s point person on the peace plan.

Window of opportunity: Former Knesset member Dr. Einat Wilf suggested that the basic details of the plan put Gantz in a better situation to fully accept it as a centrist approach to the conflict, as it “represents a broad Israeli consensus.” Wilf explained to JI, “Gantz is in an easier place politically — he can say yes to the plan. Netanyahu will find it harder politically to say a clear and simple yes to a plan that envisions a Palestinian state on 80% of the West Bank’s territory and one that requires the removal of settlements and limitations on settlement growth.” 

Keeping an open eye: Netanyahu invited several settler leaders from the Yesha Council to join him on the trip. The mayors of the West Bank settlements are staying at the same hotel, “where they will be able to consult with him in person and receive updates in real time,” a Yesha spokesman said. Samaria Regional Council chairman Yossi Dagan is also in D.C. to closely monitor the developments, Times of Israel reported

Campaign goes on: Gantz’s brief visit to D.C. on Monday was scheduled in order to return to Israel on Tuesday to lead the efforts to establish a Knesset committee to rule on the prime minister’s parliamentary immunity from indictments. Netanyahu’s absence will not delay the Knesset vote and the panel’s hearings on the matter. On Saturday, Avigdor Lieberman suggested that Netanyahu fled the country to escape the immunity hearings that could be harmful to his campaign. 

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