President Trump says he'll "probably" release his long-awaited Middle East peace plan "a little bit prior" to his Tuesday White House visit with indicted Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Mr. Trump made the announcement to reporters aboard Air Force One en route to a Republican address at his Doral, Florida resort.
Mr. Trump, who has long insisted the peace plan is coming but has not committed to a date, said he believes the plan will work, and his administration has spoken to the Palestinians "briefly" about it. He's anticipating their initial response to the plan won't be positive.
"We've spoken to them briefly," Mr. Trump said of the Palestinians. "But we will speak to them in a period of time. 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 for them."
The president, who prides himself on his dealmaking skills, said he'd "love to be able to do that deal."
"They say that's the hardest of all deals," Mr. Trump said. "I love doing deals."
On Twitter hours earlier, Mr. Trump had just dismissed the idea that the administration was close to announcing a plan.
"Reports about details and timing of our closely-held peace plan are purely speculative," Mr. Trump tweeted.
The president has left much of the Middle East relationship-building and dealmaking to his son-in-law and senior adviser, Jared Kushner.
"If Jared Kushner can't do it, it can't be done," Mr. Trump said of Middle East peace during a speech to the American Council National Summit in December.
The White House announced Thursday afternoon that Netanyahu will visit the White House on Tuesday, a meeting that will all but certainly come during the hours of the ongoing Senate impeachment trial.
Netanyahu has his own problems at home. The Israeli parliament will be debating whether to grant him immunity in the corruption cases against him. He was indicted in November and is facing his third election in March, after failing to assemble a governing majority after two consecutive elections last year.
Israel’s attorney general has formally charged Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in a series of corruption cases, throwing the country’s paralyzed political system into further disarray and threatening the long-time leader’s grip on power. (Nov. 21) AP Domestic
WASHINGTON – President Donald Trump said Thursday that he will release his long-delayed Middle East peace plan before a surprise meeting next week with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his chief political rival, Benjamin Gantz.
“It’s a great plan. It’s a plan that really would work,” Trump told reporters on Air Force One as he traveled to Florida. He said the White House will release the secretive deal "a little bit prior" to the meeting with Netanyahu and Gantz in Washington.
That unusual session, set for Tuesday, comes as Israel lurches toward a third election on March 2, which will pit Netanyahu's conservative Likud party against Gantz's more centrist Blue and White party. Israeli voters have twice failed to give either faction a clear majority, leading to an unprecedented third showdown.
Vice President Mike Pence first confirmed next week's visit during a trip to Jerusalem on Thursday. Pence made it clear they were not initially planning to invite Gantz, the former head of Israel's military.
"President Trump asked me to extend an invitation to Prime Minister Netanyahu to come to the White House next week to discuss regional issues, as well as the prospect of peace here in the Holy Land," Pence said.
"At the prime minister’s suggestion, I also extended an invitation to Benny Gantz, the leader of the Blue and White Party, and he has accepted the invitation," the vice president said.
Trump expressed surprise that they both agreed to come to Washington so soon before the election. “We have both candidates coming – unheard of,” he said.
Netanyahu has made his close relationship with the American president a centerpiece of his campaign, and Trump has made it clear he favors Netanyahu. Although Trump hasn't officially endorsed Netanyahu, he has made a series of policy pronouncements that seemed timed to boost the Israeli incumbent ahead of the two previous elections.
President Donald Trump and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the White House on March 25, 2019. (Photo: Manuel Balce Ceneta/AP)
Last spring, for example, Trump recognized Israel's sovereignty over the Golan Heights, a disputed territory. Trump's decision reversed decades of U.S. policy; previous American presidents labeled the territory "occupied" and declined to recognize Israel's annexation.
Trump tasked his son-in-law and adviser Jared Kushner to craft the peace plan early in his presidency. Trump has touted the proposal as the “Deal of the Century.” But its rollout has been repeatedly delayed and its fate is bleak.
If the White House does release the proposal next week, it may be viewed as yet another effort to help Netanyahu as he vies to hold onto power in Israel. Netanyahu faces charges of fraud and bribery.
Trump touted the deal on Thursday, even as he conceded the Palestinians might not like it.
“We’ve spoken to them briefly," Trump said of Palestinian leaders. "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 for them.”
The plan is unlikely to break the decades-long stalemate between the Israelis and the Palestinians. The White House has alienated the Palestinians with a series of provocative actions, including moving the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem and cutting U.S. aid to Palestinian refugees.
In the wake of those steps, Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas has refused to engage with the Trump administration, saying the White House is not a neutral broker.
“I’d love to be able to do that deal," Trump said Thursday. "They say that’s the hardest of all deals.”
Contributing: David Jackson
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JERUSALEM — President Trump said Thursday that he would release his long-awaited Middle East peace plan within days and invited Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel and his rival, the former army chief Benny Gantz, to the White House next week to discuss it.
Neither the plan nor the visit may do much to advance the cause of peace, but the occasion promises to be a surreal spectacle.
If all goes according to plan, Mr. Trump, who is on trial in the Senate on charges of high crimes and misdemeanors, will play host to Mr. Netanyahu, who has been indicted on equally high charges of bribery, fraud and breach of trust, and to his challenger, Mr. Gantz, who holds no government office and whose main argument to oust Mr. Netanyahu is that he has not been indicted for anything.
The meeting will take both men away from Israel on the day that its Parliament is scheduled to begin debating whether to grant Mr. Netanyahu immunity.
And it does not include any representatives from the other side of the conflict, the Palestinians, who have refused to engage with an administration it sees as hopelessly biased in Israel’s favor.
As for the peace plan itself, Palestinian officials repeated their position Thursday that they would treat any American plan as dead on arrival.
“It’s insane,” said Michael J. Koplow, an analyst and supporter of a two-state solution at the Israel Policy Forum. “There’s really no other word for it.”
Even Mr. Trump acknowledged the oddity of the situation.
“We have both candidates coming — unheard-of,” he told reporters aboard Air Force One as he returned from the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland.
The meeting, set for Tuesday, was announced by Vice President Mike Pence in Jerusalem, where he was attending an event commemorating the 75th anniversary of the liberation of the Auschwitz concentration camp.
Mr. Netanyahu and Mr. Gantz immediately accepted the invitation.
But the unfolding developments — which upstaged the large gathering in Jerusalem of world leaders, including President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia and Prince Charles — did not appear to end there.
As if on cue, the Israeli news media began to crackle with varying leaks of what were billed as the precise terms of the American peace deal, terms that Israel’s right-wing government could hardly have improved on.
Israel, for example, would get to annex the strategically important Jordan Valley, making it the country’s new eastern border with Jordan, media reports said. Israel would also have sovereignty over nearly all existing Jewish settlements on the West Bank, including in isolated areas, according to the reports.
Jerusalem would be under Israeli control, including the eastern part of the city, which Palestinians claim as their future capital.
Preconditions for a Palestinian state would be the demilitarization of Gaza, the disarming of Hamas, a cessation of financing terrorism, and a recognition of Israel as a Jewish state and of Jerusalem as its capital, the reports said.
Mr. Trump at first tweeted caution, saying, “Reports about details and timing of our closely-held peace plan are purely speculative.”
But he later told reporters aboard Air Force One that he expected to release details of the plan “sometime prior to” Tuesday’s meeting.
The leaks alone were enough for the Palestinians to express fresh outrage.
Husam Zumlot, a senior diplomat and adviser to President Mahmoud Abbas, said the latest move from Washington “only reaffirms our absolute rejection of what the U.S. administration has done so far, particularly the recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and other decisions that violate international law.”
And Bassem Naim, a Hamas official and former Gaza minister of health, warned bluntly on Twitter, “Palestinians will hinder the implementation of the deal, whatever the price. It will trigger a new #Intifada.”
Mr. Trump said that he believed the plan could work and that he had spoken to the Palestinians “briefly.”
“They have a lot of incentive to do it,” he said. “I’m sure they maybe will react negatively at first, but it’s actually very positive for them.”
In Israel, many analysts saw Mr. Trump’s invitation as a wily maneuver orchestrated by the seasoned Mr. Netanyahu, who boasts of his close ties to the Trump administration, to entrap the less politically experienced Mr. Gantz.
For one thing, it is likely to shift the pre-election conversation in Israel away from Mr. Netanyahu’s indictment in three corruption cases and could delay or even scuttle Mr. Gantz’s push for the Israeli Parliament to deal speedily with Mr. Netanyahu’s request for parliamentary immunity from prosecution.
Mr. Gantz’s centrist Blue and White party had scheduled a vote on Tuesday to set up a House Committee to begin debating the request. Mr. Netanyahu has been trying to push the process off until after the March 2 election, because he does not have a majority to support his immunity bid in the current Parliament.
The immunity process could go ahead in any case, but Mr. Netanyahu benefits every day it is delayed.
More significantly, though, if Mr. Trump does roll out his peace plan, or parts of it, on Tuesday, Mr. Gantz could be put in a corner.
Mr. Netanyahu, an unparalleled political salesman, could portray the Trump proposal as a “once-in-a-lifetime opportunity,” Mr. Koplow said, using that to “browbeat” Mr. Gantz into agreeing to enter a unity government, with Mr. Netanyahu retaining the premiership.
Shalom Lipner, a former adviser to seven Israeli prime ministers, said, “If the plan is as charitable to Israel as everyone expects and Gantz comes out against it, that would sink his chances because it will be popular in Israel, and it will burn his bridges with the White House.”
If Mr. Gantz signs onto the plan, Mr. Lipner added, he will end up playing “third fiddle to Netanyahu.”
And if Mr. Trump approves Israeli annexation of West Bank territory, Mr. Gantz will be particularly hamstrung.
Mr. Netanyahu has already pledged to unilaterally annex the Jordan Valley, a strategic strip of the Israeli-occupied West Bank along the boundary with Jordan. This would be a highly contentious move but would be popular in Israel.
On Tuesday Mr. Gantz offered a pledge that he, too, would annex the Jordan Valley, but only in coordination with the international community, which is hardly likely to be forthcoming absent an Israeli-Palestinian peace deal.
He also called Mr. Netanyahu’s bluff, daring him to move ahead with annexation immediately to prove it is not just election spin.
A green light from Mr. Trump would make it more difficult for Mr. Netanyahu to hold off from annexation, or for Mr. Gantz to oppose it.
At the same time, a plan demanding any concessions from Israel may also prove problematic for Mr. Netanyahu, who depends on the support of coalition partners to his right.
Mr. Trump has repeatedly come to Mr. Netanyahu’s aid — for example, by moving the American Embassy to Jerusalem and by recognizing Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights. And Israeli and American analysts said he appeared to be doing so again, just more transparently.
“If the United States comes out with a one-in-a-thousand-year offer when it has not coordinated with one side and the other is at the peak of an election season, it raises questions,” said Sallai Meridor, a former Israeli ambassador to the United States.
And Daniel B. Shapiro, who was former President Barack Obama’s ambassador to Israel, noted that many critics of past presidents had “offered lectures about the unacceptability of U.S. interference in Israeli elections.”
“A lot of the same people are awfully quiet about this blatant interference,” he said.
But Mr. Trump was enthusiastic.
“It’s a great plan,” he said. “It’s a plan that really would work.”