Netanyahu First, Then Gantz: Trump to Host Leaders to Discuss Peace Plan

Gantz to be first Israeli politician without government role to meet U.S. president during election campaign

Amir Tibon
Noa Landau
Washington
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Benny Gantz arrives on a flight via Zurich ahead of his meeting with U.S. President Donald Trump, at Dulles International Airport near Washington, January 26, 2020.
Benny Gantz arrives on a flight via Zurich ahead of his meeting with U.S. President Donald Trump, at Dulles International Airport near Washington, January 26, 2020.Credit: REUTERS/Joshua Lot
Amir Tibon
Noa Landau
Washington

WASHINGTON – President Donald Trump will meet on Monday with the leaders of Israel’s two largest parties at the White House, as he prepares to present the administration’s Mideast peace plan.

Trump will host Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at 11 A.M. before meeting with Kahol Lavan Chairman Benny Gantz, Netanyahu's rival in the upcoming March election, at 12:30 P.M. The meeting with Netanyahu is scheduled to last for over an hour, while the meeting with Gantz is scheduled to last between 30 to 45 minutes.

Haaretz Weekly Ep. 58Credit: Haaretz

The meeting with Gantz will be unusual for several reasons. It will be the first time that an Israeli politician who holds no official role in the government holds personal meeting with the American president during an election campaign. In addition, it will be held without any involvement from the Israeli embassy in Washington. Trump and Gantz have not met before, but the former military chief of staff has been in the White House previously, as the military attaché in Washington.

Timeline of peace plan discussions
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After another meeting on Tuesday at 12 P.M., Netanyahu and Trump are set to hold a joint press appearance, during which details of the administration’s plan are expected to become public. The official White House schedule does not include the names of other participants in that joint appearance, but Israeli news outlets reported over the weekend that the administration is trying to recruit the foreign minister of at least one Arab country to attend, most likely a country in the Gulf region.

The White House hope was that if Trump could get the support of both Netanyahu and Gantz for the plan, it would help provide some momentum. A U.S. official said Trump wants to know both Netanyahu and Gantz are on board with the plan before announcing it.

Trump’s message to both: “You have six weeks to get this (plan) going, if you want it,” the official said.

Having both leaders present helps take the politics out of the effort, said a U.S. source familiar with internal deliberations.

“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.

Trump’s meetings with both Gantz and Netanyahu will also include Vice President Mike Pence, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and the president’s son-in-law and senior adviser, Jared Kushner, who has led the work on the Middle East plan over the past three years. The meetings are taking place at the same time that the Senate in Washington is continuing to discuss Trump’s impeachment; the Trump-Netanyahu event on Tuesday will take place on the same day that the Knesset will vote to set up a committee to discuss Netanyahu’s request for immunity from prosecution after being indicted in three corruption cases.

Gantz will fly back to Israel on Monday after his meeting with Trump in order to attend the Knesset vote on Tuesday. Netanyahu is expected to stay in Washington until Thursday. No Palestinian officials were invited to discuss the plan with the administration, as the Palestinian Authority has had no contacts with the Trump administration for more than two years. The ties between the U.S. and the Palestinian Authority were cut after Trump announced the decision to the U.S. embassy in Israel to Jerusalem in December 2017, and stated that the move had taken Jerusalem “off the table.”

While both Netanyahu and Gantz will be briefed on the contents of the administration’s peace plan on Monday, the plan's official release is not expected to take place before Tuesday. Leaks that have appeared in the Israeli press describe the plan as tilted towards the positions of the right wing in Israel, including annexation to Israel of all the settlements in the West Bank. The plan will also include the creation in the future of a Palestinian state, but under conditions that will likely not be fulfilled in the near future. 

Reuters contributed to this report. 

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