WASHINGTON – Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Kahol Lavan leader Benny Gantz met separately with U.S. President Donald Trump in the White House on Monday, in anticipation of the release of the diplomatic section of the American peace plan, which is expected Tuesday.
Speaking outside the White House after greeting Netanyahu, Trump said he assumes the Palestinians will support the plan. “It’s something they should want,” he said. Palestinian Authority chairman Mahmoud Abbas has refused to speak to Trump about the plan.
Trump said that Netanyahu and Gantz are “two good competitors who are fighting it out.” He added, “We’ve waited and waited with the peace plan, and this is my third election. What kind of a system is that? You have a very strange system there, that system has to be looked at,” he said.
When Trump was asked whether releasing the peace plan at this time wasn’t undue interference in the Israeli election, he said, “One of the reasons Mr. Gantz is here is for that reason.” The president said that the plan was very important for Middle East peace, and that many Arab states supported it. “We’ll see if it catches on. If it does, that’ll be great, and if it doesn’t, we can live with it, too.”
Standing alongside Trump, Netanyahu said, “Mr. President, the list of your support for Israel, the things you’ve done for Israel since you’ve become president is very long, but the bottom line is short: You have made our alliance stronger than ever. I look forward in the coming years to make it even stronger, with an historic defense treaty that will anchor our alliance for generations.”
Later, in the White House before their meeting started, the prime minister said, “The deal of the century is the opportunity of a century, and we’re not going to pass it by. You have been the greatest friend that Israel has had in the White House, and I think tomorrow we can continue making history.”
Asked if he had discussed the plan with the Palestinians, Trump said, “We will be reporting on that tomorrow. It’s something they should want. They probably won’t want it initially but I think in the end they will. It’s very good for them, in fact, it’s overly good to them.
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“Without them we don’t do the deal and that’s okay, they’re not living well. As you know we cut off aid to the Palestinians, which is something I don’t like to do, but we did that. And I say there’s a very good chance that they’re going to want this. I will say they are great negotiators and as great negotiators their initial response […] will be ‘Oh, we don’t want anything.’ But in the meantime, they’ll be negotiating.”
After the Trump-Netanyahu meeting, sources in the prime minister’s entourage described it as “excellent” and that the two had spoken about the plan, but that most of the meeting focused on Iran. The sources added that the two had spoken about the International Criminal Court at The Hague, and “of the need to fight the effort of the court to accuse Israel and other democratic countries of war crimes.”
An official U.S. source quoted Sunday by Reuters said that Trump’s message to Netanyahu and Gantz during his meetings with them would be, “You have six weeks to get this [plan] going – if you want it.”
Gantz told reporters he would move to implement Trump’s plan after Israel’s March 2 election “in coordination with other governments in the region.”
“I emphasize once again that the president’s peace plan is a historic opportunity,” he said. “Immediately after the election I will implement it through a stable government.
“Trump is a courageous friend of the State of Israel,” Gantz added. “I thanked the president for his commitment to Israel’s security. I thanked him for recognizing Israeli sovereignty in the Golan Heights and moving the embassy to Jerusalem.
On Saturday the Kahol Lavan chairman said the outline Trump would present is “a significant milestone that defines the way the parties to the Middle East conflict can march toward a historic agreement.
“The outline, to which Netanyahu was also a partner, is going to cause big and painful domestic disputes,” Gantz said, adding that he “is committed to reduce the disputes to the minimum, but to work so that [there will be] the basis for an agreement with the Palestinians and the countries in the region, while deepening the strategic partnership with Jordan, Egypt and other countries in the region.”