Benny Gantz, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's chief political rival, announced Saturday that he accepted U.S. President Donald Trump's personal invitation to Washington to discuss on Monday the White House's long-awaited plan for Mideast peace, slated for release on Tuesday.
Netanyahu will depart for the U.S. on Sunday at 2:00 P.M. Israel time and is expected to land in Washington in the early morning hours of Monday. Thus, he may still be airborne as the details of the peace plan are unveiled by the Trump administration.
After Gantz's announcement, a senior Israeli official said Netanyahu will also meet with Trump on Monday, in addition to their previously scheduled sit-down on Tuesday. They will meet while the Knesset convenes to discuss the prime minister's request for immunity from prosecution in three corruption cases.
Netanyahu's additional meeting with Trump on Monday will not deal with the peace plan, and will focus on day-to-day affairs between the two countries.
In his statement, Gantz stressed he would return to Israel in time to particiapte in the Knesset debate regarding Netanyahu's immunity.
"President Trump's 'deal of the century' will go down in history as a significant paving stone on the way to a historic agreement between the various sides in the Middle East conflict," Gantz said.
"In order to move forward with the 'deal of the century,' it is our responsibility to march united under a prime minister who has the public legitimacy to enact it," Gantz said. "There is reason to fear that a prime minister with three indictments against him will make decisions based on the personal interest of his own political survival. Therefore he cannot lead Israel into war, heaven forbid, or into diplomatic agreements, should they ripen."
"Following this important meeting, I will return to Israel in order to lead the debates regarding Netanyahu's immunity from up close," Gantz said, adding, "These are not regular days for the State of Israel."
While Gantz managed to secure a separate meeting with Trump in the midst of an election campaign, it will be of a lower profile than Netanyahu's meetings with Trump: The two will not deliver a joint statement and their meeting will take place without media presence.
In Gantz's circle, they believe that Trump does assign some importance in principle to their meeting, and that this isn't an undertaking by the White House solely to benefit Netanyahu's campaign. With that, those close to the Kahol Lavan chairman are not ruling out the possibility that Netanyahu's circle will attempt to foil the planned meeting.
Alternatively, they suspect Netanyahu's team, once on the ground in Washington, may attempt to pressure Gantz to join a photo-op or meeting with both Trump and Netanyahu, despite his resistance to the idea.
Netanyahu spoke about the peace plan on Saturday, saying, "Only once in history will we get an opportunity like this and we cannot miss it." Netanyahu said, "In the White House today is the greatest friend that Israel has ever had."
In a video published on Twitter, the prime minister said that over the past three years he and Trump had discussed "Israel's most essential security and national needs that must be included in any political agreement."
On Thursday, President Donald Trump invited Netanyahu and Gantz to the White House to discuss the unveiling of his "Deal of the Century."
Vice President Mike Pence said later on Thursday that both Netanyahu and Gantz had accepted the invitation, and that it was Netanyahu who suggested Gantz travel to Washington as well. Kahol Lavan did not officially confirm Gantz's attendance and perceived Pence's statement as publicly humiliating.
There will be no Palestinian representatives present during the plan's presentation on Tuesday, as the Palestinian Authority has been boycotting the Trump administration for the past two years. No Arab countries are expected to particiapte, save for Bahrain, who may send an envoy.
Gantz and his staff spent the weekend debating whether or not to accept Trump's invitation and held a number of meetings on the matter. Gantz originally intended to accept Trump's invitation and even notified the American administration. However, after Pence's statement, the party feared that Gantz would be further humiliated and depicted as subordinate to Netanyahu during his visit. Gantz solved the issue by requesting a private meeting with Trump on Monday.
Also on Thursday, Trump said his administration would publish the details of the peace plan before Netanyahu's visit.
Knesset members have dismissed the release of the plan and Netanyahu's visit to Washington as a political ploy meant to boost Netanyahu's standing ahead of the election and draw attention from the debates surrounding his bid for immunity.
Israeli officials said that the plan would promise the application of Israeli sovereignty to all existing Jewish settlements in the West Bank, in addition to annexing the Jordan Valley, which would become Israel's eastern border.
On Tuesday Gantz said that he was looking forward to the Trump administration's publication of the plan, contradicting earlier statements.
In the past, Gantz opposed the publication of the plan during an election campaign, saying such a move would be a gift to Netanyahu and "outright intervention."
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