Pence: Netanyahu, Gantz Accepted Invitation to White House to Discuss Mideast Peace Plan

Israeli officials say 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

Netanyahu and Pence at the U.S. Embassy in Jerusalem, January 23, 2020
Kobi Gideon / GPO

U.S. President Donald Trump invited Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his political rival, Kahol Lavan leader Benny Gantz, to the White House next week to discuss regional mattes and "the possibility of peace in the holy land," Vice President Mike Pence said on Thursday.

Trump said he will release the long-awaited plan for Israeli-Palestinian peace before the meeting, scheduled for Tuesday.

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Speaking after a joint meeting at the U.S. Embassy in Jerusalem, Pence said that at Netanyahu's proposal, he also invited the prime minister's chief political rival, Kahol Lavan leader Benny Gantz, to join the visit. He added that Gantz accepted the invitation and will also meet with Trump at the White House.

Netanyahu reiterated that it was his idea to invite Gantz, "Because it is important we don't lose this historic opportunity, with such backing from the White House."

Taking to Twitter, Trump said that "The United States looks forward to welcoming Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Kahol Lavan leader Benny Gantz to the White House next week."

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.

The officials added that areas that are currently under Palestinian control are expected to remain as such, and will be defined as a demilitarized state, "However, an immediate refusal by the Palestinians [to accept the plan] would legitimize unilateral annexation steps." 

According to Channel 12 News' political correspondent and analyst Amit Segal, the White House will present Netanyahu and Gantz a plan that includes applying Israeli sovereignty to all West Bank Israeli settlements save 15, while creating a territorial continuity.

In addition, the plan will once again recognize Jerusalem as Israel's capital and will allow Israel to immediately annex West Bank communities, with Jerusalem agreeing to the establishment of a Palestinian state at a later time.

Segal added that the conditions to be presented to the Palestinians will include the demilitarization of Gaza, the disarmament of Hamas, recognizing Jerusalem as Israel's capital and Israel as a Jewish state. 

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas' spokesperson, Nabil Abu Rudeineh, said in a statement the Palestinian leadership firmly rejects the United States' declarations and decisions regarding Jerusalem and its recognition as Israel's capital, as well as all the decisions that are contrary to international law.

"We emphasize our firm position calling to end the occupation of the Palestinian territories within the '67 borders, including East Jerusalem," the statement read.

"If the plan is released on the basis of the details that have come to light so far, which we reject vehemently, the Palestinian leadership will declare a series of steps by which we will preserve the legitimate rights of the Palestinian people and Israel will bear responsibility as the occupying entity. We warn Israel and the U.S. administration against crossing red lines," the statement added.

Meanwhile, Kahol Lavan argued that the White House is coming to Netanyahu's rescue by trying to delay Knesset discussions regarding the premier's request for immunity in the three corruption cases against him.  

"Once Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein announced that the Knesset would begin discussions on whether to grant Netanyahu immunity on Tuesday, our assessment was that he did so while knowing that Netanyahu and Gantz will be invited to Washington," Kahol Lavan said in a statement.

Kahol Lavan added they have no intention of postponing the discussion next week.

Ayman Odeh, the leader of the Joint List alliance of Arab parties, said that the solution to the [Israeli-Palestinian conflict] has been known for years, but Israeli governments have preferred "settlements in the West Bank over ending the occupation and providing a future of peace to our children."    

Odeh added that "a prime minister that is charged with corruption and a president that is in the midst of an impeachment trial are trying to save one another while carrying out a dangerous political move that would subject the Palestinian people living in the [occupied territories] to Israeli military control for years to come." 

Far-right Yamina party leader and Defense Minister Naftali Bennett said that Trump's son-in-law and senior adviser "Jared Kushner and U.S. Ambassador to Israel David Friedman are true friends of Israel. Our country may be facing a historic opportunity, alongside significant risks, but Yamina will continue standing on guard."

Bennett emphasized that his party "wouldn't allow giving away land to Arabs or establishing a Palestinian state," adding he will "address the peace plan once it's published in detail." 

Center-left Labor-Gesher Chairman Amir Peretz said that his party's stance is clear, stressing the peace plan must be one that will prompt a true political process based on the two-state solution and not on unilateral annexations."

Peretz added that "any framework for the plan should be based on security arrangements, evacuation of isolated settlements, while preserving [West Bank] settlement blocs, and forming an axis with moderate Arab countries against the radical axis led by Iran."

Samaria Council head Yossi Dagan said that the settlement bloc "Rules out the establishment of a Palestinian state, will not agree to abandon isolated Jewish communities as enclaves in a territory controlled by a terrorist country, and rejects renouncing Area C and B and further concessions."

The Oslo Accords divided the West Bank into three parts: Area A, which makes up 18 percent of the West Bank and includes all large Palestinian cities, is under full control of the Palestinian Authority; Area B, which makes up 22 percent, is under civilian control of the PA and Israeli security control; and Area C, which makes up 60 percent, is controlled by Israel and is home to Palestinian communities alongside Israeli settlements. 

Dagan added that "Let us be clear, there are some things that constitute a red line to us. We won't stand by as our future is being played with."    

Yael Patir, Israel director of J Street, slammed Trump's "deal of the century," saying "it's not even going to be the deal of the year as this year may be Trump's last in the White House."

Patir added that "a democratic country will oppose any unilateral annexation, no matter who will be the president leading it. This is the stance of all U.S. presidential candidates as well as of the Democratic Party in its entirety."

Patir advised the State of Israel to avoid unilateral annexation moves, whether they are included in Trump's peace plan or not. "These moves might not only destabilize the region, but also create unhealthy tension between Israel and the United States in the post-Trump era." 

On Tuesday, Gantz vowed that he would work to advance Israel's annexation of the Jordan Valley after Israel's March 2 election, adding he is expecting the publication of the Mideast peace plan.

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."

Speaking during a tour of the region, Gantz said "The Jordan Valley is Israel's eastern defensive barrier in any future conflict. Israeli governments that spoke of the possibility of returning the area [to Jordanian control] were making a grave strategic and security mistake, and we see this strip of land as an inseparable part of the State of Israel."

Gantz emphasized that the process of extending Israeli sovereignty over the area will be done legally and in coordination with international government bodies. "Until then we will assure the continued development of this land, we have to move forward," he added.

In response, Netanyahu, who has previously promised annexation not only of the Jordan Valley but of Area C territories comprising over 60% of the West Bank, said he will apply Israeli law to all Israeli settlements "without exception."

In recent days news reports have been emerging from Israel about the possibility of the Trump administration releasing the long-awaited peace plan next week, in the midst of Israel’s election campaign, have been met with much skepticism in D.C.

Foreign diplomats, think tank experts and former government officials who closely follow U.S. policy on the Israeli-Palestinian issue say they have seen this movie before: Time after time, the White House begins to drop hints about the release of its peace plan – and time after time, the plan eventually stays in a drawer in Kushner’s office, awaiting a better moment to be published.