WASHINGTON — The Trump administration has invited Israel’s Prime Minister and opposition leader to the White House Tuesday as it plans to finally unveil its long-awaited vision for ending the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
President Donald Trump, speaking to reporters aboard Air Force One on Thursday, said he would release the Mideast plan before the Tuesday meeting. “Sometime prior to that,” he said, shortly before arriving in Florida. “Probably we’ll release it a little bit prior to that.”
The visit, scheduled just weeks before Israel holds its third elections in a year, could serve as a political and personal lifeline to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who aims to form a majority coalition and gain immunity from prosecution for his indictment on charges of fraud, breach of trust and accepting bribes. Netanyahu denies any wrongdoing.
The administration’s Middle East plan is also expected to hand the Israeli Prime Minister a political boost, given the White House track record for delivering groundbreaking decisions that tilt decisively in Israel’s favor and ignore Palestinian concerns.
The high-profile visit will also serve President Trump’s political interests, as it could draw attention away from his impeachment trial in the Senate, only the third in US history.
Vice President Mike Pence, who was in Jerusalem for a gathering of world leaders to mark the 75th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz, extended the invitation to Netanyahu from President Trump. Pence announced earlier Thursday that Netanyahu and opposition leader Benny Gantz, chairman of the Blue and White alliance, would be visiting the White House to discuss “regional issues as well as the prospect of peace.”
The unveiling of the White House’s Mideast plan, which is being spearheaded by President Trump’s senior adviser and son-in-law Jared Kushner, has been delayed amid the months-long period of turmoil in Israeli politics, with the country due to hold an unprecedented third national election in less than a year in March.
Speaking on Air Force One, President Trump said the administration had spoken to the Palestinians “briefly.”
“We’ve spoken to them briefly, but we will speak to them in a period of time,” he said. “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 Tuesday visit will take place on the same day an Israeli parliamentary committee is due to start debating Netanyahu’s request for immunity from prosecution and will now serve as a powerful distraction.
The two previous elections have failed to produce a clear winner and both Netanyahu and Gantz have failed in efforts to form a new government.
Seated next to Pence at the US embassy in Jerusalem as he accepted the White House invitation, Netanyahu spoke of an “historic opportunity” for Israel.
And he ramped up the pressure on Gantz, saying, “With such friends in the White House, with such backing from the United States, we should get as broad a consensus as possible around the efforts to achieve security and peace for the state of Israel.”
The Trump administration released the economic portion of its peace plan during a conference with mainly regional officials in Bahrain last June, but it has yet to unveil the political portion, which will address the most intractable issues — like the matter of Palestinian statehood, the status of Jerusalem and the fate of Palestinian refugees — to resolving the conflict.