Netanyahu, Gantz to meet with Trump separately for political reasons

Netanyahu and Gantz had originally been expected to meet with US President together, which Gantz opposed

Benny Gantz  (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
Benny Gantz
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Blue and White Party leader Benny Gantz will have separate meetings with US President Donald Trump on Monday and Tuesday at Gantz’s request, in order to avoid a political embarrassment.

In a press conference on Saturday night, Gantz announced that he will meet with Trump in a one-on-one meeting on Monday. A source close to Netanyahu said the prime minister will be meeting with Trump on Monday and Tuesday.

“In coordination with the US administration I have accepted the personal, separate and respectful invitation of President Trump to meet with him personally on Monday, as head of the biggest political party in Israel, and I thank him for this important invitation,” Gantz said.

An invitation had originally been extended to Netanyahu and Gantz to meet with the US president together when Trump presents his “Deal of the Century” between Israel and the Palestinians. Netanyahu said the joint invitation was his idea, but Gantz and his advisers opposed it.

The Blue and White leader was concerned with being seen as secondary to Netanyahu in the meeting, set to take place just over a month before the March 2 election.

During his comments, Gantz described the US as “a true friend of the State of Israel” and said the long-term alliance between the two countries was built on shared values, and joint interests.

Gantz also called Trump “a true friend of the State of Israel, its citizens and US Jews,” adding that Trump had made the alliance between the US and Israel “deeper, stronger and more powerful than ever before.”

Although he said he could not divulge the details of Trump’s peace plan for the Israel-Palestinian conflict, drafted by his advisers, Gantz said it would be recorded in the annals of history as a significant milestone that defines the path on which the different sides of the conflict in the Middle East can walk along to a historic regional agreement.

The long-delayed peace plan, expected to be extremely generous to Israel, was drawn up by the US president’s former special envoy Jason Greenblatt, Trump adviser and son-in-law Jared Kushner, and US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman.

Gantz said the peace plan would set off “a large and painful internal argument” within Israel, and said he committed himself to “reduce this dispute to a minimum.”

The Blue and White leader also acknowledged the Palestinians’ severe objection to Trump's diplomacy regarding the conflict with Israel, and said the US president’s plan could be “the basis of an agreed-upon accord with the Palestinians and regional states.”

Gantz added that following his meeting with Trump he would return to Israel by Tuesday “to lead from up close the hearings about removing Benjamin Netanyahu’s immunity.”

Earlier Saturday, Netanyahu hailed Trump’s peace plan.

“This is an opportunity that comes once in history, and we cannot miss it,” Netanyahu said in a video posted to social media. “We have the best friend Israel has ever had in the White House, and therefore, we have the best opportunity we ever had.”

Netanyahu recounted that he has been speaking to Trump and his staff for three years about Israel’s national security needs, which must be included in any diplomatic arrangement.

“I found that the White House was willing to listen to those needs. Therefore, I am full of hope that we are before a historic moment in the history of our country,” he stated.

Such an opportunity “to secure Israel’s future,” will not come again, Netanyahu warned.

Bahraini Foreign Minister Khalid bin Ahmed Al Khalifa is also expected to arrive in Washington this week as part of the Trump administration’s efforts to garner support for its  plan in the Arab world, and as US-negotiated talks to sign a non-aggression pact between Israel and Bahrain continue, Channel 12 reported.

Meanwhile, Israeli Ambassador to the UN Danny Danon and his American counterpart, Kelly Craft, prepared for a fight in the UN Security Council in the coming days.

Danon and Craft planned to fly to Israel this week, but they canceled the trip so they can be in New York and coordinate their actions in case there are major responses to Trump’s plan, their offices said on Saturday.

One possible response is an emergency meeting of the Security Council, like the one that took place after Trump announced that he recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and was moving the embassy to the city. An American veto prevented the council from condemning the move.

The Security Council also called an emergency meeting after Trump recognized Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights. In that meeting, its members also condemned the Syrian regime’s actions.

Another possible response from the UN is condemnation from the General Assembly, which is what happened following the US veto of condemning the embassy move.

Trump said Thursday night that he will release his peace plan before meeting with Netanyahu and Gantz.

“Sometime prior to that,” he told reporters during a flight to Florida. “Probably, we’ll release it a little bit prior to that.”

Trump added that he was “surprised” that Netanyahu and Gantz “came off the campaign trail.”

“We have both candidates coming – unheard of,” he added.

“I’d love to be able to do that deal. They say that’s the hardest of all deals,” the president continued. “I love doing deals. It’s a great plan. It’s a plan that really would work.”

Asked if he had spoken to the Palestinians, the president answered: “We’ve spoken to them briefly. But we will speak to them in a period of time. 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 US plan has yet to be released, but it reportedly allows for Israeli sovereignty over settlements in Area C and the entire Jordan Valley, as well as a Palestinian state that would incorporate open portions of Area C, according to KAN.

All but 15 isolated settlements would be linked contiguously, and Israel will be able to apply sovereignty immediately if it agrees to the plan, Channel 12 reported.

The Palestinians have already rejected the plan in advance of its official released. As such, the annexation portion of the plan allows for unilateral action by Israel.

Additionally, the Trump plan would reportedly leave Jerusalem undivided under Israel control, with a symbolic Palestinian presence.
The peace plan also demands that Palestinians recognize Israel as a Jewish state, demilitarize the Gaza Strip and take away Hamas’s weapons, and recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, Channel 12 reported.

Under the plan, Palestinians reportedly will not have control of any borders.

At a cultural event on Saturday, Yisrael Beytenu leader MK Avigdor Liberman said the timing of the expected release of the Trump peace plan during the current election campaign was “a little suspicious to say the least.”

Criticism has been voiced that releasing the long-awaited plan, which is expected to be extremely generous to Israel, will be a political gift to Netanyahu since he will be able to claim that it was his diplomatic skills and power of persuasion that led to such a favorable proposal.

In addition, it has been alleged that publicizing the deal now takes the focus away from the expected vote in the Knesset not to grant Netanyahu immunity from prosecution in the various criminal cases against him.

“The prime minister is escaping once again to the US in order not to stand by his own commitment to apply sovereignty on the Jordan Valley,” Liberman continued, in reference to possible legislation that will be proposed in Knesset this week alongside the immunity hearings.

“Instead of driving 2.4 km. to the Knesset to apply Israeli sovereignty on the valley in three [legislative] readings in one day, as [former prime minister Menachem] Begin did in his day when he annexed the Golan Heights, he prefers to fly 9,476 km. to Washington.”

Liberman also fired off a shot against Gantz, saying he hoped “the bellwether party known as Blue and White will finally decide if it is in favor of the [Jordan Valley annexation] law or not,” while stating that Yisrael Beytenu would be fully in favor of such legislation.
Alongside Liberman’s complaint about the timing of the release of the Trump plan, Labor leader MK Amir Peretz sent a direct letter to Trump criticizing the expected content of his deal.

“The core Idea [sic], of a democratic and Jewish Israel, in secure and defensible borders is one we share and are thankful for your support,” wrote Peretz.

“This 100-year conflict [sic] can only be negotiated in good will and good faith, directly between the two parties.

“Any partial resolution, unilateral annexations or steps that undermine the concept of two states living peacefully side by side is a recipe for further trouble and turmoil.”

Peretz also objected to the timing, saying that “the timing of this presentation constitutes an interference in the Israeli election, scheduled for March 2,” but added “I am confident that this was not your intention.”