Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu and his rival Benny Gantz are to meet US President Donald Trump to finally unveil the ‘deal of the century’ peace plan. No Palestinian representative was invited, and a sovereign state looks unlikely.
“An opportunity like this comes once in history and cannot be missed,” Netanyahu gushed as he accepted Trump’s invitation to the White House on Saturday, praising the American as “the greatest friend that Israel has ever had.” He boasted he would be “leaving for Washington with a sense of great mission, great responsibility and great opportunity – which will not recur – to ensure the future of Israel.”
Today, we have in the White House the greatest friend that we ever had; therefore, we have the greatest opportunity that we have ever had.
I am leaving w/ a sense of great mission, of great responsibility and of great opportunity to ensure the future of Israel." pic.twitter.com/iyvfP89Fch
— Ofir Gendelman (@ofirgendelman) January 25, 2020
The latter part of the statement seemed clearly directed at Gantz and the voters Netanyahu has to convince that he is the only one who can secure Israel’s future when he squares off against his rival in an unprecedented third election later this year. Beset by bribery and corruption charges, Netanyahu has repeatedly failed to form a government after the coalition led by his Likud party twice deadlocked with that of Gantz’s Kahol Lavan party. The longest-serving PM in Israeli history has promised to annex the Jordan Valley and taken credit for various pro-Israel moves by the Trump administration, including recognizing Israel’s occupation of the Golan Heights – illegal under international law – and moving the US embassy to Jerusalem.
But Gantz was also invited to the unveiling of the Trump administration’s Middle East peace plan, suggesting Washington is hedging its bets. He accepted, making sure to remind his rival in a statement issued on Saturday that he did so “as the leader of the largest party in Israel,” and vowed that “the United States can always count on Israel’s partnership.” While “the details of the plan will remain secret for now,” the deal “will go down in history as a meaningful landmark, mapping the way for different players in the Middle East to finally move ahead toward a historic regional agreement,” Gantz said.
The decision to invite both Israeli PM candidates caused some friction, especially after Vice President Mike Pence said publicly that Netanyahu had suggested Gantz join the unveiling. The Kahol Lavan party called the statement “publicly humiliating” and Gantz nearly backed out of the meeting altogether, ultimately deciding to meet with Trump on Monday instead of alongside Netanyahu on Tuesday.
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Notably absent from the proceedings will be any Palestinian representatives, whether from Gaza or the West Bank. Most recent reports on the deal’s contents suggest that Palestinian statehood is not on the table. The Palestinian Authority, which severed communications with Washington after the embassy move, reiterated its “clear and unwavering” opposition to any plan put forward by the Trump administration earlier this week. Berel Lazar, chief rabbi of Russia, claimed to have seen part of the deal in an interview with Christian outlet TruNews earlier this week, calling it “the best plan that has ever been put forward” for peace in the region. However, while he expressed confidence it would be embraced by Israel, he acknowledged that the “opportunities for a better future” it offered the Palestinians did not include a sovereign state.
Trump claimed in a press conference earlier this week that his administration spoke “briefly” to the Palestinians, and promised to “speak to them in a period of time,” admitting “they maybe will react negatively at first, but it’s actually very positive to them” after the US curtailed hundreds of millions of dollars in aid and stopped funding the UN agency that supports Palestinian refugees. “We took away their money,” Trump bragged, implying that they have no choice but to go along with what opponents have claimed amounts to an attempt to bribe Palestinians into accepting permanent Israeli occupation – or vacating the land altogether.
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