WASHINGTON – President Donald Trump will discuss his still-secret Middle East peace plan at the White House next week in an unusual meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his chief political rival, Benjamin Gantz.
The surprise meeting, set for Tuesday, comes as Israel lurches toward a third election on March 2, which will pit Netanyahu’s conservative Likud party against Gantz’s more centrist Blue and White party. Israeli voters have twice failed to give either faction a clear majority, leading to an unprecedented third showdown.
Vice President Mike Pence confirmed next week’s visit during a trip to Jerusalem on Thursday. Pence made it clear they were not initially planning to invite Gantz, the former head of Israel’s military.
“President Trump asked me to extend an invitation to Prime Minister Netanyahu to come to the White House next week to discuss regional issues, as well as the prospect of peace here in the Holy Land,” Pence said.
“At the prime minister’s suggestion, I also extended an invitation to Benny Gantz, the leader of the Blue and White Party, and he has accepted the invitation,” the vice president said.
Netanyahu has made his close relationship with the American president a centerpiece of his campaign, and Trump has made it clear he favors Netanyahu. Although Trump hasn’t officially endorsed Netanyahu, he has made a series of policy pronouncements that seemed timed to boost the Israel incumbent ahead of the two previous elections.
Last spring, for example, Trump’s recognized Israel’s sovereignty over the Golan Heights, a disputed territory. Trump’s decision reverses decades of U.S. policy; previous American presidents labeled the territory “occupied” and declined to recognize Israel’s annexation.
If Trump releases his much-touted Middle East peace plan – crafted by his son-in-law and adviser Jared Kushner – before Israel’s next election, that may also be viewed as an effort to help Netanyahu as he vies to hold onto power in Israel. Netanyahu faces charges of fraud and bribery.
The White House did not say whether Trump will unveil the peace plan publicly or only talk with the two Israeli leaders about it behind closed doors.
“The United States and Israel are strong partners, and the prime minister’s visit is an opportunity to discuss our shared regional and national security interests,” the White House said in a statement Thursday.
The plan is not likely to break the decades-long stalemate between the Israelis and the Palestinians. The Palestinians have already rejected the proposal as likely to be biased in favor of Israeli, given Trump’s other policies in the region.
Contributing: David Jackson