US President Donald Trump will dive into Israel’s tense electoral campaign on Monday by hosting both Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his rival Benny Gantz at the White House.
The meetings come ahead of the unveiling of the American administration’s so-called deal of the century, which has already been rejected by the Palestinians.
Trump, currently facing an impeachment trial in the US Senate, will host Netanyahu before meeting Gantz, a former Israeli army chief and current Blue and White Party chief, who stands as Netanyahu’s main opponent in the upcoming March legislative elections.
The audience with Netanyahu is scheduled to last for over an hour, while the one with Gantz is scheduled to last between 30 to 45 minutes.
Gantz’s visit was reportedly arranged without any involvement from the Israeli embassy in Washington.
After another meeting on Tuesday, Netanyahu and Trump are set to hold a joint press conference, during which details of the US administration’s proposal to address the Israeli-Palestinian conflict are expected to become public.
The official White House schedule does not include the names of other participants in that joint appearance, but Israeli news outlets reported over the weekend that Washington is trying to recruit the foreign minister of at least one Arab country to attend, most likely a Gulf nation.
Palestinian leaders, who have not been invited to Washington, threatened on Sunday to withdraw from key provisions of the 1993 Oslo Accords.
The Oslo Accords resulted in Israel’s recognition of the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) as a representative of the Palestinian people and a party to the peace negotiations, while the PLO officially recognised Israel’s right to exist peacefully and renounced the use of violence to achieve its goals.
Bid for US Evangelical voters
Trump’s plan is widely expected to favour Israel, demonstrating once again that Netanyahu enjoys the US president’s unwavering support.
Trump has already presented the Israeli premier with a number of political presents. These include breaking with international diplomatic consensus to recognise the disputed city of Jerusalem as the Israeli capital, recognising Israeli sovereignty over the occupied Syrian Golan Heights, and ending opposition to Israeli settlements on occupied Palestinian land.
For a US president risking impeachment for abuse of office and an Israeli prime minister fighting corruption charges, the pomp of a White House visit and the weighty subject matter will be welcome changes of conversation.
Trump has repeatedly cast himself as the most “pro-Israeli” US president in history.
His stance is hugely popular among the evangelical Christian voters who form a key part of his base.
‘Anything that can divert attention’
Trump’s plan has been overseen by his son-in-law and senior adviser Jared Kushner.
Aaron David Miller, a Middle East expert with the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, told AFP that Kushner’s team wants to “finally, basically demonstrate that they have a plan” – and to do so ahead of the US presidential election.
In the short term, said Dennis Ross, a US diplomat who worked on the issue under several administrations, “anything that can divert attention away from what’s going on” is the goal.
Last Thursday, Trump described the still-unpublished plan as “great” and said it “really would work”.
Netanyahu said before leaving for Washington that he was “full of hope that we can make history” with Trump’s plan.
Gantz is also enthusiastic, saying the plan will “go down in history,” allowing “different players in the Middle East to finally move ahead towards an historic regional agreement”.
‘Plot of the century’
However, Palestinian leaders have made clear that they do not recognise Washington’s role as mediator in the conflict, given Trump’s repeated backing of Israeli demands.
In a statement on Sunday, the Palestinian foreign ministry said: “The US administration will not find a single Palestinian who supports this project.
“Trump’s plan is the plot of the century to liquidate the Palestinian cause.”
According to Palestinian officials, they are likely to be offered provisional borders over fragments of land comprising about half the occupied territories – or just 11 percent of what was recognised as Palestine under the British mandate – rendering impossible the existence of a fully functional independent Palestinian state
The Palestinian areas would be demilitarised, and Israel would have control over the borders and airspace.
Ismail Haniyeh, the leader of Hamas, which governs the besieged Gaza Strip, said on Sunday that Trump’s plan “will not pass”.
In a statement, Haniyeh said: “We firmly declare that the ‘deal of the century’ will not pass.
“The new plot aimed against Palestine is bound to fail,” and may lead the Palestinians to a “new phase in their struggle” against Israel.