Trump to unveil Israeli-Palestinian plan in Netanyahu, Gantz visits

Monday January 27 2020
world05pix

US President Donald Trump (L) with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on the South Lawn of the White House in Washington, DC, on Monday. AFP photo

President Donald Trump hosts Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Monday ahead of unveiling a "peace plan" already flatly rejected by the Palestinians -- but providing both leaders welcome distraction from their respective political crises.

The White House meeting with Netanyahu and, separately, with his arch rival Benny Gantz, thrusts Trump right into Israel's tense election scheduled in just over a month.

Netanyahu's right-wing Likud and Gantz's centrist Blue and White party are polling neck-and-neck.

An Oval Office sitdown with Trump and a second session on Tuesday, when the two men are expected to roll out the peace plan, will reinforce Netanyahu's message that he has the US president's ear. 

It will also boost his standing while he fights a mounting corruption scandal.

Despite signs that the White House peace plan is dead on arrival, Netanyahu is talking it up as the "deal of the century."

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For Trump, the two days of meetings should cement support among right-wing Christian evangelicals -- a key part of his base in the November presidential election -- just as his Senate impeachment trial climaxes.

Gift that keeps giving

Trump has already thrown Netanyahu a string of political presents.

These include breaking with international diplomatic consensus to recognize the disputed city of Jerusalem as the Israeli capital, recognizing Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights, which were seized from neighboring Syria, and ending opposition to Israeli settlements on occupied Palestinian land.

This time, he'll be presenting a peace plan that critics say will heavily favor the Israeli side in the conflict with the Palestinians.

The Palestinians say they were never included in the plan's crafting and have rejected it in advance. The fact that they are not invited to the White House this week appears to underline their point.

Palestinian prime minister Mohammed Shtayyeh on Monday urged international powers to boycott the plan, which he said was designed "to protect Trump from impeachment and protect Netanyahu from prison."

"It is not a Middle East peace plan," Shtayyeh told a cabinet meeting. "This plan gives Israel sovereignty over Palestinian territory."

Overseen by Trump's son-in-law Jared Kushner, the plan has been gestating in secret for so long that skeptics asked whether it even really existed.

Aaron David Miller, a Mideast expert with the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, said 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.

Make history

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."

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."

But on Sunday, Palestinian leaders warned that instead of bringing peace, the plan could trigger their withdrawal from key provisions of the decades-old Oslo Accords, which sought to map out peaceful Israeli-Palestinian relations.

"The US administration will not find a single Palestinian who supports this project," the Palestinian foreign ministry said in a statement on Sunday.

"Trump's plan is the plot of the century to liquidate the Palestinian cause."

Netanyahu is campaigning on a continuation of his hardline policies that he says are needed to provide security for Israelis, but critics say condemn Palestinians in the occupied territories to an increasingly bleak future.

Adding to the prime minister's worries, the transnational radical jihadist Islamic State group on Monday reportedly vowed to make Israel its main target.

According to a purported audio message of its spokesman, IS leader Abu Ibrahim al-Hashimi al-Quraishi is encouraging the group's fighters to "launch a new phase," with major operations against Israel.

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