Gantz accepts Trump invitation, opts for private meeting without Netanyahu

In addition to the prime minister, his chief political rival Benny Gantz will meet meet with Trump in Washington before he releases his Mideast peace.

By Associated Press

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s chief political rival confirmed Saturday he has accepted President Donald Trump’s invitation to Washington, and will meet the president before the unveiling of the administration’s long-awaited peace plan.

Benny Gantz was initially inclined to accept the joint invitation that Vice President Mike Pence extended to both him and Netanyahu two days ago in Jerusalem. Given the upcoming Israeli election on March 2, and the desire to present a united front to what is expected to be a favorable plan for Israel, Netanyahu said he suggested including Gantz at the summit.

But over the weekend, Gantz’s camp began leaking that he would likely decline, fearing that Netanyahu was using the meeting as an electoral ploy to upstage Gantz in Washington and re-focus the campaign away from his indictment on corruption charges.

The two leaders remain deadlocked after two inconclusive elections in 2019 and are engaged in another heated campaign.

In weekend consultations with his advisers, Gantz apparently decided he would meet with Trump, but only in a private meeting on Monday, after which he plans to return to Israel immediately to lead the parliamentary hearing on Tuesday seeking to reject Netanyahu’s plea for immunity from Israeli lawmakers.

“The peace plan devised by President Trump will go down in history as a meaningful landmark mapping the way for the different players in the Middle East to finally move forward toward an historic and regional agreement,” Gantz said in a live TV address. “These are fateful times, both for Israel’s border and character as well as its democratic fabric. Therefore, I have decided to accept the invitation extended to me by President Trump and meet with him in person this Monday as the leader of the largest party in Israel.”

The plan, which would be rolled out as Trump’s Senate impeachment trial continues on Capitol Hill, is expected to be favorable to Israel and offer it control over large parts of Judea and Samaria. The Palestinians seek the entire territory, which represents for Israel the “biblical heartland”

Historically, Judea and Samaria were inhabited by the Jewish people hundreds of years before the Muslim conquest of the territory, which had been renamed “Palestine” by the Romans.

The modern state of Israel acquired the territory in 1967 after defeating Jordan in a war during which four Arab nations attacked the Jewish state.

Netanyahu has said he plans to annex the Jordan Valley as well as Jewish towns across Judea and Samaria, which would all but extinguish any possibility of creating a viable Palestinian state.

Shortly before Gantz spoke, Netanyahu issued a statement lauding Trump and saying “an opportunity such as this comes once in history and cannot be missed.”

After announcing he would meet Trump, Gantz reiterated his critique of Netanyahu.

“To promote the ‘deal of the century’ we need to be united under a prime minister who has public legitimacy to implement it,” he said, adding that one under indictment could not be trusted to do so.