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2020-01-24 10:53:151 Oct 2018 01:53 AM EST
By Laura Tucker, Staff writer; Image: Benjamin Netanyahu (Image source: Public domain)
Donald Trump is finally getting ready to release his Middle East peace plan that he's been working on for a few years with his adviser/son-in-law Jared Kushner. He has also invited Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to Washington next week to preview the plan along with his challenger in Israel's upcoming election, Ben Gantz.
Vice President Mike Pence extended the invitations to Netanyahu and Gantz this week while in Israel attending events commemorating the 75th anniversary of the Auschwitz concentration camp liberation. He met with the prime minister and his challenger just hours before Trump announced he may release his plan as soon as next week, possibly even prior to the meeting with Netanyahu and Gantz.
"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," the vice president said while speaking alongside Netanyahu at the U.S. Embassy in Jerusalem.
He also said he extended a similar offer to Gantz, at the urging of Netanyahu. The peace plan was finished last year but wasn't made public because of Israel's political turmoil.
"I think that the president is seeking to give Israel the peace and security it deserves," said Netanyahu, who added that he "gladly" accepted the invitation.
Trump said he believes the plan could work and that there will be discussions with the Palestinians about it as well. "We've spoken to them briefly. But we will speak to them in a period of time," he said. "And they have a lot of incentive to do it. I'm sure they maybe will react negatively at first, but it's actually very positive for them."
Last year the Trump administration released plans for an international investment effort in the Palestinian territories and others. However, it held back the more politically sensitive parts of the plan so as to not make it appear they were interfering in the Israeli elections, despite other actions that were seen as beneficial to Netanyahu. U.S. officials decided to release the plan this year with Israel preparing for its third election within a year.
Kushner began working on this plan early on in Trump's time in office. This was taken on to go against what Trump saw as the neverending peace discussions of previous administrations and to represent the new administration's more business-focused approach to foreign policy.
In December Trump told a group of conservative Jewish supporters that he'd been advised that achieving peace in the Middle East would be the hardest task he would face but that he and Kushner were trying it nonetheless. "If Jared Kushner can't do it, it can't be done," he said.
This plan of Trump's has become known as his "Deal of the Century," though there aren't many hopes for it. Palestinians have rejected it without even seeing it, with the U.S. being seen as an ally to Israel. Additionally, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas was not invited to preview the plan in Washington.
While Trump has taken steps that are beneficial to Israel, Kushner has assured that the plan still includes elements Israel will not be happy with. Palestinian leaders have refused contact with the U.S. since Trump made a move to recognize Jerusalem as Israel's capital and relocated the U.S. Embassy from Tel Aviv in 2018.
For sure it's going to be a complete rejection of the plan," said Mahmoud al-Aloul, vice chairman of the ruling Fatah party and a possible successor to Abbas, in a recent interview. He added that overtures from the Trump administration had become more frequent recently, with at least 10 invitations to discuss the plan that were delivered by European intermediaries. All were rebuffed by the Palestinians.
"They want to be able to say that they have our input," he said, "but [Trump] is not doing this to help us but to help his friend Netanyahu in his campaign."
Former Palestinian ambassador to the U.S. and now ambassador to Britain, Husam Zomlot, said, "Our position is clear: Israel must end its occupation of Palestinian land that began in 1967, including East Jerusalem, and a just resolution to the issue of refugees in accordance with international resolutions."
He added, "Should such deal be offered with the already rejected formulas, then steps will be taken by us to preserve and defend our rights, including holding Israel to full responsibility as an occupying power."
The plan is expected to incorporate large Jewish settlements in the West Bank into Israel proper and to provide for Israeli security administration of the West Bank, yet to also give Palestinians more political autonomy and a possible path to sovereignty, according to Kushner's and others' descriptions to diplomats.
Trump and Netanyahu actually have a little in common. While the president is going through his impeachment proceedings, the prime minister has been indicted on corruption charges related to his dealings with wealthy business owners.
In a statement, Netanyahu said he was looking forward to discussing with Trump "his ideas on how to advance peace and to work closely with him to advance that goal.'
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