Donald Trump has hosted Israel’s PM and his chief rival at the White House on the eve of unveiling a Middle East peace plan, expressing confidence that despite Palestinian rejection they would go along with a blueprint he said was “very good for them”.
The Trump proposal is widely expected to be favourable to Israel, with prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu and challenger Benny Gantz speaking in glowing terms about the president and his initiative.
But with the Palestinians refusing to even speak to the US president, and urging other Arab nations to boycott Tuesday’s event, there is great scepticism over the plan’s chances of success.
The meetings come a month before Mr Netanyahu and Mr Gantz are set to face off in national elections for the third time in less than a year, and both were looking to project leadership in their separate meetings with the president.
Mr Trump called his proposal a great “opportunity” but would not discuss further details, noting that its release has long been delayed because of the uncertain political situation in Israel.
He refused to answer questions over whether it would include Israeli annexation of parts of the West Bank, signalling that it was premature for Palestinians to rule it out.
“I think in the end they’re going to want it. It’s very good for them,” he said alongside Mr Netanyahu.
“We’re going to show a plan. It’s been worked on by everybody, and we’ll see whether or not it catches hold. If it does, that would be great, and if it doesn’t, we can live with it, too. But I think it might have a chance.”
Mr Netanyahu has hailed it as a chance to “make history” and define Israel’s final borders. At the White House, he pointed out Mr Trump’s gestures to Israel as well as his strong stance against Iran.
“You have made our alliance stronger than ever,” he said to Mr Trump.
Shortly after Mr Netanyahu left, Mr Gantz was invited into the White House for his first meeting with Mr Trump. Speaking to reporters later, he did not disclose details of their conversation, but he did shower the president with praise.
He called the peace plan “a significant and historic milestone” that he looked forward to implementing once he became prime minister, in tandem with other countries in the region — specifically mentioning Jordan.
In the run-up to the March 2 vote, Mr Netanyahu has called for annexing parts of the West Bank and imposing Israeli sovereignty on all its settlements there. Israel captured the West Bank in the 1967 Middle East war, and the Jordan Valley in particular is considered a vital security asset.
Reports in Israeli media have speculated that Mr Trump’s plan could include the possible annexation of large pieces of territory that the Palestinians seek for a future independent state.
American approval could give Mr Netanyahu the type of cover to go ahead with a move he has resisted taking for more than a decade in power.
Annexing Israel’s settlements in the occupied West Bank would appeal to his hardline nationalist supporters but would almost certainly torpedo the viability of an independent Palestinian state and infuriate neighbouring Jordan.
Palestinian prime minister Mohammad Shtayyeh denounced the still-unpublished proposal in Ramallah, saying it “doesn’t constitute a basis for resolving the conflict”.
He said the plan violates international law and “comes from a party that has lost its credibility to be an honest broker in a serious and genuine political process”.