- The Washington Times - Monday, January 27, 2020

President Trump and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Monday that they are ready to take the wraps off the “deal of the century” Tuesday that paves the way for peace in the Middle East, even betting the Palestinians will rally to the plan after blasting the proposal as one-sided.

Mr. Trump maintained suspense and said the plan would be revealed at a joint appearance at noon Tuesday. Mr. Netanyahu visited the White House ahead of his chief political rival, Benny Gantz, who met separately with Mr. Trump.

Mr. Netanyahu and Mr. Gantz, locked in a political stalemate in Israel after a pair of inconclusive national elections, have both backed the long-awaited plan, which was put together largely by White House aide and presidential son-in-law Jared Kushner.

Palestinians have been dismissive of the effort, which they predict will undercut their hopes of an independent state.

Mr. Trump spoke about the challenge of diplomacy to come and at times struck a fatalistic view of the likelihood of success.



“People have been working on this for many, many years,” he said in an Oval Office meeting with Mr. Netanyahu. “I think it’s a fantastic thing if we can pull it off. They say it’s probably the most difficult deal anywhere of any kind to make.”

But he added, “And if we don’t [succeed], life goes on.”

Palestinian leaders said they weren’t invited to the White House talks and said the Trump administration’s approach is heavily biased in favor of Israel.

Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh told reporters in Ramallah on Monday that the U.S. plan “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.”

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas has reportedly rejected even taking a phone call from Mr. Trump to discuss the proposed accord.

Mr. Trump, who has been working on the plan for three years, said Palestinians just want to improve their standard of living. Mr. Kushner has previewed the economic part of the proposal, which U.S. officials say would deliver some $50 billion in development aid to the parties.

“I think in the end [the Palestinians] are going to want it,” Mr. Trump said. “It’s very good for them. In fact, it’s overly good to them.”

The president said what happens remains to be seen, but his photo-op with Mr. Netanyahu was viewed as an immediate boon for both men.

Mr. Netanyahu, who has been Israel’s prime minister since 2009, has been unable to form a new government after two national elections in 2010, even as he contends with corruption charges that could end his political career. The White House meeting allowed him to tout his achievements alongside Mr. Trump with a third rematch against Mr. Gantz set for March 2.

The Trump administration pulled out of President Obama’s nuclear deal with Iran, moved the U.S. Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, slashed funds to the Palestinian Authority and recognized Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights. Mr. Netanyahu’s campaign advertising leans heavily on his long relationship with Mr. Trump.

“The deal of the century is the opportunity of the century, and we’re not going to pass it by,” Mr. Netanyahu said in the Oval Office. “You’ve been the greatest friend that Israel has had in the White House, and I think tomorrow we can continue making history.”

Courting evangelicals

Mr. Trump, meanwhile, is courting evangelicals and other pro-Israel voters ahead of November elections. His meeting with the two Israeli leaders allowed him to tout his role in high-stakes diplomacy even as revelations about his interactions with Ukraine roiled his impeachment trial on Capitol Hill.

“It’s the closest it’s ever come, and we’ll see what happens,” Mr. Trump said. “We have the support of the prime minister. We have the support of the other parties. And we think we will ultimately have the support of the Palestinians.”

The search for peace between Israel and Palestine is a decades-long struggle that has bedeviled numerous presidents.

Mr. Trump made a peace deal a special project for Mr. Kushner and often said that if Mr. Kushner can’t get it done then no one can.

Although the president hasn’t revealed much about the plan, Palestinian leaders said they fear it would solidify Israel’s claim on settlements in the West Bank, making an independent Palestinian state effectively impossible.

The White House has tried to sweeten the deal by front-loading the promised investments in the ravaged Palestinian economy.

Mr. Kushner last summer released a $50 billion package that would fund investments to help the Palestinian economy and ease the way toward a peace deal. It would fund projects worth $27.5 billion in the West Bank and Gaza and direct billions of dollars to Palestinians in Egypt, Jordan and Lebanon.

Palestinians said the plan put economic interests before key political questions.

House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Eliot L. Engel, New York Democrat, and Sen. Robert Menendez of New Jersey, the top Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said Monday that any peace plan should involve all parties and a two-state solution.

“A two-state solution cannot be born on the backs of unilateral actions from either side. Unilateral actions do not contribute to a sustainable peace and would not serve U.S. interests,” they said in a joint statement.

For now, the White House meeting offers a valuable platform for Mr. Netanyahu, who was indicted on charges of breach of trust, bribery and fraud in November. The charges forced him to resign from ministry positions.

Mr. Gantz, a former military leader and chairman of the Blue and White party, traveled separately to avoid being upstaged by the prime minister and then rushed back to Israel for parliamentary hearings on Mr. Netanyahu’s request for immunity from prosecution.

Mr. Netanyahu played up his relationship with Mr. Trump and noted their mutual distrust of Tehran.

“Because of your leadership, Iran is now on the run,” he said.

Closer to home, Mr. Netanyahu has been flirting with plans to annex the Jordan Valley as well as Jewish settlements across the West Bank. Such a move would be popular with his nationalist base but would risk another explosion of Palestinian unrest.

According to Israeli reports, the Trump plan is expected to deliver much of what Mr. Netanyahu wants without asking much in return.

The Palestinians seek the West Bank, which Israel captured in 1967, as the heartland of a future independent state and east Jerusalem as their capital.

Most of the international community supports their position, but Mr. Trump has reversed decades of U.S. foreign policy by siding more forcefully with Israel.

This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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