Trump to present Middle East peace plan before meeting Israeli leaders next week

Meeting coincides with Knesset vote on committee to debate granting immunity from prosecution to Israeli leader

FILE - In this March 25, 2019 file photo, President Donald Trump welcomes visiting Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to the White House in Washington.  Netanyahu, locked in a razor tight race and facing the likelihood of criminal corruption charges, a decisive victory in Tuesday, Sept. 17, vote may be the only thing to keep him out of the courtroom.  (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta, File)
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US President Donald Trump said on Thursday he would release a long-delayed plan for peace between Israelis and the Palestinians before a meeting in Washington next week with Israeli political leaders.

Earlier that day, Mr Trump said he would host Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his political rival Benny Gantz at the White House next week, ahead of the Israeli elections on March 2.

Mr Trump confirmed Tuesday's meeting between the three on Twitter and said that his long-anticipated Middle East peace plan would be probably be released "a little bit prior to that".

Mr Trump said he believed the plan could work and that he had spoken to the Palestinians “briefly”.

“We’ve spoken to them briefly. But we will speak to them in a period of time,” he said, asked if he had spoken to the Palestinians. “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.”

The economic part of the peace plan was revealed in June. It calls for $50 billion in international investment in the Palestinian territories and neighboring Arab countries over 10 years. The Palestinians reject the peace plan because it seems to abandon the idea of a two state solution.

The White House said the visit by Mr Netanyahu and Mr Gantz was an opportunity to discuss shared regional and national security interests.

The timing Mr Trump's meeting with Mr Netanyahu and Mr Gantz triggered accusations of election meddling by the White House.

That same Tuesday, the Israeli Knesset is set to vote on a committee to debate granting immunity for prosecution to Mr Netanyahu.

The Israeli prime minister was indicted last November on charges of fraud, bribery and breach of trust. He denies the charges, calling them "a witch hunt".

“This is the anti-anti-corruption peace plan,” tweeted Ilan Goldenberg, the director of the Middle East programme at the Centre for New American Security.

Mr Goldenberg said the meeting was an attempt to help Mr Netanyahu with the vote on Tuesday and distract from Mr Trump's impeachment trial in the Senate.

Even experts who are less critical of the Trump administration’s Israel policy talked of election meddling.

Jonathan Schanzer, vice president of research at the Foundation for Defence of Democracies, said the move was unprecedented and put the Trump administration and its plan in the thick of the Israeli elections.

Others were quick to note the absence of the Palestinian side from the debate.

Communications ended between the Palestinian Authority and the White House after Mr Trump’s decision to move the US embassy to Jerusalem in December 2017.

Tamara Wittes, senior fellow in the Centre for Middle East Policy at Brookings Institution, questioned the plan.

“Given that the Trump administration has no relations with one half of the parties to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, one wonders why anyone would call what President Trump is planning to announce a peace plan,” Ms Wittes said.

The US administration has been preparing its peace plan, dubbed “the deal of the century”, for more than two years. Mr Trump’s adviser and son-in-law, Jared Kushner, is overseeing the process.

But the release has been delayed after two elections in Israel in 2019 failed to produce a majority or lead to a government.

The administration’s approach has also departed from previous US policies in the embassy shift and in recognising the occupied Golan Heights as Israeli territory, and last November by declaring that Israeli settlements did not violate international law.

Mr Netanyahu proposed the idea of the trilateral meeting on Tuesday,  Haaretz reported.