Netanyahu, Gantz invited to US to talk 'prospect of peace': Pence

Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu expected to visit White House on Tuesday; Benny Gantz also expected to meet Trump.

    Trump and Netanyahu shake hands after Trump's address at the Israel Museum [File: Ronen Zvulun/Reuters]
    Trump and Netanyahu shake hands after Trump's address at the Israel Museum [File: Ronen Zvulun/Reuters]

    United States President Donald Trump has invited Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his election rival Benny Gantz to Washington, DC, next week to discuss the White House's peace plan, Vice President Mike Pence said on Thursday.

    "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," Pence said after meeting Netanyahu at the US embassy in Jerusalem.

    There was no mention of the Palestinians, and Nabil Abu Rudeineh, a spokesman for Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, said: "We warn Israel and the US administration not to cross any red lines."

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    Netanyahu said he had accepted the US invitation. His office said he would fly to the US on Sunday.

    The veteran right-wing Israeli leader faces political and legal troubles at home - he is heading for his third election in less than a year, and he was indicted on criminal charges in November. He denies any wrongdoing.

    Israeli political analysts viewed Trump's invitation as a boost to his right-wing ally.

    Netanyahu's principal domestic political rival Gantz, a centrist former general, this week lifted his objection to having the peace plan be published before Israel's March election. He had previously objected to it as interference in the vote.

    Long-delayed plan

    The launch of Trump's plan to end the decades-long conflict between Israel and the Palestinians has been delayed numerous times since it was first mooted more than two years ago.

    Prospects for a breakthrough appear dim and details of the plan have been kept under wraps. But a source familiar with the situation said US officials would "most likely" share some details of the plan with Netanyahu and Gantz.

    Trump tweeted later on Thursday that reports about the "details and timing of our closely-held peace plan are purely speculative". 

    Israeli-Palestinian peace talks collapsed in 2014 and Palestinians have called Trump's proposal dead in the water, even before its publication, citing what they see as his pro-Israel policies.

    The Trump administration has reversed decades of US policy on the conflict, refraining from endorsing the "two-state solution" - the longtime international formula which envisages a Palestinian state co-existing with Israel.

    It has also recognised Jerusalem as Israel's capital and moved its embassy there. More recently, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced in November that the US no longer viewed Israel's settlements on West Bank land as "inconsistent with international law", reversing decades of policies that were in line with most of the international community, which views settlements as illegal under international law. 

    Netanyahu announced during an election campaign last September that he intends to annex the Jordan Valley, a large swath of the Israeli-occupied West Bank.

    Israel captured the West Bank in a 1967 war and Palestinians, who signed interim peace deals with Israel in the 1990s, seek to make the area part of a future state.

    Abbas's Palestinian Authority, which exercises limited self-rule in the West Bank, has publicly refused to engage politically with the Trump administration.

    They fear the plan will dash their hopes for an independent state in the West Bank, East Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip.

    Trump, who will seek a second term in a November 3 US election, faces his own problems at home with Democrats seeking to remove the Republican president on impeachment charges of abusing power and obstructing Congress.

    SOURCE: Reuters news agency