By Steve Holland and Dan Williams
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. President Donald Trump will hold back-to-back meetings with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Israeli opposition leader Benny Gantz on Monday as he prepares to release his long-delayed Middle East peace plan.
Trump will meet first with Netanyahu, Israel’s veteran right-wing leader, and then with the latter’s election rival Gantz, who just last week dropped his objection to having the peace plan published before Israel’s March vote, a schedule released by the White House showed.
He will meet with Netanyahu again on Tuesday, and the two of them are scheduled to deliver joint remarks.
During the talks with both Israeli politicians, Trump is likely to share some details of his plan, a U.S. source familiar with the subject said.
“Today, I leave to Washington to stand by an American president who brings a plan which I believe is promoting our most crucial interests … together with him, we will make history,” Netanyahu said before taking off for the U.S. capital.
Trump said last week he would release details of his peace initiative before meeting with Netanyahu and Gantz, but the White House has yet to say exactly when the plan will be made public.
In contrast to the regalia and high-security that could be expected from Netanyahu’s arrival later on Sunday, Gantz, a former general who heads Israel’s centrist Blue and White Party, traveled with a small entourage on a commercial flight.
“It’s a very important visit,” he told Reuters after landing at Dulles International Airport outside Washington. Asked what he hoped to achieve, Gantz said, “Good relations, and explanation, and understanding between the president and myself.”
He would not be drawn on how the Washington visit might affect his prospects in the election.
Gantz on Saturday called Trump’s plan a “meaningful landmark mapping the way for the different players in the Middle East to finally move forward towards an historical and regional agreement.”
The political aspects of the plan to end the decades-long conflict between Israel and the Palestinians have been closely held, although the economic components have already been unveiled.
While Trump was set to brief Netanyahu and Gantz, Palestinian leaders said they had had no communication with the U.S. administration. They have warned that no deal can work without them on board.
Trump has made a number of decisions Israel has welcomed that have angered Palestinians. He recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, moved the U.S. embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem and slashed humanitarian aid to the Palestinians.
The proposal, dozens of pages long, addresses in detail the thorny political issues between Israel and the Palestinians, such as the status of Jerusalem, Trump administration officials say.
Speaking to reporters on Thursday, Trump said Palestinians might react negatively to his plan at first, but that “it’s actually very positive for them.”
The launch of the plan has been delayed numerous times over the last two years. U.S. officials decided to move forward now rather than wait until Israel’s election, because the past two elections left the Israel government deadlocked.
A source told Reuters last week that bringing both Netanyahu and Gantz in on the details was aimed at defusing any suggestion Trump might be favoring one candidate over the other.
(Reporting by Steve Holland and Dan Williams; Additional reporting by Ari Rabinovitz in Jerusalem; Writing by Tim Ahmann; Editing by Doina Chiacu, Bernadette Baum and Daniel Wallis)