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Trump invites Netanyahu to White House, says Middle East peace plan imminent

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Image: President Donald Trump Welcomes Iraeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netan
Trump and Netanyahu meet outside the Oval Office last March.   -   Copyright  Drew Angerer
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President Donald Trump's announcement that he will soon release details of his long-awaited Middle East peace plan capped a string of decisions and statements that have boosted embattled Israeli Prime MInister Benjamin Netanyahu domestically.The proposal will be unveiled in the next few days, Trump said Thursday, as he also invited Netanyahu and his domestic rival, Benny Gantz, to the White House next week."It's a great plan. It's a plan that really would work," the president told reporters aboard Air Force One as he flew back from the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland.Trump has touted his plan as the "deal of the century," which he says will end decades of conflict between Israel and the Palestinians. Spearheaded by his son-in-law and adviser, Jared Kushner, its full details have remained a guarded secret, beset by repeated delays amid widespread opposition from the Arab world.It has already been widely derided both by the Palestinians and many mainstream Israeli experts. Trump tweeted that "reports about details and timing of our closely-held peace plan are purely speculative."

Gantz, a former army chief, is pitted against Netanyahu in what will be Israel's third election within a year. He has previously opposed releasing the peace plan before the vote, saying it would be an interference.Both the United States and Israeli leaders are facing choppy domestic waters. Trump's impeachment trial is underway in the Senate. Meanwhile Netanyahu, one of Trump's closest allies, faces corruption charges. Both men deny any wrongdoing.While involving one side of the Middle East conflict, Trump did not say that he had invited Palestinian leaders to the White House. They have rejected the U.S. proposals, and see the $50 billion investment offered in the already released economic section of the plan as an attempt to buy off their opposition to the real issues.Key questions are whether the Palestinians will get their own state, what happens to much of the occupied West Bank, and the status of Jerusalem, which Palestinians see as their future capital but was recognized by the Trump administration as the capital of Israel.

Trump and Netanyahu meet outside the Oval Office last March.
Trump and Netanyahu meet outside the Oval Office last March.Drew Angerer

Trump outraged Palestinians by moving the U.S. Embassy there, while recognizing Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights, a strategic territory that it captured from Syria in 1967. He has also reversed decades of U.S. policy by not endorsing a two-state solution.His ambassador to Israel, David Friedman, is popular among Israeli right-wing voters, and has written articles against the two-state solution and given money to groups supporting Jewish settlements in the West Bank.These shifts have come as huge wins for Netanyahu. Last year, the Israeli leader said he may annex the Jordan Valley and other parts of the occupied West Bank "in coordination" with the U.S.Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, meanwhile, has reiterated his "unequivocal rejection of the American decisions" announced so far, while warning "Israel and the American administrations against crossing the red lines," his spokesman, Nabil Abu Rudeineh, said."We've spoken to them briefly," Trump said of the Palestinian side Thursday. "But we will speak to them in a period of time. 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 to them."The invitation to Netanyahu and Gantz was first extended by Vice President Mike Pence on a visit to Jerusalem on Thursday."We've had no better friend than President Trump," Netanyahu said, accepting the offer. "With this invitation, I think that the president is seeking to give Israel peace and security, the peace and security that it deserves."Naftali Bennett, Israel's defense minister and head of Hayamin Hehadash, or the 'New Right,' political party, tweeted that he would "not allow land to be transferred to Arabs or to establish a Palestinian state."