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Trump Peace Plan Could Boost Netanyahu 01/27 06:12

   WASHINGTON (AP) -- Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu arrived in 
Washington Sunday night vowing to "make history" at a planned meeting with 
President Donald Trump for the unveiling of the U.S. administration's 
much-anticipated plan to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

   But the high-profile meeting in Washington looks set to serve mostly as a 
sideshow to the two allied leaders' serious legal problems. The Palestinians 
have not been consulted on the much-trumpeted deal and have pre-emptively 
rejected the U.S. proposal.

   The Trump-Netanyahu meeting on Tuesday comes as Trump's impeachment trial 
continues in the U.S. Senate and the Israeli Parliament holds a hearing to 
discuss Netanyahu's request for immunity from criminal corruption charges. For 
both men, their White House summit will be a welcome diversion.

   Vice President Mike Pence announced the surprise invitation for Netanyahu 
and his top challenger, Israeli politician Benny Gantz, on Thursday in 
Jerusalem, after addressing an international Holocaust forum.

   Netanyahu said he suggested inviting Gantz in a show of unity ahead of a 
momentous occasion. But late Saturday, Gantz, fearing Netanyahu would use the 
meeting as an electoral ploy to upstage him, said he would travel to Washington 
on his own and meet Trump separately. Gantz, a former commander of the Israeli 
military, will then rush back to Israel for the immunity proceedings in 

   Before taking off Sunday, Netanyahu made no mention of his legal woes. 
Instead, he said the friendly Trump administration was providing Israel a 
once-in-a-lifetime opportunity that must be seized.

   "We are in the midst of very dramatic political events, but the peak is 
still ahead," he said. "I am going to Washington with a great sense of purpose, 
great responsibility and great chance, and I am hopeful we can make history."

   The plan is expected to be very favorable to Israel, and appears to have 
little chance of success. The Palestinians, claiming the White House is 
unfairly biased toward Israel, have already said they won't accept the plan. 

   On Sunday, the Palestinian Authority's Foreign Ministry called for a "clear 
international declaration" rejecting the plan.

   "No single Palestinian would accept this plan, and the Palestinian 
leadership will defeat it as they have done with similar plans," said Nabil Abu 
Rdeneh, spokesman for President Mahmoud Abbas.

   The U.S.-sponsored Mideast deal nonetheless could give a lift to Netanyahu, 
who is running in his third race for re-election in less than a year.

   After two inconclusive elections last year, Netanyahu and Gantz are engaged 
in a tight race ahead of the March 2 vote that once again is seen as a 
referendum on the long-time Israeli leader.

   Gantz has focused his campaign on Netanyahu's legal problems, saying he is 
unfit for office. Netanyahu has sought to portray himself as a global statesman 
uniquely qualified to lead Israel through difficult times. He's tried to use 
his close friendship with Trump as a strategic asset.

   Two meetings with the president --- on Monday and Tuesday --- play into 
Netanyahu's narrative. It is unclear whether this will benefit him at the 
ballot box. Trump delivered political favors to Netanyahu during the previous 
two races as well, only to see his friend fall short of victory.

   But Trump's "Deal of the Century" could give Netanyahu more than anything he 
has received before. Israeli media reports have said it will offer 
unprecedented gifts to the hard-line Netanyahu.

   "For better or for worse, the announcement of the deal --- both its timing 
and its political ramifications --- is a huge achievement for Netanyahu," wrote 
Nahum Barnea, a leading Israeli columnist. "Time will tell whether it is his 
lifeline or his swan song."

   Netanyahu was charged in November with fraud, breach of trust and accepting 
bribes in three cases involving accepting gifts from billionaire friends and 
trading political and regulatory favors for positive news coverage. Gantz's 
centrist Blue and White party refuses to sit with him in government because of 
the charges, but has been careful not to scare off his voters by veering too 
far left.

   Gantz's decision to travel to Washington separately reflected his need to 
remain on good terms with Trump while keeping his distance from Netanyahu.

   In two election rounds neither has been able to secure a required 
parliamentary majority without the other's support. Each is seeking a knock-out 
punch in the upcoming third round.

   Netanyahu has been reeling and is expected to lose his request for immunity, 
setting up a potential criminal trial down the road. The sudden invite to the 
White House, with an appealing peace proposal to market to the public, 
delivered him a much-needed boost. Leading Israeli opposition figures have 
accused Trump of intervening in their domestic politics.

   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 Israeli base but could also essentially extinguish any hope of 
creating a viable Palestinian state, while risking a new explosion of 
Palestinian unrest. According to Israeli reports, the Trump plan is expected to 
deliver much of what Netanyahu wants without asking much in return.

   The Palestinians seek the West Bank, which was captured by Israel 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 Trump 
has reversed decades of U.S. foreign policy by siding more blatantly with 
Israel. The centerpiece of his strategy was recognizing Jerusalem as Israel's 
capital and moving the U.S. Embassy there in 2018.

   Trump's Israel policies have proven popular among the president's 
evangelical and pro-Israel supporters. They could also give him a boost from 
his base as the U.S. Senate weighs whether to remove him from office after he 
was impeached last month, and as he gears up for a reelection battle this year.

   "Immediately after news of the (peace) plan was reported, it became plainly 
evident based on the reactions that this wasn't a Trump plan, but a Bibi-Trump 
plot," wrote Israeli columnist Ben-Dror Yemini, using Netanyahu's nickname. 


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