JERUSALEM — Vice President Mike Pence on Thursday invited Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel and his chief political rival, Benny Gantz, to the White House to discuss the administration’s plan for Middle East peace — a proposal that had appeared to stall in recent months.
“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 to reporters in Jerusalem after an event commemorating the 75th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz.
“At the prime minister’s suggestion, I also extended an invitation to Benny Gantz, the leader of the Blue and White party, and he has accepted the invitation to join the prime minister with the president at the White House next week,” Pence said.
Netanyahu said he had gladly accepted the invitation.
The White House has repeatedly delayed announcing its Middle East peace plan, recently because Israel was in the middle of elections. But after two inconclusive elections and a third vote scheduled for March, it now appears that the administration has decided to move ahead.
The invitation to discuss the plan also provides a dose of counterprogramming — for President Trump, to help distract from his impeachment trial, and for Netanyahu, who has been indicted on corruption charges and has struggled to win reelection.
Netanyahu and Gantz, his chief political rival, have been locked in a stalemate, with neither able to form a government after two elections.
Palestinian officials have refused to participate in discussions about the peace plan with Washington, which it sees as biased in Israel’s favor.
The peace plan was spearheaded by the president’s son-in-law and senior adviser, Jared Kushner. Although its details remain secret, it is believed to be weighted heavily in favor of Israel.
However, the White House invitations could have large political implications in Israel.
Netanyahu has tried to capitalize on his close relationship to Trump, marketing himself during the election campaign as someone who has Trump’s ear and is best positioned to seize the advantages of a peace plan favorable to Israel.
He would also be happy to shift the public conversation away from his indictment in three corruption cases and to push off a vote in the Israeli parliament next week involving his request for immunity from prosecution, which he is likely to lose.
Many of Trump’s pro-Israel moves — including moving the embassy to Jerusalem, cutting aid to Palestinians, and asserting that Israeli settlements in occupied territory did not violate international law — have been seen as political gifts to Netanyahu that could help his standing domestically.