Jan 24, 2020 - World

Gantz considers turning down Trump's White House invitation

Photo: Ahmad Gharabli/AFP via Getty Images

Benny Gantz, the leader of Israel's Blue and White party and the main political opponent to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, is considering turning down President Trump’s invitation to come to Washington next week to discuss the U.S. Israeli-Palestinian peace plan.

The big picture: Blue and White officials tell me Gantz and his aides are concerned the invitation to Washington is a political trap orchestrated by Netanyahu a little more than a month before the country's elections on March 2.

  • Gantz met this morning with his party leadership to discuss whether he should reject Trump’s invitation.
  • The officials added that there was great concern in the meeting that going to Washington could do more harm than good and leave Gantz humiliated politically.

The state of play: Gantz was upset by the Vice President Pence's statement Thursday that said the White House was acting according to Netanyahu's recommendations when it invited him to Washington, according to the officials.

  • Gantz and his aides were also unhappy with the White House statement which said Trump invited Netanyahu "to the White House" while merely inviting Gantz "to Washington."
  • That's led to fears among Blue and White officials that Netanyahu would get a meeting with Trump —and a big ceremony around the peace plan — while Gantz would get a lower-level meeting that would make him look "like a second fiddle."

Why it matters: Gantz is stuck between a rock and a hard place with his decision.

  • Accepting the invitation and coming to Washington when the main talks will be between Trump and Netanyahu could portray him as a fifth wheel — or worse, a cheerleader for Netanyahu’s foreign policy.
  • Rejecting the invitation could insult Trump, inciting retaliation from the president, and portray Gantz as a politician who can’t handle the relationship with Israel's most important ally.

What he's saying: Gantz spoke today with U.S. Ambassador to Israel David Friedman and told him that — although he generally supports the peace plan and will welcome it publicly once it is presented — he thinks the going to Washington on an uneven basis with Netanyahu could harm him in the elections.

  • According to sources briefed on the call, Friedman told Gantz that there was no political motivation behind the White House actions and that he will most likely will get a meeting with Trump.

What's next: Blue and White officials said they want to hear more details from the White House about the plan for the visit before they make a final decision.

  • Gantz is expected to give a statement Saturday to announce both his decision and his position on Trump's peace plan.

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