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   President Donald Trump said Thursday that he'll likely release his 
long-awaited Mideast peace plan before his meeting early next week at the White 
House with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his main political 
rival Benny Gantz.

   JERUSALEM (AP) -- President Donald Trump said Thursday that he'll likely 
release his long-awaited Mideast peace plan before his meeting early next week 
at the White House with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his main 
political rival Benny Gantz.

   "It's a great plan. It's a plan that really would work," Trump told 
reporters on Air Force One en route to a Republican Party meeting in Florida. 

   The plan, which would be rolled out as Trump's Senate impeachment trial 
continues on Capitol Hill, is expected to be pro-Israel, which would please 
U.S. evangelical and Jewish voters. It also comes as Netanyahu seeks immunity 
from Israeli lawmakers from charges stemming from corruption investigations. 

   Trump said he was surprised that both Netanyahu and Gantz were willing to 
take a break from campaigning for the March 2 elections to join him Tuesday in 

   "They both would like to do the deal. They want to see peace," Trump said. 
"Look, Israel wants peace, Palestinians want peace. They all want peace. Not 
everyone wants to say it."

   He said his administration has talked briefly to the Palestinians, who have 
rejected the administration's peace plan before it even comes out. 

   "We've spoken to them briefly. But we will speak to them in a period of 
time," Trump said. "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."

   "We took away their money," Trump added. "That's a lot of money for them."

   The U.S. stopped funding the U.N. agency that helps Palestinian refugees, 
which slashed hundreds of millions of dollars in aid for projects in the West 
Bank and Gaza and cut funding to hospitals in Jerusalem that serve 
Palestinians. Trump also closed the Palestinian diplomatic mission in 
Washington, saying the Palestinians refused to engage in peace talks with 

   Vice President Mike Pence announced the invitation for Netanyahu and Gantz 
to visit during a meeting with the prime minister in Jerusalem after addressing 
an international forum Thursday on the Holocaust. He said that at Netanyahu's 
request, the invitation was also issued to Gantz. 

   Asked when he would release the plan, which has been shepherded by the 
president's adviser and son-in-law Jared Kushner, Trump said it would be rolled 
out "sometime prior" to his meeting with Netanyahu and Gantz. "Probably we'll 
release it a little bit prior to that."

   The plan is expected to strongly favor Israel, and is unlikely to garner any 
international support if it is seen as undermining the prospect of a two-state 

   "We have had no better friend than President Trump," Netanyahu said. "With 
this invitation, I think that the president is seeking to give Israel the peace 
and security that it deserves."

   The Palestinians rejected Trump's peace efforts after he recognized disputed 
Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and moved the U.S. Embassy there in May 
2018. The Palestinians want east Jerusalem, which Israel occupied in the 1967 
war and annexed, to be their capital.

   "If this deal is announced with these rejected formulas, the leadership will 
announce a series of measures in which we safeguard our legitimate rights, and 
we will demand Israel assume its full responsibilities as an occupying power," 
said Nabil Abu Rdeneh, a spokesman for Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.

   He appeared to be referring to oft-repeated threats to dissolve the 
Palestinian Authority, which has limited autonomy in parts of the 
Israeli-occupied West Bank. That would force Israel to resume responsibility 
for providing basic services to millions of Palestinians.

   "We warn Israel and the U.S. administration from crossing the red lines," 
Abu Rdeneh said.

   Israel's Channel 12 TV, citing Israeli officials, said the plan is expected 
to be extremely favorable toward Israel and offer it control over large parts 
of the occupied West Bank. The Palestinians seek the entire territory, which 
was also captured by Israel in 1967, as the heartland of a future independent 
state. Most of the international community supports the Palestinian position.

   Netanyahu has said he plans to annex the Jordan Valley as well as Jewish 
settlements across the West Bank, which would all but extinguish any 
possibility of creating a viable Palestinian state.

   Netanyahu has tried to make that the cornerstone of his campaign for 
reelection following unprecedented back-to-back elections last year that left 
him in a virtual tie with Gantz, with neither able to cobble together a ruling 

   The deadlock was deepened by Netanyahu's indictment last year on serious 
charges of bribery, fraud and breach of trust stemming from three long-running 
corruption investigations. Netanyahu has asked Israel's parliament to grant him 

   Next week's meeting could produce an awkward scene. Gantz has made 
Netanyahu's indictment the focus of his campaign to oust the prime minister. 
And his Blue and White party is leading an effort in parliament to block 
Netanyahu's immunity request before the election. At the same time, they will 
be joined by an impeached president who is being tried in the Senate. 

   The U.S. was believed to be holding back on releasing the peace plan until 
Israel had a permanent government. Those calculations may have changed as the 
deadlock in Israeli politics looks to be further prolonged. 

   Trump may also be looking for a boost from evangelical and pro-Israel 
supporters as the 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. 

   Pence was among dozens of world leaders in Jerusalem on Thursday for the 
World Holocaust Forum. Many of the participants, including Russian President 
Vladimir Putin and French President Emmanuel Macron, also paid visits to the 
Palestinians in the West Bank. A Palestinian official said Abbas asked the 
visiting French and Russian presidents to support the Palestinian position when 
the plan is published. 

   "He asked them to refuse and act against any Israeli annexation of 
Palestinian lands," said the official, speaking on condition of anonymity 
because he was discussing closed meetings.

   While the plan is expected to be friendly to Israel, it could still face 
opposition from Netanyahu's hard-line partners. 

   Defense Minister Naftali Bennett, leader of the ultra-nationalist Yamina 
party, called Trump a "true friend" of Israel and said the country likely 
stands before a "historic opportunity." But he said his party would not allow 
the transfer of any land to Palestinian control or for a Palestinian state to 
be established.

   In Washington, Jeremy Ben-Ami, president of the liberal advocacy group J 
Street, said Trump's plan to address the Israeli-Palestinian conflict won't be 
a peace plan, "but rather a plan to enshrine the Israeli settler movement's 
agenda" as U.S. foreign policy. 

   "It's clear that a U.S. proposal which endorses settlement expansion or 
annexation does not reflect the true interests of the United States and will 
not hold as U.S. policy under future administrations," said Ben-Ami, whose 
organization supports a two-state solution to the conflict.


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