Notably absent from the announcements was any mention of the Palestinians.
President Donald Trump told reporters Thursday that he planned to “probably” release his administration’s much-delayed plan for Middle East peace before the White House visit.
Vice President Mike Pence said he extended the invitation to Netanyahu and Gantz — the leader of Israel’s Blue and White party — during his trip to Jerusalem, on behalf of Trump.
The timing of the visit could provide a distraction from the ongoing impeachment trial in the Senate.
The Trump administration has repeatedly delayed the release of a plan it has devised for peace between Israel and its neighbors, as political turmoil in Israel brought criminal charges against Netanyahu and two parliamentary elections in under seven months.
Notably absent from the administration’s announcements was any mention of the Palestinians.
The White House declined to comment on whether it had also extended an invite to Palestinian officials, who cut off relations with the Trump administration in 2017 after the U.S. recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. They have also openly criticized Trump’s actions as heavily biased in favor of Israel.
Trump told reporters aboard Air Force One, as he flew to Florida, that “we’ve spoken to” Palestinian leaders “briefly” and “we will speak to them in a period of time.” He said Palestinians “maybe will react negatively at first, but it’s actually very positive to them.”
Bringing Netanyahu to the White House just over a month before the latest round of Israeli elections, scheduled for March 2, fits a pattern in which Trump has aimed to provide a domestic boost for his ally. The visit would allow the two leaders to put their close relationship before cameras.
While Gantz was also invited, Pence made clear the former military leader was an afterthought invited only after Netanyahu suggested he come, too.
Last year, just weeks before the elections in April, Trump announced in a tweet that the U.S. would recognize Israel’s sovereignty over the disputed Golan Heights, an area that overlooks the Jordan Valley; the move widely viewed as an attempt to help Netanyahu.
Days before another vote in September, Trump teased a conversation with Netanyahu about a possible mutual defense treaty.
Both leaders accepted the invitation to come to Washington, according to the White House, and Netanyahu told reporters he would “gladly” come. Pence told reporters in Jerusalem that the meeting would include a discussion of “regional issues, as well as the prospect of peace here in the Holy Land.”
Amid hundreds of tweets about his impeachment trial, Trump wrote on Twitter Thursday that the U.S. looked forward to hosting Gantz and Netanyahu.
He later said on Air Force One that he was “surprised” and “impressed that both of them came off the campaign trail.”
Netanyahu, who has adopted Trump’s language and messaging tactics in a bid to align himself with the American president — widely popular in Israel — was charged in November with fraud, bribery and breach of trust.
He is currently seeking immunity from prosecution even as he campaigns to hold his office.