Photo: Flash90

Netanyahu & Gantz support U.S. Mideast peace deal

U.S. President Donald Trump held two separate meetings at the White House today with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the Head of Blue and White Party, Knesset Member Benny Gantz.

The meetings with both of Israel’s leaders focused on the Trump Administration’s Middle East peace initiative. Both Netanyahu and Gantz have referred to Trump’s so-called “Deal of the Century” as a genuine plan that can provide much-needed guarantees for the security interests of the Jewish State.

Prior to departing from Ben Gurion International Airport, the Israeli premier drew sharp distinctions between the current proposal and that advanced by former administration of former U.S. President Barack Obama, which Jerusalem viewed as dangerous to its most crucial interests. “Five years ago I left to Washington, to the Congress,” said Netanyahu, of his controversial appearance before the U.S. House of Representatives, “because I had to face a plan by an American president – a plan I believed would jeopardize Israel’s most crucial interests and our mere existence.” The Israeli leader stressed that by contrast, “Today I leave to Washington to stand by an American president who brings a plan which I believe is promoting our most crucial interests. During the past three years I held countless talks with President Trump – a huge friend of Israel – and with his team about these crucial interests, about our security, about our justice. Tomorrow I am going to meet President Trump and on Tuesday, together with him, we will make history.”

Separately, Gantz, who formerly served as Israel Defense Forces Chief of the General Staff, referred to President Trump’s peace plan as significant. “The content of our conversation – just like the details of the plan – will remain secret for now,” said the Blue and White Party head, before adding “I can however tell you that the peace plan devised by President Trump will go down in history as a meaningful landmark, mapping the way for the different players in the Middle East to finally move forward towards an historic and regional agreement.”

While Gantz is expected to return to Israel tomorrow morning, Netanyahu will remain in Washington for an additional meeting with Trump, during which the two leaders will broaden their discussion on both bilateral relations and regional challenges posed by the malign behavior of the Islamic Republic of Iran.

Back home, Israelis in the West Bank settlement of Ariel expressed mixed feelings about the Trump plan. Reuven Fagan told the Reuters news service, “I hope it will materialize, and I hope that he will definitely give recognition of the settlements on the West Bank – and also be annexed to Israel, just as he gave recognition to the Golan Heights – and I am very optimistic.” Another Ariel resident, Shikma Ganzen, expressed concern, however, explaining that “in my experience, every new plan gets bad results for the Israelis – and because of that, I am not very happy about that.”

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’s Spokesperson, Nabil Abu Rudeineh, blatantly denounced the White House plan, vowing that Ramallah “will foil the attempt to do away with the Palestinian issue – just like it foiled dozens of other attempts in the past.” Inhabitants of the Arab Palestinian village of Madra voiced universal rejection of the American proposal, as well.  “This deal aims to end the Palestinian cause and our national demands,” Nasfat Al-Khufash, while insisting “This deal will not pass and will not be accepted by our people, -who are fighters, steadfast, resistant, who face the settlement expansions and everyday prove that this land is Palestinian and it will not go to Israel.” Fathy Bwzyeh said the plan “shows stupidity, because the Palestinian people and the Palestinian leadership has announced many times that it won’t be accepted, and it will fully refuse the ‘Deal of the Century.’”

Israeli security forces are gearing up for widespread Arab riots, following calls from Palestinian lawmakers backed by Abbas’ Fatah party for a “Day of Rage” filled with riots and protests in the West Bank following the release of the U.S. plan. At a rally convened by Islamist organizations in the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip earlier today, Palestinians set fire to an effigy of President Trump, as well as American and Israeli flags. Demonstrators widely condemned the initiative as a flagrant attempt to revoke their claim to lands to which they refer as “Palestine.”

While talks of peace and security continue to top Jerusalem’s agenda, Palestinian-Islamists have launched a series of explosive attacks on Israel. After eight explosive-laden balloons were launched from Gaza Sunday morning (26 January), the Israeli Air Force conducted a retaliatory strike against a number of installations belonging to Hamas. According to the IDF Spokesperson’s Unit, “among the targets struck were a weapons manufacturing site and a military compound in which posts used for collection purposes were located.”

The Israeli military reiterated that it holds “the Hamas terror organization responsible for all events transpiring in the Gaza Strip and emanating from it,” and underscored that the Gaza-rulers “will bear the consequences for its actions against Israeli civilians.”

Despite the continued Israeli warnings, a rocket was fired from Gaza at southern Israeli communities yesterday evening. It landed in an uninhabited area, causing no injuries or damage. The IDF retaliated with an additional bombardment on a Hamas military post in the southern Gaza Strip.