RAMALLAH: Palestinians walk past a mural painting in Ramallah in the occupied West Bank. US Vice President Mike Pence has invited Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his main election rival to Washington next week to discuss Donald Trump's long-awaited Middle East peace plan. - AFP

JERUSALEM: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu voiced hope yesterday that he can "make history" in Washington this week during talks on US President Donald Trump's peace plan for the Middle East. Netanyahu has been invited to meet Trump at the White House today and tomorrow to discuss the project, which has already been dismissed by the Palestinians. "We are in the midst of very dramatic diplomatic developments, but the climax is still ahead of us," Netanyahu told reporters ahead of a weekly cabinet meeting.

"In a short while, I'll leave for Washington to meet my friend, the President of the United States Donald Trump, who will present his deal of the century… I'm full of hope that we can make history," he added. Trump on Thursday said he will release his long-delayed plan before meeting Netanyahu in Washington. "It's a great plan. It's a plan that really would work," Trump said. Netanyahu's political rival Benny Gantz has also been invited to the White House to meet with Trump today.

Gantz told a news conference in Tel Aviv on Saturday that the "peace plan devised by President Trump will go down in history as a meaningful landmark". He expected the initiative to allow "different players in the Middle East to finally move ahead towards an historic regional agreement". The Palestinian leadership was not invited and has already rejected Trump's plan amid tense relations with the US president over his recognition of Jerusalem as Israel's undivided capital.

"This step only reaffirms our absolute rejection of what the US administration has done so far, particularly the recognition of Jerusalem as Israel's capital," Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas's spokesman said in a statement. The Palestinians see east Jerusalem as the capital of their future state and believe Trump's plan buries the two-state solution that has been for decades the cornerstone of international Middle East diplomacy. World powers have long agreed that Jerusalem's fate should be settled through negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians.

Israel's 'greatest friend'
Israel has occupied east Jerusalem and the West Bank since the 1967 Six-Day War. More than 600,000 Israelis now live there in settlements considered illegal under international law. Trump's peace initiative has been in the works since 2017.

The economic component of the initiative was unveiled in June and calls for $50 billion in international investment in the Palestinian territories and neighbouring Arab countries over 10 years. Trump came to power in 2017 promising to broker Israeli-Palestinian peace, which he labeled the "ultimate deal". The US president has repeatedly boasted that he is the most pro-Israeli US president in history. Netanyahu in a statement Saturday called Trump "the greatest friend that Israel has ever had".

Gantz also showered Trump with praise during his news conference. "I wish to thank President Trump for his dedication and determination in defending the security interests that both Israel and the US share," Gantz said. Trump's separate meetings with Netanyahu and Gantz come a little more than a month before new Israeli elections, with polls showing Netanyahu's right-wing Likud and Gantz's centrist Blue and White party running neck-and-neck. Israeli media speculated that Trump had chosen to unveil his plan in support of Netanyahu's election bid -- the third in a year. - AFP