Trump administration to begin Middle East peace negotiations during Netanyahu visit
Mike Pence invites Israeli officials to White House for discussions over 'prospect of peace'
Hoping to begin negotiations for Donald Trump's long-announced plans to bridge political division in the Middle East, Vice President Mike Pence will meet with Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and rival Benny Gantz at the White House next week.
Mr Pence said that Mr Trump directed the vice president to invite Mr Netanyahu to Washington DC amid the president's impeachment trial and Mr Netanyahu's indictment on corruption charges as Israel prepares for yet another election. That election, the third in a year, is set for 2 March.
The vice president told reporters that the meeting will cover a "broad range of issues of mutual concern" but "also about the prospect of peace".
Mr Trump's "plan" — spearheaded by the president's son-in-law Jared Kushner — effectively ignores Palestinians, who have remained outside of negotiations as the US continues its support for the Israeli government. The meeting's inclusion of Mr Gantz, who has suggested making territorial concessions to Palestinians but has not committed to recognising statehood, reportedly came at Mr Netanyahu's recommendation.
In a statement, the White House said: "The United States and Israel are strong partners, and the prime minister's visit is an opportunity to discuss our shared regional and national security interests."
Mr Pence joined world leaders in Jerusalem during memorial events on the 75th anniversary of the liberation of the Auschwitz-Birkenau death camp in Nazi-occupied Poland.
The president has hoped a "peace" brokerage would be his "Deal of the Century" following his pro-Israel policies and globally consequential moves that have only inflamed tensions with Palestinians while strengthening ties with the Israeli government as a US partner in the Middle East.
The US has cut aid to the West Bank and Gaza, and the US embassy's move to Jerusalem, which Mr Trump formally recognised as Israel's capital, effectively ends the long-held US practice of separate diplomatic efforts in both Palestine and Israel.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo also broke away from federal policy that defined Israeli settlement in the occupied West Bank as "inconsistent with international law".
Palestinian officials and human rights groups slammed the decision while Mr Netanyahu said it "rights a historical wrong".
At the Holocaust memorial event, attended by heads of state including France's Emmanuel Macron and Russian president Vladimir Putin, Mr Pence attacked Iran as a "leading state purveyor of antisemitism" that "threatens to wipe Israel off the map" while urging world leaders to "stand strong" against Iran.
He said: "We must be prepared to confront and expose the vile tide of antisemitism that is fuelling hate and violence all across the world."