JERUSALEM — President Trump on Thursday invited Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his challenger in upcoming elections, Benny Gantz, to Washington next week for a discussion of Trump’s long-awaited Middle East peace plan.

Vice President Pence extended the invitations while in Israel, where he met with the embattled longtime Israeli leader and his lesser-known rival, and hours later Trump said he would probably release the plan as soon as next week.

“President Trump asked me to extend an invitation to Prime Minister Netanyahu to come to the White House next week to discuss regional issues, as well as the prospect of peace here in the Holy Land,” Pence said, speaking alongside Netanyahu at the U.S. Embassy in Jerusalem.

Pence added that, at Netanyahu’s urging, he extended a similar offer to Gantz to come to the White House for a preview of the plan, which was finished last year but kept under wraps amid political turmoil in Israel. No details of the package were released Thursday.

“I think that the president is seeking to give Israel the peace and security it deserves,” Netanyahu said, adding that he “gladly” accepted the invitation.

Trump told reporters on Thursday that he would probably put out his peace plan ahead of the meetings Tuesday. “Probably we’ll release it a little bit prior to that,” he said.

The president said he believed the plan could work and there would be discussions with the Palestinians about it.

“We’ve spoken to them briefly. But we will speak to them in a period of time,” he 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 for them.”

The Trump administration last year released proposals for a massive international investment effort in the Palestinian territories and elsewhere.

But the administration has held back the politically sensitive elements of the plan to avoid the appearance of interfering in Israeli elections, even as the White House took other actions seen as beneficial to Netanyahu. With Israel now preparing for its third election within a year, U.S. officials decided to release the plan and let events take their course, regional diplomats and former U.S. officials said.

The effort led by Trump son-in-law and adviser Jared Kushner began in the first months of Trump’s presidency. It was undertaken in contrast to what Trump dismissed as the endless circular discussions about peace under previous administrations and as a hallmark of the new administration’s business-focused approach to foreign policy.

Trump told an audience of conservative Jewish supporters in December that he had been advised that achieving peace between Israel and the Palestinians would be the hardest task he faced as president but that he and Kushner were trying.

“If Jared Kushner can’t do it, it can’t be done,” Trump said then.

Hopes for what has come to be known in the Middle East as Trump’s “Deal of the Century” are small. Palestinians have rejected the plan sight unseen as a sop to U.S. ally Israel, and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas was not invited to Washington.

Kushner has said the plan would include some elements that Israel will not like, despite a series of steps Trump has already taken that are widely seen to tip the scales in favor of Israel.

Palestinian leaders have refused all contact with the Trump administration since the first of those steps, the recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and the relocation of the U.S. Embassy from Tel Aviv in 2018.

The White House has developed the plan with almost no input from the Palestinian side of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, now in its eighth decade.

“For sure it’s going to be a complete rejection of the plan,” Mahmoud al-Aloul, vice chairman of the ruling Fatah party and a possible successor to Abbas, said in a recent interview amid growing reports that the plan was soon to see daylight.

Aloul said overtures from the administration had grown more frequent in recent weeks, including at least 10 invitations to discuss the plan delivered by European intermediaries. The Palestinians rebuffed them all, he said.

“They want to be able to say that they have our input,” he said. “But [Trump] is not doing this to help us, but to help his friend Netanyahu in his campaign.”

Husam Zomlot, Palestinian ambassador to Britain and former ambassador to the United States, said, “Our position is clear: Israel must end its occupation of Palestinian land that began in 1967 including East Jerusalem, and a just resolution to the issue of refugees in accordance with international resolutions.”

He added, “Should such deal be offered with the already rejected formulas, then steps will be taken by us to preserve and defend our rights, including holding Israel to full responsibility as an occupying power.”

Although Trump had once hoped to convene face-to-face peace talks between Israeli and Palestinian leaders, the long-
delayed package of U.S. proposals is now expected to serve as a marker for any future talks, perhaps in a second Trump term. Palestinians and Trump critics also expect the administration may now pivot toward an even more pro-Israel stance, since Trump could say that Palestinians refused to discuss ideas that could bring greater prosperity and opportunity to the West Bank.

The sprawling document is meant to settle the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, offer Palestinians economic benefits and secure Israel’s future. The Trump administration has refused to say whether it would offer Palestinians a sovereign state on land now occupied by Israel.

Although Trump has said he prefers the idea of Palestinian statehood, his administration has dropped public commitment to a “two-state solution” that guided all the most recent peace efforts.

The plan is expected to propose the incorporation of large Jewish settlements in the West Bank into Israel proper and to provide for Israeli security administration of the West Bank, while giving Palestinians greater political autonomy and a potential path to sovereignty, according to diplomats who have heard Kushner and others describe it.

The invitation to Washington comes amid political turmoil in Israel. The country has been mired in stalemate for more than a year, with two elections failing to produce a governing majority in the parliament, and a third, also considered a dead heat, scheduled for March. Gantz, the former army chief of staff, has twice brought his centrist Blue and White party to the threshold of power but fallen shy each time.

Now, Netanyahu is also fighting a recent indictment on corruption charges related to his dealings with wealthy business owners. Observers in Israel note that a trip to Washington will provide a welcome change of topic next week, just as the parliament is scheduled to take up the prime minister’s request for immunity from prosecution.

Vice President Pence joined other world leaders in Jerusalem on Jan. 23 to mark 75 years since the Auschwitz concentration camp was liberated. (The Washington Post)

Pence extended the invitations while in Israel to attend events commemorating the 75th anniversary of the liberation of the Auschwitz concentration camp.

A spokesman for Gantz confirmed he had been invited but had yet to respond.

In a statement, Netanyahu said he looked forward to discussing with Trump “his ideas on how to advance peace and to work closely with him to advance that goal.” The prime minister said he had suggested that Gantz also be invited because “it’s important that we do not lose this historic opportunity. With such friends in the White House, with such backing from the United States, we should get as broad a consensus as possible around the efforts to achieve security and peace, peace and security for the State of Israel.”

Israeli Defense Minister Naftali Bennett, leader of a united faction of right-wing parties, said that while the country was facing a historic opportunity, there were also significant risks.

“We want to make clear that the right-wing parties will not allow handover of any land or the establishment of a Palestinian state,” he said.