U.S. President Donald Trump unveiled his long-awaited Middle East peace plan Tuesday, calling for the creation of a State of Palestine with its capital in portions of east Jerusalem, saying it is a “win-win” opportunity for both Israel and the Palestinians.
It was soundly rejected by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, who dismissed it as nonsense.
“We will not kneel and we will not surrender,” Abbas said, adding that the Palestinians would resist the plan through “peaceful, popular means.”
The plan ends speculation over whether Trump’s administration, in preparing a proposal without input from Palestinian leaders, would abandon a “two-state resolution” to the conflict.
Trump, releasing the plan before a pro-Israel audience at the White House with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu by his side, acknowledged that he has done a lot for Israel, but he said he wanted the deal to be a “great deal for the Palestinians.” Trump said the deal is a “historic opportunity” for Palestinians to achieve an independent state of their own.
Trump said Jerusalem would remain the “undivided” capital of Israel, with Netanyahu later remarking that the plan envisions the Palestinian capital being located in Abu Dis, on the outskirts of Jerusalem.
The plan more than doubles the territory currently under Palestinian control, although it also recognizes Israeli sovereignty over major settlement blocs in the West Bank, something to which the Palestinians will almost certainly object.
Netanyahu’s spokesperson said two hours later that the Israeli leader will ask his cabinet on Sunday to approve his plan to annex parts of the West Bank.
Israeli Defence Minister Naftali Bennett called for the immediate annexation of all Israeli settlements in the West Bank in response to the Trump peace plan.
Bennett, a hawkish member of the religious nationalist Yemina party, said the proposal offers Israel “an opportunity to determine the territory of our country” and “include all the Israeli settlements in the land of Israel within the sovereign state of Israel.”
He said that Israel “cannot wait until after the elections, and won’t be satisfied with partial sovereignty — take it all now.”
At a news conference in the West Bank city of Ramallah, where his Palestinian Authority is headquartered, Abbas said “a thousand no’s” to the plan.
“After the nonsense that we heard today we say a thousand no’s to the ‘deal of the century,'” Abbas said — borrowing Trump’s description of the plan.
He said the Palestinians remain committed to ending the Israeli occupation and establishing a state with its capital in east Jerusalem.
‘A cycle of terrorism’
Trump said the Palestinians “deserve a chance to achieve their extraordinary potential.”
“Palestinians have been trapped in a cycle of terrorism, poverty and violence, exploited by those seeking to use them as pawns to advance terrorism and extremism.”
The plan calls for a four-year freeze in new Israeli settlement construction, during which time details of a comprehensive agreement would be negotiated. However, it was not immediately clear if the freeze could be extended if a final deal is not concluded in the four years.
Trump said he sent a letter to Abbas to tell him that the territory that the plan has set aside for a new Palestinian state will remain open and undeveloped for four years.
“It’s going to work,” Trump said. “If they do this, it will work. Your response to this historic opportunity will show the world to what extent you are ready to lead the Palestinian people to statehood.”
Netanyahu was effusive in his praise of the plan.
“You have been the greatest friends Israel has ever had in the White House,” he told Trump, adding “it’s not even close.”
Netanyahu said previous efforts by American officials to broker peace in the region “did not strike right balance between Israel’s national security and interests and Palestinian aspiration of self-determination.”
The 50-page political outline goes further in concessions to the Palestinians than many analysts had believed was likely. However, it would require them to accept conditions they have been previously unwilling to consider, such as accepting West Bank settlements. It builds on a 30-page economic plan for the West Bank and Gaza that was unveiled last June and which the Palestinians have also rejected.
Under the terms of the “peace vision” that Trump’s son-in-law and senior adviser Jared Kushner has been working on for nearly three years, the future Palestinian state would consist of the West Bank and Gaza, connected by a combination of above-ground roads and tunnels, according to the officials.
Netanyahu praised Kushner’s “resolve” in helping craft the plan. Both Netanyahu and his main political challenger in March elections, Benny Gantz, had signed off on the plan.
The event comes as Trump’s impeachment trial continues in the U.S. Senate and Netanyahu facing criminal corruption charges.
In the run-up to the March 2 election, Netanyahu has called for annexing parts of the West Bank and imposing Israeli sovereignty on all its settlements there. Israel captured the West Bank in the 1967 Mideast war, and the Jordan Valley in particular is considered a vital security asset.
Timing of announcement
“You, Mr. President, recognize that Israel must have sovereignty in the Jordan Valley,” said Netanyahu.
Ilan Goldenberg, a former Obama administration State Department official on Middle East policy, told CBC News on Tuesday it’s easy to be cynical about the timing of the announcement, given the domestic troubles swirling around both Trump and Netanyahu.
“There’s no reason this plan couldn’t be put out … after the next Israeli election, or a month ago,” said Goldenberg. “Why it’s happening this week, after three years, is incredibly questionable.
“The obvious reason is it’s a tool for distraction.”
Security responsibility for the Jordan Valley in the proposal would remain in Israel’s hands for the foreseeable future but could be scaled back as the nascent Palestinian state builds its capacity, under the terms of the plan, which says that statehood will be contingent on the Palestinians meeting international governance criteria.
U.S. officials had said they expected negative responses from the Palestinians, as well as Turkey and Iran, but were hopeful that Jordan and Egypt, the only two Arab nations to have peace treaties with Israel, would not reject it outright. The officials said they expected Gulf Arab states like Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and others to cautiously welcome the plan.
Lebanon’s Hezbollah, backed by Iran, called on Arab states to not be complicit in a “deal of shame” that would “rob the Palestinian people of the right to their land.”
Jordan meanwhile warned against any Israeli “annexation of Palestinian lands” and reaffirmed its commitment to the creation of a Palestinian state along the 1967 lines, which would include all the West Bank and Israeli-annexed east Jerusalem.
Jordan’s Foreign Minister Ayman Safadi warned of “the dangerous consequences of unilateral Israeli measures, such as annexation of Palestinian lands.”
Egypt urged Israelis and Palestinians to “carefully study” the plan and said it appreciates the administration’s efforts.
The Egyptian Foreign Ministry said in a statement Tuesday that it favours a solution that restores all the “legitimate rights” of the Palestinian people through establishing an “independent and sovereign state on the occupied Palestinian territories.”
Jordan and Egypt are the only two Arab countries to have made peace with Israel.
Democratic Sen. Chris Murphy of Connecticut was quick to weigh in on the proposal in a multi-post Twitter thread, calling it “a total abandonment of decades of U.S. Middle East policy” that “risks real violence and massive destabilization inside places like Jordan.”
1/ This plan was negotiated with no one but the Israelis, and thus it’s not a peace plan at all. Peace can only be achieved through agreement between Israel and the Palestinian people. By setting these new terms, it makes it harder for Israel to compromise later.
Hesameddin Ashena, an adviser to Iran’s president, said on social media: “This is a deal between the Zionist regime [Israel] and America. Interaction with Palestinians is not on its agenda.”
“This is not a peace plan but a plan of imposition and sanctions,” she continued.
The Palestinians seek the West Bank and East Jerusalem as parts of an independent Palestinian state.
The international community considers both territories to be occupied and all settlements illegal. But the Trump administration, in a break from its predecessors and the rest of the world, has taken a much friendlier approach and in November declared it does not consider settlements illegal.
Liberal Israeli group Peace Now called the plan “as detached from reality as it is eye-catching” and said it will not bring stability to the region.
“The plan’s green light for Israel to annex isolated settlements in exchange for a perforated Palestinian state is unviable and would not bring stability,” the organization said in a statement issued after the president’s announcement.
Trump has reversed decades of U.S. foreign policy by siding more blatantly with Israel. Prior to the statement on settlements, the administration recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and pushed ahead to move the U.S. Embassy there. He’s also closed Palestinian diplomatic offices in Washington and cut funding to Palestinian aid programs.
The policies have proven popular among Trump’s evangelical and pro-Israel supporters.
This is what a future State of Palestine can look like, with a capital in parts of East Jerusalem. <a href=”https://t.co/39vw3pPrAL”>pic.twitter.com/39vw3pPrAL</a>
The Palestinians have refused to even speak to Trump for many months, saying he’s biased in favour of Israel, and they are calling on Arab representatives to reject the Tuesday event at the White House.
“Diplomacy requires actually really hearing both sides and understanding precisely what they want, what their needs are and trying to come up with solutions that work for both sides,” said Goldenberg, who now works with the think-thank Center for a New American Security.
“That is literally impossible to do when you’re not having conversations with one side.”
‘Palestine is not for sale’
Thousands of Palestinians protested in Gaza City ahead of the announcement.
The protesters burned pictures of Trump and Netanyahu, and raised a banner reading “Palestine is not for sale.”
During the rally, Gaza’s Hamas rulers expressed rare support for Abbas of the rival Fatah movement, welcoming his call for a broad meeting of Palestinian factions.
Hamas, an Islamic militant group that seeks Israel’s destruction, seized Gaza from forces loyal to Abbas in 2007. Several attempts to reconcile the two factions have failed, which many say has weakened the Palestinian cause.