Donald Trump unveiled his long-awaited Middle East peace ‘vision’ Tuesday afternoon with embattled Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at his side – saying there would be a ‘two-state solution’ with a tunnel linking the West Bank to the Gaza Strip.
‘My vision provides a win win solution for both sides,’ the president said to great applause from the pro-Israel audience at the White House.
Trump said it was a ‘vision for peace, prosperity and a new future’ for both Israel and Palestine as he spoke in the East Room of the White House, reading from a teleprompter and declining to take questions.
Netanyahu called it the ‘deal of the century’ but in Palestine, the president, Mahmoud Abbas dismissed it as ‘the start of the century.’
The White House pointedly did not call it a ‘plan,’ and Trump himself said Netanyahu had agreed it was a basis for ‘negotiation.’ But there was confusion over exactly what it was with Trump also tweeting that it was a ‘plan.’
Trump claimed Israel had a taken ‘a giant leap’ by signing up to a two-state solution.
‘We will also work to create a contiguous territory within the future Palestinian state, for when the conditions for statehood are met, including the firm rejection of terrorism,’ he said.
The ‘vision’ unveiled on Tuesday 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.
The Palestinians were not present, nor were Democrats, and neither was Netanyahu’s chief opponent Benny Gantz, who he will face in an election in March. Netanyahu himself had hours earlier given up fighting for immunity from corruption charges and is now indicted on them.
But Trump said: ‘For the first time in many, many decades, I can say: This will work.’
Netanyahu said he backed the starting point for talks because it ‘recognized Israeli sovereignty over sections of Judea and Samaria’ – meaning sections of what is currently defined as the West Bank – ‘which are vital to our security.’
He said Trump had recognized that ‘Israel must have sovereignty in the Jordan Valley,’ something which Palestinians have said they will never agree to.
Two-state solution? Donald Trump embraced Benjamin Netanyahu, the embattled Israeli prime minister as he unveiled a Middle East peace ‘vision’ with confusion over whether it was a plan
Side by side: Trump and Netanyahu arrive for the announcement on his peace ‘plan’ or ‘vision’
Family affair: Ivanka Trump and her husband Jared Kushner – who Trump credited for the proposals – were in the East Room of the White House for the announcement
A future state of Palestine (left) and the state of Israel (right) drawn in maps released by the White House
Praised: Donald Trump led applause for his son-in-law Jared Kushner calling him a ‘great deal-maker.’ Only one side of the two needed to make a deal was present
Immediate rejection: In Rafah,Gaza the ‘deal of the century’ – a phrase the White House had using – was greeted with a protest which saw tires burned and flags waved
Fiery reaction: In Ramallah in the West Bank protesters burned a picture of Donald Trump and Benjamin Netanyahu which had been taken at the White House Monday
Anger: Supporters of Mahmoud Abbas took to the streets to express their negative view of the peace deal
The plan does call 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.
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.
Trump use the speech to say he had been ‘good for Israel.’
He boasted about moving the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem and recognizing the Golan Heights as Israeli territory – reversing decades of U.S. policy – and also boasted about leaving the Iran nuclear deal.
KEY ELEMENTS OF TRUMP’S MIDDLE EAST PEACE ‘VISION’
- Two-state solution meaning Israel will exist beside neighbor Palestine
- Palestinian-controlled territory is increased
- But they concede sovereignty in a series of areas including part of the Jordan Valley
- Palestinian state is ‘demilitarized,’ with Israel ‘retaining security responsibility west of the Jordan River.’
- West Bank and Gaza Strip to be joined by a tunnel and roads to create a ‘contiguous’ state
- Palestinian capital is in East Jerusalem with a U.S. embassy built there, but the city of Jerusalem is ‘undivided’
- Four-year freeze on Israeli settlements
He claimed it could be a ‘last opportunity’ for the Palestinians to achieve statehood and gave as the reason the ‘smart team’ who had worked on it, highlighting the role of his son-in-law Jared Kushner, whose wife Ivanka was in the audience.
He also said he had told Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian prime minister that he needed to act while there was a four-year freeze on Israeli settlements in Palestinian territory.
‘I explained to (Abbas) that the territory allocated for his new state will remain open and undeveloped for a period of four years,’ Trump said.
‘This could be the last opportunity they will ever have.
‘Palestinians are in poverty and violence, exploited by those seeking to use them as pawns to advance terrorism and extremism.’
U.S. Ambassador to Israel David Friedman echoed the president’s words, saying Palestinian had time to get on board.
‘Our goal is to demonstrate to the Palestinians that it’s a state to aspire to and achieve,’ Friedman told reporters on a conference call after the president unveiled his vision.
‘They have time. They have four years to figure this out,’ he said, adding ‘it’s theirs for the taking.’
But in the Occupied Territories, Palestinians rejected the plan.
Abbas said he would not support any proposal that would not see a Palestinian capital in all of East Jerusalem, which includes the walled Old City and numerous sites holy to Muslims, Jews and Christians.
Trump, in his remarks at the White House earlier on Tuesday, said that Jerusalem would remain the undivided capital of Israel.
‘I say to Trump and Netanyahu: Jerusalem is not for sale, all our rights are not for sale and are not for bargain. And your deal, the conspiracy, will not pass,’ Abbas said in a televised address in Ramallah in the Israeli-occupied West Bank.
Abbas said it was ‘impossible for any Palestinian, Arab, Muslim or Christian child to accept’ a state without Jerusalem. Israel captured the eastern part of the city along with the West Bank and Gaza in a 1967 war.
The Palestinians would only accept negotiations based on international law and supported by U.N. Security Council resolutions, said Abbas, whose Palestinian Authority has limited self-rule in parts of the West Bank.
Rejection: Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian president, called the plan ‘slap of the century’ in a dig at Netanyahu, who called it ‘deal of the century’
Pointed: Abbas spoke in front of a picture of Jerusalem – saying the plan offering to divide it and put the Palestinian capital in urban sprawl outside a physical barrier which splits it – was a non-starter
The plan proposes setting up a Palestinian capital in the urban sprawl to the north and east of a concrete wall that Israel built through East Jerusalem more than a decade ago, during the last Palestinian uprising.
‘This physical barrier should remain in place and should serve as a border between the capitals of the two parties,’ the document says.
Hamas, whose stronghold is in Gaza, was scathing.
‘Trump’s statement is aggressive and it will spark a lot of anger,’ Hamas official Sami Abu Zuhri told Reuters.
At the White House Trump claimed widespread world support.
He said that Britain’s prime minister Boris Johnson was among world leaders who had called him, saying that leaders had offered ‘to do anything to help.’
He also praised Mike Pompeo, his secretary of state, who had been revealed to have threatened, berated and launched an f-word rant at an NPR reporter then complained because he thought she had agreed to keep it secret.
‘You did a good job on her,’ Trump said, a comment likely to be seized on by critics.
There was a standing ovation for Pompeo from an audience which included among others, prominent Jewish American including casino billionaire Sheldon Adelson, and Alan Dershowitz, fresh from defending Trump at his impeachment trial.
Other members of his defense team including Mark Meadows, the North Carolina Republican congressman, and Lee Zeldin, the upstate New York congressman, as well as Republican House leaders Kevin McCarthy and Steve Scalise, and Texas GOP junior senator Ted Cruz.
The proposals, which has been shrouded in secrecy, was revealed as the president’s lawyers prepare to wrap his defense in his impeachment trial in the Senate.
Sheldon Adelson and his wife Miriam watch as President Trump delivers his vision on the Middle East
Senator Ted Cruz speaks with Trump personal attorney Jay Sekulow, White House Counsel Pat Cipollone and U.S. Secretary of the Treasury Steven Mnuchin before Trump spoke at the White House on Tuesday
Netanyahu praised Trump for achieving ‘the deal of the century’.
Trump, whose team has long been working on the outlines of a plan, has repeatedly boasted that he is the most pro-Israeli U.S. president in history.
The reaction of Jordan, which would retain its responsibilities over Jerusalem’s al-Aqsa Mosque under the plan, will be particularly significant.
And Jordan’s foreign minister said on Tuesday the only path to a comprehensive and lasting Middle East peace was the establishment of an independent Palestinian state based on 1967 lines and with East Jerusalem as its capital.
‘Jordan supports every genuine effort aimed at achieving just and comprehensive peace that people will accept,’ Ayman Safadi said in a statement issued after Trump’s announcement.
Palestinians, meanwhile, have already rejected the proposal.
They say they were never included in crafting the proposals and they say it fails to address their wish to end Israeli occupation and the expansion, encouraged by Netanyahu, of Jewish settlements on Palestinian land.
Last week, Trump said he had spoken to the Palestinians ‘briefly.’
‘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.’
Palestinian leaders have dismissed the U.S. peace initiative as one-sided.
And Palestinian prime minister Mohammed Shtayyeh on Monday urged international powers to boycott the plan, which he said was designed ‘to protect Trump from impeachment and protect Netanyahu from prison.’
Netanyahu faces corruption charges in Israel for bribery, fraud and breach of trust.
‘It is not a Middle East peace plan,’ Shtayyeh told a cabinet meeting. ‘This plan gives Israel sovereignty over Palestinian territory.’
Trump has slashed aid to the Palestinians, while making big concessions to the Israelis, including formalizing U.S. recognition of the divided city of Jerusalem as the Israeli capital.
The Palestinians seek the West Bank as the heartland of a future independent state and east Jerusalem as their capital. Most of the international community supports their position, but Trump has reversed decades of U.S. foreign policy by siding more blatantly with Israel. The centerpiece of his strategy was recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and moving the American Embassy there. He’s also closed Palestinian diplomatic offices in Washington and cut funding to Palestinian aid programs.
Palestinian demonstrators burn an effigy depicting U.S. President Donald Trump during a protest against his Middle East peace plan in Gaza City
Those policies have proven popular among Trump’s evangelical and pro-Israel supporters and could give him a much-needed boost from his base as the Senate weighs whether to remove him from office and as he gears up for a reelection battle this year.
Kushner, a Trump adviser and the Republican president’s son-in-law, has been the architect for the plan for nearly three years. He’s tried to persuade academics, lawmakers, former Mideast negotiators, Arab governments and special-interest groups not to reject his fresh approach outright.
Trump’s peace initiative was expected in the autumn but has been subject to multiple postponements.
The Palestinians refuse to even speak to Trump, saying he’s biased in favor of Israel, and they are calling on Arab representatives to reject the Tuesday event at the White House.
The Palestinian leadership also has encouraged protests in the West Bank, raising fears that the announcement in Washington could spark a new round of violence. Ahead of the announcement, the Israeli military said it was reinforcing infantry troops along the Jordan Valley.
WHAT WE KNOW ABOUT TRUMP’S MIDEAST PEACE PLAN
More than two years after President Trump first proposed a plan to revive the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, it lies stalled half in and half out of the starting blocks.
Little has so far been revealed about the plan which will have to address issues that have defied decades of efforts by previous peacemakers.
These issues include:
-The status of Jerusalem – which includes sites sacred to Judaism, Islam and Christianity
-Establishing mutually agreed borders.
-Finding security arrangements to satisfy Israel´s fears of attacks by Palestinians and hostile neighbours.
-The Palestinian demand for statehood, and an end to Israel’s occupation of Palestinian territory.
-Finding a solution to the plight of millions of Palestinian refugees.
-Arrangements to share scarce natural resources, such as water.
-Palestinian demands that Israel remove its settlements in the West Bank and east Jerusalem. More than 400,000 Israelis now live among roughly 3 million Palestinians in the West Bank, with another 200,000 settlers in east Jerusalem.
Why revive the plan now?
U.S.-Israeli relations are at a zenith, with Trump and Netanyahu the closest of allies.
Both men face domestic troubles: Trump will likely be accused of trying to deflect attention away from his impeachment trial and Netanyahu was indicted on corruption charges in November, throwing him into legal limbo.
Both men deny wrongdoing.
And both face election campaigns – Trump for re-election, and Netanyahu because he failed to put together a governing coalition in two elections last year.
What do we know about the plan?
Palestinian and Arab sources who have been briefed on the draft plan fear that it seeks to bribe Palestinians into accepting Israeli occupation, a prelude to Israel annexing about half of the West Bank.
Perhaps reflecting the business background of Trump and his son-in-law, Jared Kushner, the plan’s principal author, the first phase of the peace proposal was launched at an economic conference in Bahrain last June.
It called for a $50 billion investment fund to boost the Palestinian and neighbouring Arab state economies. Kushner said he believed a deal could unlock prosperity for the Palestinians, and security for Israel.
What are the plan’s chances?
Expectations are low. The last peace talks between Israelis and Palestinians collapsed in 2014.
The elephant in the room is the two-state solution – the long-standing international formula to bring about peace by creating an independent Palestinian state living side-by-side with Israel.
The United Nations and most nations around the world back the two-state solution, and it has underpinned every peace plan for decades.
But the Trump administration has consistently refused to back the two-state solution. And in November it reversed decades of U.S. policy, when Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced that the U.S. no longer viewed Israel´s settlements on West Bank land as ‘inconsistent with international law’.
Palestinians and most of the international community view the settlements as illegal under international law. Israel disputes this, citing historical, biblical and political ties to the land, as well as its security needs.
Netanyahu has announced that he intends to annex all the settlements as well as most of the Jordan Valley, the strategic and fertile easternmost strip of the West Bank.
Palestinians argue that the Jordan Valley, nearly 30 per cent of the West Bank, would be a vital part of their future state, as the breadbasket of the West Bank and its external border with Jordan.
Can the U.S. be a broker?
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has said Washington can no longer be regarded as a mediator in any peace talks with Israel.
Since his election, Trump has made a series of moves that have delighted Israel but infuriated Palestinians. These include his 2017 decision to recognise Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, and to move the U.S. Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.
The Palestinians fear the Trump plan will dash their hopes for an independent state in the West Bank, east Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip – territories Israel captured in 1967.
Abbas, whose Palestinian Authority exercises limited self-rule in the West Bank, has refused to engage politically with the Trump administration.
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