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January 29, 2020

Trump announces Israeli-Palestinian ‘peace package’

Top Story

January 29, 2020

WASHINGTON: US President Trump on Tuesday announced the release of his long-awaited plan for peace between Israel and the Palestinians, calling it a good deal for both sides while making clear it would be more generous toward Israel than past proposals.

“I was not elected to do small things or shy away from big problems,” Trump said, standing alongside Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the White House. He added: “It’s been a long and very arduous process to arrive at this moment.”

The White House proposal is nearly three years in the making. Once a signature priority for Trump, the effort was hobbled early on by aPalestinian boycott and then repeatedly delayed by a political crisis roiling Israel, reports the international media.

The Trump plan would be a basis for negotiations if Israel and the Palestinians agreed, but hopes for that are low. Palestinian leaders rejected the plan before its release. The package of US ideas calls for a remapping of the West Bank and Jerusalem while offering Palestinians a pathway to statehood if they meet a set of tests.

The Israeli side welcomed the deal. Netanyahu, speaking alongside Trump, called the peace plan “exceptional” and a “realistic path to a durable peace.” “This is a historic day. And it recalls another historic day,” Netanyahu said. “We remember May 14, 1948, because on that day, President Truman became the first world leader to recognize the state of Israel.”

Netanyahu’s spokesperson said later in the day that the prime minister would move forward with a vote on annexing parts of the West Bank covered in the peace plan as soon as Sunday.

“We are asking the Palestinians to meet the challenge of peaceful coexistence,” Trump said. Trump described his proposals for Middle East peace in private meetings Monday with Netanyahu and the veteran Israeli leader’s challenger in upcoming elections, Benny Gantz.

No Palestinians attended the White House preview of what Trump touted as a highly detailed proposal for resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, which dates from Israel’s founding in 1948.

Palestinian leaders rejected the plan in advance, saying it sought to impose permanent Israeli rule over the West Bank.

"The US administration will not find a single Palestinian who supports this project," the Palestinian foreign ministry said in a statement on Sunday. "Trump's plan is the plot of the century to liquidate the Palestinian cause."

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas dismissed the plans as a "conspiracy". "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," he said in a televised address from Ramallah in the West Bank.

“After the nonsense that we heard today, we say a thousand no’s to the Deal of The Century,” Abbas said. He was expected to call for wide condemnation of the proposals from Arab governments that have traditionally supported the Palestinian cause.

US officials hope that Arab leaders who are weary of the endless conflict will see the plan as perhaps the last, best chance to settle it before Israeli settlements, other construction and security measures on occupied territory render a self-governing Palestinian entity moot.

After holding back the secretive package during two rounds of inconclusive elections in Israel, the Trump administration decided to publish it ahead of a third vote in March and let the chips fall where they may, several people familiar with the process said.

Hours before the release in Washington, Netanyahu’s indictment on corruption charges was filed with a Jerusalem court. The release also comes amid Trump’s ongoing Senate trial on impeachment charges.

The package is expected to propose a redrawn border between Israel and the West Bank that would formalize Israeli control over large Jewish settlements. It would give US blessing to some forms of Israeli security control over the territory Israel seized in 1967 and has occupied since, according to two people familiar with the plan who spoke on the condition of anonymity before the plan’s release.

The 80-page plan developed by Trump adviser and son-in-law Jared Kushner was expected to include proposals addressing each of the major issues that have scuttled past peace efforts, including competing land claims and the administration of holy sites in Jerusalem.

The package is expected to offer limited autonomy to Palestinians in the West Bank and East Jerusalem that would increase over about a three-year timeline if Palestinian leadership undertook new political measures, renounced violence and took other steps in negotiation with Israel, said two people familiar with the plan.

Some in Israel, along with US critics of the Trump approach, think the plan could give a green light to Israeli annexation of land the Palestinians claim for a future state.

Trump waved off questions about annexation on Monday, but the possibility hangs over the plan’s release. The thinking goes that if Palestinians refuse to negotiate with Israel toward conditional statehood, Israel would have a free hand to annex land.

The anticipated plan has served to bring together disparate hostile factions. Hamas, the militant group governing the Gaza Strip, agreed to sit down Tuesday to craft a joint response with its archrival, Abbas, the Palestinian Authority president whose Fatah party controls the West Bank.

“The unitary scene is the first nail in the coffin of this deal; when we are united, Trump and no one else will dare violate our rights,” Khalil al-Hayya, the deputy head of Hamas, said at a rally Monday night in Gaza City.

“We tell everyone that we are united against the deal of the century and to drop all conspiracies. We are one people under one flag.” With Palestinian militants calling for residents of both the West Bank and neighboring Jordan to take to the streets for “days of rage,” the Israel Defense Forces dispatched a brigade of infantry troops to the Jordan Valley. There were reports of minor clashes Tuesday between soldiers and protesters.

The United States cannot effect the proposals, but US ideas for what a settlement should include have guided the most recent failed efforts at a negotiated settlement.

Leaked details of the plan have already caused political eruptions even among Israelis. After traveling to Washington with Netanyahu to press their case, leaders of Israel’s settlement movement reacted with dismay.

The leaders of several settler groups, who have been calling for a rapid annexation of the West Bank, instead declared that they could not support any plan that leads to Palestinian sovereignty over up to 70 percent of the contested territories. “I am amazed that my prime minister has agreed to the creation of a Palestinian state,” David Elhayani, head of the Yesha Council, a body of settlement leaders, told the Jerusalem Post after the meeting with Netanyahu.

“This is an existential threat to the State of Israel. It spells the destruction of the settlements in Judea and Samaria. We have agreed in the Deal of the Century to the creation of a Palestinian state.”

Others in Israel are concerned about a Palestinian uprising in the wake of the plan’s release. A violent backlash is one of the factors that Washington has weighed in deciding when and how to go forward after Palestinians rebuffed all US outreach only months after the effort began during Trump’s first year in office.

The Islamic Action Front, the Muslim Brotherhood’s political arm in Jordan, and several activist groups called for a “mass protest” at the US Embassy in Amman on Tuesday timed to noon Eastern time to “coincide with Trump’s speech on the Deal of the Century,” vowing that the deal “will not pass.”

Islamists and independents also called for further protests at the heavily guarded embassy this week following Friday prayers.