JERUSALEM: US President Donald Trump’s long delayed Middle East peace plan won support in Israel yesterday but was bitterly rejected by Palestinians facing possible Israeli annexation of key parts of the West Bank. Trump, who unveiled the plan on Tuesday at the White House standing alongside Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu with no Palestinian representatives on hand, said his initiative could succeed where others had failed.
But Trump’s proposals reportedly included no Palestinian input and grants Israel much of what it has sought in decades of international diplomacy, namely control over Jerusalem as its “undivided” capital, rather than a city to share with the Palestinians. It also offers a US green light for Israel to annex the strategically crucial Jordan Valley – which accounts for around 30 percent of the West Bank – as well as other Jewish settlements in the area.
“History knocked on our door last night and gave us a unique opportunity to apply Israeli law on all of the settlements in Judea (and) Samaria,” said Israel’s rightwing Defense Minister Naftali Bennett, using the Israeli term for the occupied West Bank. The Blue and White party led by Benny Gantz, Netanyahu’s main election rival in March 2 polls, embraced Trump’s proposals as offering “a strong, viable basis for advancing a peace accord with the Palestinians”, in a statement late Tuesday. But the head of Israel’s leftwing coalition Labour-Gesher-Meretz, Amir Peretz, condemned Netanyahu’s expected move towards “unilateral annexations”.
Trump’s proposal foresees the creation of a “contiguous” Palestinian state but under strict conditions, including a requirement that it be “demilitarized”. On the flashpoint issue of Jerusalem, Trump said Israel should retain control over the city as its “undivided capital”. At the same time, the Palestinians would be allowed to declare a capital in parts of east Jerusalem beyond an Israeli security wall, the plan said. The US president also painted a future where some $50 billion in investments would eradicate the misery gripping Palestinians today.
But the Palestinians angrily rejected the entire plan. “This conspiracy deal will not pass. Our people will take it to the dustbin of history,” Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas said. The Hamas Islamist movement, which runs the Gaza Strip, said it could never accept compromise on Jerusalem being capital of a future state. Near the town of Tubas in the Jordan Valley yesterday, protesters waved Palestinians flags as Israeli soldiers looked on.
“If the Americans try to implement this plan the Palestinian people will make it fail,” said 63-year-old Khaled Sawafta. A headline in the Palestinian daily newspaper Al-Hayat Al-Jadida summed up the sentiment. “No! A thousand times No!” it read. US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo urged the Palestinians to “come up with a counter offer”. “I know the Israelis would be prepared to sit down and negotiate on the basis of the vision that the president laid out,” Pompeo said, as he headed to Britain on a five-nation tour.
“It is a non-starter,” said Steven Cook, a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations. “The Palestinians have rejected it out of hand as have Israeli settlers who are opposed to any form of Palestinian sovereignty,” he said. Abbas has no intention to negotiate over the plan and Netanyahu appears to be counting on Abbas to reject it, Cook said. “At a tactical level there are some good ideas, but without the promise of statehood for the Palestinians, they are meaningless,” Cook said.
International reaction was at best cautiously positive. The French foreign ministry yesterday welcomed Trump’s “efforts” and pledged to “carefully study” his proposal. British Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab called it a “serious proposal”. Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, however, tore into Trump’s deal as “completely unacceptable”. “Jerusalem is sacred for Muslims. The plan to give Jerusalem to Israel is absolutely unacceptable. This plan ignores Palestinians’ rights and is aimed at legitimizing Israel’s occupation,” Erdogan said, quoted by CNN Turk broadcaster. “The plan outlined will not serve peace or bring about a solution,” he added.
The ambassadors from three Arab nations – Oman, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain – were at the White House, providing some evidence of Trump’s claim to have growing support around the region. Saudi Arabia said it “appreciates” Trump’s efforts and called for direct Israeli-Palestinian talks. Saudi King Salman phoned Abbas and stressed “the kingdom’s steadfast stance on the Palestinian issue and the rights of the Palestinian people”, the SPA state news agency said. The king stands by the Palestinian people and supports “their options and what achieves their hopes and aspirations” it said.
Qatar responded cautiously yesterday. “Qatar welcomes all efforts aiming towards a longstanding peace in the occupied Palestinian territories, appreciating the endeavors of the current US administration to find solutions for the Palestinian-Israeli conflict,” the state-run Qatar News Agency reported. “Qatar reaffirms its commitment for supporting the Palestinian institutions, noting that peace cannot be sustainable if Palestinians rights in their sovereign state… including east Jerusalem, and the right of return are not preserved.”
Iran said Trump’s peace plan amounted to the “treason of the century” and was bound to fail. “The shameful peace plan imposed by America on the Palestinians is the treason of the century and doomed to fail,” the foreign ministry said in a statement. Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said on Twitter that the “so-called ‘Vision for Peace’ is simply the dream project of a bankruptcy-ridden real estate developer”, in reference to Trump. “But it is a nightmare for the region and the world and, hopefully, a wake-up call for all the Muslims who have been barking up the wrong tree,” wrote Zarif.
Russia, a growing force in Mideast politics, sounded skeptical. “We do not know if the American proposal is mutually acceptable or not,” Deputy Foreign Minister Mikhail Bogdanov told Russian news agencies. Netanyahu was due in Moscow today to present the plan in person to President Vladimir Putin.
“It is meant to help Prime Minister Netanyahu survive his current political and legal struggles as well as to shore up support for President Trump among pro-Israel voters in his re-election campaign,” said Michele Dunne, a former State Department specialist on the Middle East now at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. “There is no sign whatsoever that the plan will lead to negotiations,” she said.
Dunne said the fundamental headline of the plan is that it sets Israel’s eastern border all the way alongside Jordan. “All the rest is details. Whatever the plan gives to Palestinians is provisional, conditional and long-term – in other words, probably will not happen,” she said. For some observers, the fundamental goal of the Trump plan is to change in the long-term the parameters of a settlement to be more favorable to Israel. Israeli annexation in the West Bank would present a fait accompli to the Palestinians in the guise of a peace plan.
“However weak the Palestinian people or leadership is, they always have the ability to say no, as they will do now,” Dunne said. “The real question is where this will push the Palestinian movement. Whether intended or not, this plan seems likely to hasten the day when it changes from a struggle for an independent state to a South Africa-like struggle for rights,” she said.
“Palestinians will be tempted to reject plan outright but should resist temptation and agree to direct negotiations where they can advocate as they want,” tweeted Richard Haass, president of the Council on Foreign Relations. “Total rejection could undermine what modest hopes for two-state outcome exist and pave way to annexations.” – Agencies