3 chunks of Israeli land for Palestine, and 5 more overlooked parts of US plan

3 chunks of Israeli land for Palestine, and 5 more overlooked parts of US plan

Among less touted elements of Trump deal are proposals to free Palestinian prisoners, give ‘Palestine’ a strip of land along Egypt border, and, maybe, let Jews pray on Temple Mount

View of the border area between Israel and Egypt as it seen from Route 10, southern Israel, on December 5, 2018. (Yossi Zeliger/Flash90)
View of the border area between Israel and Egypt as it seen from Route 10, southern Israel, on December 5, 2018. (Yossi Zeliger/Flash90)

The Trump administration released its long-delayed, much-discussed and highly-controversial peace plan to considerable Israeli acclaim and overwhelming Palestinian protestation last week.

Its main points are by now well known. If implemented, the proposal would hand some 30 percent of the West Bank, including the Jordan Valley, to Israel. A future Palestinian state over the remaining 70% would have restricted sovereignty, especially where its defense is concerned, with Israel maintaining security control over the West Bank’s airspace and border crossings into Jordan.

There would be no right of return for refugees or the descendants of Palestinian refugees into Israeli territory, and a Palestinian capital would be declared in East Jerusalem, but only in its easternmost sections that lie outside of Israel’s security barrier, some of which, like Abu Dis, are considered part of Jerusalem by Palestinians but not by Israelis. Meanwhile, the Palestinians would need to recognize Israel as a Jewish nation-state.

All of that was enough for many observers and pundits to call the US proposal the most pro-Israel in the 27-year history of the peace process.

US President Donald Trump and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu participate in a joint statement in the East Room of the White House, in Washington, DC, on January 28, 2020. (Sarah Silbiger/Getty Images/AFP)

The Palestinians have long asserted that the pre-1967 borders should be the basis from which to begin negotiations for a two-state solution with East Jerusalem as the Palestinian capital. The new map pushes those borders deep into the West Bank and accepts numerous longstanding Israeli demands from the Palestinians as key planks of the plan — such as Palestine’s demilitarization. The Trump administration has argued its new map recognizes the realities on the ground of Israeli settlement expansion and security needs — and may constitute the Palestinians’ “last chance” to stop Israel from “expanding” further and secure for themselves a state.

At the same time, the discussion around the American proposal has sometimes overlooked some of its key stipulations and suggestions — some of them favorable to Israel, but not all. These include a re-examination of the prohibition on Jewish prayer on the ultra-sensitive Temple Mount, the idea of a deeply controversial remarcating of a handful of Arab Israeli towns adjacent to the West Bank to the new Palestinian state, the transfer of a section of Israeli territory south of the West Bank to the Palestinian state, the release of many Palestinian prisoners from Israeli jails, and a strangely shaped new section of the Palestinian state that runs nearly half the length of the Israel-Egypt border — but does not touch the border, which remains in Israeli control.

1. Temple Mount prayer

The Trump plan appears to both support and reject Jewish prayer on the Temple Mount, a contradiction Trump administration officials tried to explain by saying Jewish prayer would be permitted only by “agreement of all the parties.”

Muslim men attend Friday prayers on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem’s Old City on January 31, 2020. (Ahmad Gharabli/AFP)

The US plan calls for maintaining the decades-old “status quo” on the Temple Mount – according to which only Muslims may pray at the site, while Jews are permitted only restricted visits — but appears to contradict itself in stating: “People of every faith should be permitted to pray on the Temple Mount/Haram al-Sharif, in a manner that is fully respectful to their religion, taking into account the times of each religion’s prayers and holidays, as well as other religious factors.”

The situation at the holy site — the holiest place in Judaism, and the third holiest in Islam — is acutely sensitive.

The proposal has already drawn ire and even a veiled warning from Jordan, long the agreed-upon “custodian” of the holy site.

Right-wing Israeli Jewish religious groups have recently made efforts to pray at the Temple Mount and stepped up their visits to the site. Palestinians and Jordanian authorities have opposed such visits as provocations, and have expressed concerns that Israel intends to take over the site or partition it. The Israeli government has repeatedly said it has no intention of changing the arrangements.

Illustrative: Israelis walk by the Dome of the Rock Mosque in the Temple Mount compound in Jerusalem, June 2, 2019. (AP Photo/Mahmoud Illean)

2. Arab Israelis remarcated to Palestine

The Trump administration provided two maps with its proposal, but did not demarcate the current Green Line on the maps, leaving some guesswork as to how the new lines compared to the existing ones.

Vision for Peace Conceptual Map published by the Trump Administration on January 28, 2020

Those who superimposed the Trump maps with the current situation and carefully read the administration’s “vision” document could better understand two unexpected elements of the plan: talk of the possible handing of several Arab-populated Israeli towns in the north to the future Palestinian state, as well as the reallocation to a future Palestine of a significant stretch of semi-arid desert near Arad.

The dark green section in the map attached to the above tweet shows areas earmarked, and possibly earmarked, to be handed by Israel to the Palestinians.

The most controversial areas are, not surprisingly, the ones populated by Israeli citizens. The plan envisages a possible ethnic division of the land – the core of international partition plans of the past, but an idea that has been called racist when applied by present-day Israel to its Arab minority.

The plan suggests entire towns, including Umm al-Fahm, Ar’are and others in the so-called “Triangle” area adjacent to the northern West Bank, could be handed over to the Palestinian state, but does not explicitly state whether those towns’ residents would see their Israeli citizenship revoked in favor of a Palestinian one. Aides to Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Sunday rejected the remarcation idea.

3. The southern West Bank grows

The dark green area just below the West Bank includes semi-arid desert, and is today home to a sparse population of Bedouin and some military training areas.

It marks a third significant chunk of what is Israeli territory intended for land swaps with the future Palestine, to compensate for the 30% of West Bank territory — notably including the Jordan Valley area and all the settlements — that is to be annexed by Israel with American backing.

The two other chunks of Israeli territory to be swapped are both in the Negev, near the Israel-Egypt border.

A view of the Ma’ale Adumim settlement in the West Bank, Jan. 28, 2020. (Menahem Kahana/AFP)

4. Lines in the sand

One of those two Negev chunks is designated in the plan for a large Palestinian industrial zone. The other is intended as a residential and agricultural area still further south. Both sit on a strip of future Palestinian territory attached by a thin line to the Gaza Strip; this line of new Palestinian areas stretches nearly half the length of the Israel-Egypt border, but doesn’t touch the Egyptian border itself, where a narrow Israeli-held band controls the border clear up to Gaza.

Asked to comment on the feasibility of that stretch, the plan’s chief architect Jared Kushner told the Egyptian outlet El Hekaya on Saturday, “We have one of the biggest developers in the Middle East who will hopefully announce soon that he’s going to come on board to help us do a master plan for the new additions in Gaza.”

He did not name the developer, but said the individual would help establish a high-tech manufacturing industrial zone and a residential agricultural zone for Palestinians in the two pockets.

Israel’s border with Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula. (Judah Ari Gross/Times of Israel)

5. Cover-ups

The White House has lauded its plan by saying it places some 97% of Israelis living in the West Bank within contiguous Israeli territory and some 97% of Palestinians in the West Bank within contiguous Palestinian territory.

By “contiguous,” Trump administration officials mean a series of “bridges and tunnels” set down in the plan that would allow Palestinians and Israelis to travel over and under each other between areas belonging to their respective states without having to pass through Israeli checkpoints or drive around the other side’s enclaves, Kushner said on Saturday.

But some observers have noted that the American “conceptual map” provided with the peace plan was drawn for clarity rather than detail, and places large circular crossing symbols at sites where those bridges and tunnels would be placed – covering up their actual locations and much of the surrounding areas where the plan envisages them being constructed.

With its thickly drawn lines, the map is as vague about Palestinian interconnectedness as it is about how Israelis will access 15 Israeli enclaves that require them to drive through Palestinian areas.

Vision for Peace Conceptual Map published by the Trump Administration on January 28, 2020

As such, it’s not clear from the plan exactly how many passages would need to be built, how long each would stretch, and where these passages might create bottlenecks for the flow of people and goods inside a “contiguous” Palestinian state.

6. Freeing prisoners, but not murderers

In a final, largely overlooked clause, the plan also calls for Palestinian prisoners to be released from Israeli prisons, except those convicted of murder, attempted murder or conspiracy to commit murder, or those who are Israeli citizens.

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