Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Sunday said he would hear out the Trump administration’s peace plan “fairly” and with “openness,” as he stressed that Israel would never relinquish its security presence in the Jordan Valley.
Netanyahu also chided the Palestinians for preemptively rejecting the US proposal before its rollout, in his first comments since the US revealed the economic part of its plan a day earlier.
“Under any peace agreement, our position will be that Israel’s presence should continue here for Israel’s security and for the security of all,” Netanyahu said, while touring the West Bank alongside US National Security Adviser John Bolton and US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman. “And in general, I would say that we’ll hear the American proposition, hear it fairly, and with openness.”
His remarks came two days before the US-led economic conference in Bahrain, which Israeli business leaders, but not government representatives, were invited to attend. Palestinians have refused to attend the conference and urged other Arab countries to boycott it as well.
“I cannot understand how the Palestinians, before they even heard the plan, reject it outright,”Netanyahu said. “That’s not the way to proceed.”
“We believe that peace is coupled and dependent on security. Our presence here guarantees security and therefore guarantees peace,” he added.
The comments came as the trio were touring the West Bank’s Jordan Valley, which Israel insists on maintaining security control over in any future peace agreement.
Bolton — in Israel to attend a tripartite meeting Tuesday of the national security advisers of the US, Israel and Russia — reassured Netanyahu that Israel’s security would be safeguarded under the Trump peace plan.
“I’ll just say that without security, there is no peace, there is no long-lasting peace. And I just think it’s too bad, Prime Minister, that more Americans can’t come to locations like this, see the geography, understand its significance, understand how it affects Israel’s critical security position, and explain why Israel has taken the view that it has,” said Bolton.
“I can assure you that President Trump will take the concerns that you have voiced so clearly over the years very much into account as we go forward on this.”
On Saturday, the White House released its proposal to boost the Palestinian economy by offering a $50 billion aid package that can only be implemented through an Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement.
The 40-page plan, which Senior Adviser Jared Kushner will push in Manama next week, rests on three initiatives, according to the document — to “unleash the economic potential” of the Palestinians, “empower the Palestinians to realize their ambitions,” and “enhance Palestinian governance.”
Neither Israeli officials nor Palestinians will be attending the confab. Palestinians have refused to participate, or engage at all with the Trump administration since it moved the US embassy to Jerusalem. Israeli officials and ministers were not invited, though a business delegation will be attending.
A senior administration official told The Times of Israel that they wanted the focus of the gathering to be “on the economic aspect, not the political.”
Arab nations such as Egypt, Jordan, United Arab Emirates, Qatar and Saudi Arabia have all said they would participate in the conference.
The plan — formally dubbed Peace to Prosperity — said that the economic package, if implemented, would double the Palestinians’ gross domestic product, create more than one million jobs in the territories, reduce Palestinian unemployment to single digits (it was 31 percent in 2018, according to the World Bank), and cut the Palestinian poverty rate by 50%.
The proposal includes a number of specific projects, including border crossing updates, power plant upgrades, infrastructure improvements to boost tourism, career counseling and job placement service, and re-building and modernizing Palestinian hospitals and health clinics.
It also calls for linking the West Bank and Gaza, which is currently ruled by the Hamas terror group, with a modern transportation network, including high-speed rail service. Such ideas have been floated in the past in previous peace proposals, but have run into Israeli security concerns.
Earlier on Sunday, Netanyahu ally Tzachi Hanegbi, minister for regional cooperation, that the US proposal for a land link between the West Bank and Gaza Strip is “irrelevant” as long as the Hamas terror group controls Gaza.
“It will be relevant when Gaza stops being a pro-Iranian terror kingdom, meaning it’s irrelevant today and in the foreseeable future,” Hanegbi told Israel Radio.
The plan deliberately does not address a political settlement between Israel and the Palestinians, an outcome that has eluded diplomats for decades.
The Trump administration says the political component will be unveiled later this year, potentially in November, after Israel holds elections and forms a government.
Eric Cortellessa and agencies contributed to this report.