Liberman revealed Trump peace plan details to Palestinian officials — report

Sources quoted by London-based paper claim ex-defense minister said plan will include Palestinian state in Gaza, limited autonomy in West Bank; Liberman says report ‘incorrect’

Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman leads a faction meeting of his Yisrael Beytenu party in the Knesset, October 29, 2018. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)
Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman leads a faction meeting of his Yisrael Beytenu party in the Knesset, October 29, 2018. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

Senior Palestinian officials have claimed that former defense minister Avigdor Liberman told them details of US President Donald Trump’s long-awaited Middle East peace plan two weeks before his resignation in November, according to a report Wednesday.

The London-based Arabic-language newspaper Al-Hayat cited the officials as saying the plan, as allegedly revealed by Liberman, includes a Palestinian state in the Gaza Strip and limited autonomy in parts of the West Bank.

The state in Gaza would require significant funding from countries around the world to establish an airport, a maritime port, a possible maritime route to Cyprus and border crossings, the report said.

Terror group Hamas has controlled Gaza since ousting the Fatah-dominated Palestinian Authority from the territory in 2007.

Illustrative: Israeli soldiers inspect cars at a checkpoint near the West Bank city of Nablus on January 10, 2018. (Jaafar/Ashtiyeh/AFP)

In the West Bank, the plan touted by Trump as the “deal of the century” would hand Palestinians self-rule in all of Area A — the regions that under the 1993 Oslo Accords are currently under the Palestinian Authority’s security and civil administration — and in small parts of Areas B and C.

Large sums of money and significant financial incentives would be handed to the Palestinians, Liberman allegedly told a Palestinian delegation.

Israeli settlements would remain intact, and Israeli control would be preserved over West Bank checkpoints, border crossings and water sources, the report says. The Israel Defense Forces would keep its presence in the Jordan Valley, and much of East Jerusalem would remain under Israeli control.

Liberman denied the report, with his office saying that he “has never seen the plan, and to the best of his knowledge the Americans haven’t revealed the details of the plan to any Israeli, and it isn’t a sure thing that it has been completed.

“The report is simply incorrect.”

Education Minister Naftali Bennett attends a ceremony in the northern city of Safed, on December 11, 2018. (David Cohen/Flash90)

Last week, in contrast, Education Minister Naftali Bennett said the US peace plan will provide for the establishment of a Palestinian state in the West Bank — a move he vowed to oppose.

Bennett did not give further specific details about the peace plan or disclose how he came to know of its contents.

“Trump’s deal of the century includes a Palestinian state, under certain conditions,” Bennett told Army Radio in an interview.

“We will object to that, because that means there will be another Arab entity west of the Jordan [river],” said Bennett, who led the right-wing national-religious Jewish Home party until he unexpectedly broke away from it on Saturday to form a new party called The New Right.

A White House official said last week that the Trump administration was taking the springtime Israeli election into account in planning the unveiling of its long-anticipated Israeli-Palestinian peace plan.

Members of the Hamas terror group’s military wing attend the funeral of six of its fighters at a cemetery in the Deir al-Balah refugee camp in the central Gaza Strip on May 6, 2018. (Rahim Khatib/Flash90)

“The upcoming election in Israel on April 9 is one of many factors we are considering in evaluating the timing of the release of the peace plan,” the US official said, hours after Israel’s coalition leaders announced that the national polls would be moved up by seven months.

The Trump proposal was expected to be rolled out in the coming months.

The plan, confirmed details of which have been scant, is unlikely to be welcomed by either side. Israel’s Hadashot TV news suggested last week that the US would likely delay the release of the plan until after the elections, in order not to complicate political life for Netanyahu ahead of the vote with a proposal that would involve compromises by Israel, possibly including over Jerusalem.

It noted, too, that the election date falls two weeks after the pro-Israel AIPAC lobby’s annual police conference, where Netanyahu is a frequent speaker, to audiences of some 16,000 supporters of the US-Israel relationship. His trips to AIPAC usually feature a summit with the US president, and the TV report said Israel’s Ambassador to the US, Ron Dermer, would doubtless be seeking to arrange a White House meeting with US President Donald Trump, which would give Netanyahu a pre-election boost.

US President Donald Trump meets with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on September 26, 2018 in New York on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly. (AFP PHOTO / Nicholas Kamm)

In addition to increasing political uncertainty in Israel, the White House must also factor in how the peace plan will be received by the Palestinian Authority, whose president, Mahmoud Abbas, has boycotted the Trump administration since its recognition last December of Jerusalem as the Israeli capital, and has vowed to oppose the deal.

On November 18, Channel 10 News first reported on a meeting to discuss a possible postponement, citing US officials as saying that Trump wants to see the plan rolled out by February, but that his advisers favor taking a more cautious approach in light of the political crisis engulfing Israel.

At the end of November, US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman denied that the Washington administration is considering postponing the publication of its peace proposal, saying that the plan will be released whenever it has the best chance of success.

The peace plan will be released when the administration thinks it has “maximized its potential for acceptance, execution and implementation,” the ambassador said in a statement. “Our timing, our strategy and our messaging is — and will be — entirely our own.”

US President Trump’s peace process envoy Jason Greenblatt, left, meets with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas at the President’s office in the West Bank city of Ramallah, March 14, 2017. (AP Photo/Majdi Mohammed)

Last month, outgoing US Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley called on Israelis and Palestinians to back the US peace plan, saying it was far more “thoughtful” and creative than any that have come before.

Without revealing details of the plan, drawn up by Trump’s son-in-law and special adviser Jared Kushner, Haley said it was far longer than past proposals and included elements that would have previously been “unthinkable.”

“There are things in the plan that every party will like, and there are things in the plan that every party will not like,” said Haley, who is expected to be replaced by State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert.

Haley said that if countries focus solely on parts of the plan that they do not like, “we would return back to the failed status quo of the last 50 years with no prospects for change.”

But she said, “I assure you there is a lot for both sides to like.”

Times of Israel staff and agencies contributed to this report.

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