‘Nobody knows what peace plan is,’ White House says after report on framework
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Spokesman: Some trying to prejudice people against proposal

‘Nobody knows what peace plan is,’ White House says after report on framework

Official dismisses claims in Arabic daily that proposal would recognize Palestine, offer 'international protection' for Old City, as 'more of the same' guesswork

Eric Cortellessa covers American politics for The Times of Israel.

US President Donald Trump reaches to shake Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas's hand before a meeting at the Palace Hotel during the 72nd United Nations General Assembly on September 20, 2017, in New York. (AFP Photo/Brendan Smialowski)
US President Donald Trump reaches to shake Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas's hand before a meeting at the Palace Hotel during the 72nd United Nations General Assembly on September 20, 2017, in New York. (AFP Photo/Brendan Smialowski)

WASHINGTON — The White House on Wednesday dismissed a report claiming its Middle East peace plan might recognize a Palestinian State with its capital in East Jerusalem, saying the proposal had yet to take shape.

“As we have not finished our plan, nobody knows what it is,” a senior administration official told The Times of Israel. “There is constant speculation and guessing about what we are working on and this report is more of the same.”

London-based Saudi newspaper Asharq al-Awsat reported Wednesday that US President Donald Trump’s diplomatic team tasked with brokering an accord was formulating a plan that might include US and international recognition of a Palestinian state.

It quoted “knowledgeable Arab diplomatic sources” in Paris who said the US was planning to present its plan through an international conference in one of the Arab capitals, most likely in Cairo.

The plan, the report said, calls for placing the Old City of Jerusalem under “international protection.”

It also said that the US would require the Palestinians to give up their “right of return” demand for Palestinian refugees and their descendants, who seek to return to their former homes inside Israel proper. Moreover, it said large settlements would remain in place, while small ones would be “relocated.”

White House spokesman Josh Raffel accused those behind the report of trying to sway critics against the administration.

“It is unfortunate that some parties are seeking to prejudice people against our unfinished plan, which these sources have not seen,” he said. “Nobody should be basing their reaction, public or private, on these reports. In the meantime, we remain hard at work on the real draft plan that will benefit both sides.”

The Asharq report came following a meeting in Brussels earlier this week in which Arab and European foreign ministers discussed the conflict as the Trump team is “finalizing” its peace proposal and planning to make its contents public soon.

The Trump team — led by the president’s son-in-law and senior adviser Jared Kushner and top envoy Jason Greenblatt — have made clear they intend to unveil their plan soon, but have not given any timetable for when they will do so.

Nikki Haley speaks during a Security Council meeting on the situation in Palestine, Tuesday, February 20, 2018 at United Nations headquarters, with negotiators Jared Kushner, left, and Jason Greenblatt, right, behind her. (AP/Mary Altaffer)

US envoy to the United Nations Nikki Haley said last week that the formulation was nearing completion.

“I think they’re finishing it up,” Haley said on Thursday. “They’re coming up with a plan. It won’t be loved by either side, and it won’t be hated by either side.”

Since President Donald Trump’s recognition last year of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, coupled with his plans to move the US embassy there, American attempts to negotiate a compromise have been fraught with tension.

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and other PA officials have refused to meet with Trump officials, including Vice President Mike Pence, who visited the region in January.

Nevertheless, the White House is pressing on. The unnamed official told The Times of Israel on Wednesday that their proposal includes “a mix of possibilities and ideas, some of which have existed for decades.”

“We are going to continue working on the plan that is designed to benefit both Israelis and Palestinians and will release it when it is done and the time is right,” the official added.

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