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On the streets of Ramallah, Palestinians shrug at Trump’s peace plan

Palestinians oppose proposal, and leadership has called for popular outrage, but in the central Palestinian city, the prevailing sentiment is one of gloomy resignation

People on a street in Ramallah, Jan. 30. 2020. (Sam Sokol)
People on a street in Ramallah, Jan. 30. 2020. (Sam Sokol)

RAMALLAH, West Bank (JTA) — Standing outside the Al Siwadi juice shop, located near this Palestinian city’s central Al Manari Square downtown, a man named Maher lamented the recently released US peace plan.

Trump’s plan is designed to “give the rich Jews what they want,” Maher asserted as shoppers navigated around him on the busy sidewalk. Like others quoted here, Maher did not give his last name due to concerns about discussing these issues in the press.

Hussein, a clean-shaven middle-aged man in a gray suit standing just outside a local bakery, had a different theory. “Trump did it just to help Netanyahu stay prime minister,” Hussein said.

Rather than displaying an openness to engage with the peace plan, or a deep rage against it — which Palestinian leaders have encouraged — the prevailing sense among the people here who would be materially affected was one of resignation.

Ramallah man Maher outside a juice shop in the city, January 30, 2020. (Sam Sokol)

The plan, which was released Tuesday, is titled “Peace to Prosperity: A Vision to Improve the Lives of the Palestinian and Israeli People.” It calls for a demilitarized Palestinian state for which “Israel will maintain overriding security responsibility.” That state also would contain 15 Israeli settlement enclaves that would be “subject to Israeli civilian administration.”

Under the plan, the area under Palestinian control (which would not include the Jordan Valley) is described as contiguous, but in reality would be a territorial patchwork connected by a network of newly constructed bridges, roads and tunnels.

While several Arab states over the past several days have urged the Palestinians to come to the table and negotiate with the Israelis, Ramallah thus far has resolutely declined to countenance the new plan. Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas has consulted with his bitter rivals in Hamas, which rules the Gaza Strip, over how to respond and has vowed “a thousand no’s to the Deal of The Century.”

Abbas, who called for a day of rage to protest the new diplomatic initiative, also has threatened — as he has several times previously — to dissolve the Palestinian Authority, throwing full responsibility for the West Bank back to Israel.

Despite the Palestinian leader’s rhetoric, however, Wednesday saw relatively little rioting and clashes between Palestinians and Israeli security personnel in the West Bank (it did lead to 33 arrests). A handful of rockets were fired from Gaza into southern Israel on Thursday, the Israeli Defense Forces confirmed.

Palestinian protesters clash with Israeli security forces at an entrance to the West Bank city of Ramallah near the Jewish settlement of Beit El on January 30, 2020. (Flash90)

While the peace plan is deeply unpopular among Palestinians in the West Bank, Ramallah’s residents appeared unimpressed by the political storm surrounding them as they went about their business in the Palestinian capital’s bustling shopping district.

Many of them expressed sentiments similar to Maher’s.

“We had hoped they would give us something more than this,” Hussein said. “It’s not fair. This doesn’t give us a good peace.”

Wael, a young man standing nearby, agreed. “To be honest, ask any Palestinian, nobody can be with Trump,” he said. “We own all the land.”

Asked for his take on the plan, one local growled, “I don’t care about Trump. I don’t care about Palestine.”

Many here believe that the plan is intended less to create a pathway to a negotiated solution than to provide Israel with the diplomatic cover necessary to unilaterally annex its contested West Bank settlements.

After the Trump plan was announced, US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman said that he believed Israel could now “annex settlements at any time.” In response, Israel announced that its Cabinet would vote soon on extending Israeli law over the Jordan Valley and all West Bank settlements, prompting the US administration to clarify that Jerusalem would first need to present detailed maps to a joint US-Israel committee before the United States would approve such a move.

That time frame is uncertain, and the plan’s architect, presidential adviser and son-in-law Jared Kushner, said Thursday that the US would like to see it delayed until after Israel’s election in March.

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

Asked if he believed that the Israeli government would begin applying sovereignty to land in the West Bank, Wael replied that they “took land before Trump” and that what Trump was “saying is actually what is happening now.”

“He’s making as if it’s new. It’s terrible but so what? We’re already screwed. I know all the land is for us… We will take it by force, God willing.”

Israel is concerned about possible violence on Friday when the mosques let out after prayers. It has announced a boost to security at the Temple Mount, where on Wednesday night, two men were arrested for planning a stabbing attack against police officers guarding the holy site.

One resident, who did not give his name, said that while many are resigned to whatever may happen, some Palestinians will “do whatever they can do just to stop this.”

President Donald Trump and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu during an event in the East Room of the White House in Washington, Tuesday, Jan. 28, 2020, to announce the Trump administration’s much-anticipated plan to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)

Standing behind the counter of a local jewelry store, Jonny, a Palestinian-American originally from Brooklyn, said the Trump administration wants to “change everything,” and that while the Palestinians will “obviously” refuse to cooperate, he was unsure what could or would be done.

Jonny said that while there has been some rioting, things have largely calmed down and he was “happy to see no one get hurt,” whether Israeli or Palestinian.

“I want peace,” he said. “I’m a New Yorker.”

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