WASHINGTON — US President Donald Trump Tuesday unveiled long-awaited details of a US plan for solving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, warning it may represent the last chance at statehood for the Palestinians.
Trump’s plan calls for the eventual creation of a Palestinian state, but it falls far short of minimal Palestinian demands and would leave sizable chunks of the West Bank in Israeli hands.
With visiting Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu standing beside him, Trump presented the plan at a White House ceremony filled with other Israeli officials and allies, including evangelical Christian leaders and wealthy Republican donors, three Gulf ambassadors, but no Palestinian, Egyptian, Jordanian or Saudi representatives.
“Today, Israel takes a big step towards peace,” Trump told a White House news conference as he revealed key points of a plan already resoundingly rejected by Palestinian leaders.
“My vision presents a win-win opportunity for both sides, a realistic two state solution that resolves the risk of Palestinian statehood to Israel’s security,” Trump said.
The US plan was warmly welcomed by Israel’s prime minister, who called it a “historic day” for the Jewish state.
Trump’s proposal, Netanyahu said, would involve the United States recognizing Jewish settlements as part of Israel — something later confirmed by the US administration.
The ceremony came amid Trump’s impeachment trial and a US election year, and after Netanyahu was indicted on counts of fraud, breach of trust and bribery in three separate cases earlier in the day. The longtime Israeli leader, who denies any wrongdoing, also faces a March 2 parliamentary election, Israel’s third in less than a year.
The 50-page plan builds on a 30-page economic plan for the West Bank and Gaza that was unveiled last June and which the Palestinians have also rejected.
The plan envisions a future Palestinian state consisting of the West Bank and Gaza, connected by a combination of roads and tunnels. It also would give small areas of southern Israel to the Palestinians as compensation for lost West Bank land, and controversially opens the possibility of transferring Arab majority towns in northern Israel to Palestinian control
But the many caveats, and ultimate overall Israeli security control west of the Jordan, made the deal a nonstarter for the Palestinians.
The White House later released — and Trump tweeted out — a map of the proposed borders of what was described as a “demilitarized” Palestinian state.
“We will also work to create a contiguous territory within the future Palestinian state, for when the conditions for statehood are met, including the firm rejection of terrorism,” Trump said as he called on the Palestinians to turn their back on the Hamas terror group — which immediately rejected the peace proposal.
The map shows a West Bank area for a future Palestinian state — containing some 15 Israeli settlement enclaves — connected to the Gaza Strip area by a tunnel. This would technically fulfill Trump’s promise of a contiguous Palestinian state.
Trump acknowledged that he has done a lot for Israel, but he said he wanted the deal to be a “great deal for the Palestinians.”
He said his vision gives the Palestinians the time needed for them to meet the challenges of statehood.
The only concession the plan appears to demand of Israel is a four-year freeze on the establishment of new Israeli settlements in certain areas of the West Bank. But Netanyahu clarified later that this only applied to areas where there are no settlements and Israel has no immediate plans to annex, and that he considered the plan to impose no limitations on construction.
The plan, Trump said, proposes a four-year freeze of Israeli development in the area eyed for a future Palestinian state.
“Jerusalem will remain Israel’s undivided — very important — undivided capital,” Trump stressed.
But it would also provide the Palestinians with a capital in “eastern Jerusalem,” he said, while indicating that the West Bank would not be cut in half.
The Palestinians seek all of the West Bank and East Jerusalem — areas captured by Israel in the 1967 Mideast war — for an independent state and the removal of more than 700,000 Israelis from these areas.
But as details emerged, it became clear that the plan sides heavily with Netanyahu’s hard-line nationalist vision for the region and shunts aside many of the Palestinians’ core demands.
‘The last opportunity’
Calling it a “historic opportunity” for the Palestinians to achieve an independent state, Trump said he had written Tuesday to Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas to enlist his support for the plan.
“I explained to (Abbas) that the territory allocated for his new state will remain open and undeveloped for a period of four years,” Trump said.
“This could be the last opportunity they will ever have.”
“Palestinians are in poverty and violence, exploited by those seeking to use them as pawns to advance terrorism and extremism,” the US president added.
“They deserve a far better life.”
No Palestinian official was present at the launch although the ambassadors from three Arab nations — Oman, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain — were at the White House.
In Ramallah, Abbas angrily denounced the plan as “the slap of the century” and said the Palestinians would respond to it with peaceful protests.
“After the nonsense that we heard today we say a thousand no’s to the Deal of The Century,” Abbas said at a press conference in the West Bank city of Ramallah, where the Western-backed Palestinian Authority is headquartered.
In the West Bank and Gaza, protesters burned tires and pictures of President Donald Trump and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
Speaking at Trump’s side, Netanyahu hailed Trump’s plan as offering a “realistic path to a durable peace” that assures Israeli sovereignty over the Jordan Valley.
“This is a historic day,” Netanyahu said.
“Too many plans tried to pressure Israel to withdraw from vital territory like the Jordan Valley. But you, Mr. President, you recognized that Israel must have sovereignty in the Jordan Valley and other strategic areas of Judea and Samaria.”
He later said he would begin working on annexation at a cabinet meeting on Sunday, as right-wing politicians cheered him on.
Benny Gantz’s Blue and White party said it also backed the plan, but would only pursue it after elections on March 2.
In a separate briefing, US envoy to Israel David Friedman said Israel could begin annexing as soon as it liked.
A White House statement confirmed that the plan ruled out a “right of return” to Israel for Palestinian refugees and their descendants, saying they “will be given a choice to live within the future State of Palestine, integrate into the countries where they currently live, or resettle in a third country.”
Netanyahu declared himself open to negotiating with Palestinians on a “pathway to a future state.”
“If the Palestinians are genuinely prepared to take that path, if they are genuinely prepared to make peace with the Jewish state, and if they agree to abide by all the conditions you have put forward in your plan, Israel will be there,” he said.