Trump plan would see Palestinian state on up to 70% of West Bank, reports say

Latest unsourced Israeli media reports say plan includes freeze on settlement growth and tunnel connecting Gaza and the West Bank, some 30% of which would be annexed by Israel

The security fence running through the hills near Jerusalem. (Yossi Zamir/Flash90)

The Trump administration’s peace plan would curb Israeli settlement growth, initially hand Israelis and Palestinians about one-third of the West Bank each, recognize a Palestinian state in the Palestinian-held areas, and set in place a four-year “preparation period” during which Palestinians would — so Washington hopes — come around to the plan and possibly negotiate control of the remainder of the territory.

At least, that is what several Hebrew-language media outlets were reporting on Sunday, just a day or two before US President Donald Trump is expected to unveil the long-awaited plan to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his rival MK Benny Gantz, who are in Washington this week.

The Israeli outlets offered no source for the information, but the fact that it was handed to several Hebrew-language outlets and no American ones suggested the source may have been Israeli.

The White House was said to be aware that the Palestinians will reject the plan outright, and, indeed, Palestinian leaders declared their opposition in no uncertain terms on Sunday.

Sunday’s reports were the latest in a spate of sometimes contradictory reports in Hebrew media purporting to detail the content of the plan. On Thursday, for instance, Channel 12 TV reported that the plan provides for full Israeli sovereignty throughout Jerusalem, for Israel to annex all West Bank settlements, and for no significant “return” to Israel of Palestinian refugees, Israeli TV reported Thursday night.

And on Friday, Channel 13 said Israel would retain overall security control of the entire West Bank under the plan, even if a Palestinian state is established in parts of it. Channel 13 said the plan ultimately provides for a demilitarized Palestinian state in some 80 percent of the West Bank. That state would not be empowered to maintain an army and sign military treaties, and Israel would control its borders, further reports on Friday said.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (2nd from right) meets at his Jerusalem office with the ambassador to the US, Ron Dermer (right); White House adviser Jared Kushner (center); US Ambassador David Friedman (second left); and special envoy Jason Greenblatt, on June 22, 2018. (Haim Zach/GPO)

Top Palestine Liberation Organization official and chief Palestinian peace negotiator Saeb Erekat told AFP Sunday that the PLO reserved the right “to withdraw from the interim agreement,” the 1995 accord that established the Palestinian Authority, if Trump unveils his plan.

The Trump initiative will turn Israel’s “temporary occupation into a permanent occupation.” Erekat said.

Some Israeli settlement leaders were also wary, warning on Sunday that the Trump plan, if implemented, would see a Palestinian state established on some 70 percent of the West Bank, posing a potential security threat to the Jewish state.

Expecting such opposition, the plan reportedly proposes at least two stages of implementation: the immediate steps on both sides — especially Israel’s partial settlement freeze — and the four-year “preparation period” during which Washington reportedly hopes that 84-year-old Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas will be replaced by a new leader more amenable to the proposal.

The administration will insist that Israel carry out its side of the bargain to the letter, including the settlement freeze, during those four years, the reports said.

Netanyahu is expected to offer some reservations, but Washington is reportedly prepared to tell him its support for the Israeli annexation of about one-third of the West Bank within weeks is conditioned on Israel accepting all other stipulations of the plan.

US President Donald Trump welcomes visiting Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to the White House in Washington, March 25, 2019. (Manuel Balce Ceneta/AP)

According to the reports, the plan calls for a freeze of conditions prevailing in Area C, the roughly 60% of the West Bank under Israeli control under the terms of the Oslo agreements. Israel would be permitted to build within the boundaries of existing settlements, but not to expand those boundaries. New zoning plans, including for commercial and industrial areas, would also be frozen.

The plan would leave some 15 settlements under Israeli control, but separate from any contiguous Israeli territory, and would see the removal of some 60 illegal outposts, the reports say.

In a key sticking point for both sides, the vast majority of Jerusalem would remain under full Israeli sovereignty, but a shared Israeli-Palestinian body would jointly administer the Temple Mount and holy sites, the reports said. Palestinians would gain control of the parts of Jerusalem that lie beyond the security fence, and could establish their capital in one of the Arab neighborhoods that lie east of the barrier.

At the same time, 30% to 40% of the West Bank, all of it from Area C, would be set aside for Israeli annexation, including the strategically vital Jordan Valley and the major settlement blocs. An Israeli annexation of that area would win the approval and recognition of the Trump administration, the reports said — but only if Israel delays the annexation until after the Palestinians formally reject the plan. The timing is seen as a warning to the Palestinians, suggesting they could delay a US-backed Israeli annexation by agreeing to come to the negotiating table.

Illustrative: Construction work in the Dagan neighborhood of the settlement of Efrat, in the West Bank on July 22, 2019. (Gershon Elinson/Flash90)

Palestinians would be given full control of areas A and B, a total of roughly 40% of the West Bank that includes the major Palestinian population centers.

They would be able to declare a state on that territory at the end of the four-year preparation period, and that state would be recognized by the United States and Israel, the plan reportedly says.

According to the Yedioth Ahronoth daily, right-wing Israeli settlement leaders believe that Trump administration officials have hinted to their Palestinian and Jordanian counterparts that the remaining 30% of the West Bank would also become part of the Palestinian state.

If true, the Palestinians would have a state that is contiguous and coherent — the plan also calls for the construction of a tunnel under Israeli territory connecting the Palestinian part of the West Bank with Gaza, the reports said. But the West Bank half of the new state would be surrounded by Israeli territory on all sides, would not be permitted to maintain an army, and would see its airspace and border crossings placed under Israeli security control.

The plan also demands the disarming of Gaza and the dismantling of the Hamas and Islamic Jihad terror groups — two stipulations that are drawing deeply skeptical responses from Israeli officials, according to Channel 12.

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