Updated: January 29, 2020 10:19:05 am
Written by Michael Crowley and David M. Halbfinger
President Donald Trump unveiled his long-awaited Middle East peace plan with a flourish Tuesday, releasing a proposal that would give Israel most of what it has sought over decades of conflict while offering the Palestinians the possibility of a state with limited sovereignty.
Trump’s plan would guarantee that Israel would control a unified Jerusalem as its capital and not require it to uproot any of the settlements in the West Bank that have provoked Palestinian outrage and alienated much of the world.
Trump promised to provide $50 billion in international investment to build the new Palestinian entity and open an embassy in its new state.
“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,” the president said at a White House ceremony that demonstrated the one-sided state of affairs: Trump was flanked by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel but no counterpart from the Palestinian leadership, which is not on speaking terms with the Trump administration.
The Palestinian Authority president, Mahmoud Abbas, immediately denounced the plan as a “conspiracy deal” unworthy of serious consideration, making the decadeslong pursuit of a “two state solution” appear more distant than ever. “We say a thousand times over: No, no, no,” Abbas said in Ramallah on Tuesday.
As part of the proposal, Israel agreed to limit its settlement construction in a four-year “land freeze,” during which Palestinian leaders can reconsider whether to engage in talks with Israel.
But before returning to Israel on Tuesday, Netanyahu told reporters that he would ask his Cabinet to vote Sunday on a unilateral annexation of the strategically important Jordan River Valley and all Jewish settlements on the West Bank, a move sure to further inflame the Palestinians.
Nearly three years in the making, the plan is the latest of numerous U.S. efforts to settle the seemingly intractable conflict between Israel and the Palestinians. But it was a sharp turn in the U.S. approach, dropping decades of support for only modest adjustments to Israeli borders drawn in 1967 and discarding the longtime goal of granting the Palestinians a wholly autonomous state.
The reaction of key Arab governments to the plan was mixed. In a statement, Jordan’s foreign minister affirmed his country’s support for an independent Palestinian state based on 1967 borders with East Jerusalem as its capital and warned against “the dangerous consequences of unilateral Israeli measures, such as annexation of Palestinian lands.”
But a statement from the United Arab Emirates’ ambassador to Washington, Yousef al-Otaiba, called the plan “a serious initiative that addresses many issues raised over the years.” And Saudi Arabia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs issued a muted statement saying it “appreciates the efforts of President Trump’s Administration to develop a comprehensive peace plan.”
Trump said in outlining his plan that “it is only reasonable that I have to do a lot for the Palestinians, or it just wouldn’t be fair.”
Still, the plan does far more for Israel than it does for the Palestinians, whose proposed state could not have a standing military and would be required to meet other benchmarks overseen by the Israelis, including a renunciation of violence and the disbandment of militant groups like Hamas, which is based in Gaza.
Some analysts said the larger goal of Trump and Netanyahu was to shift the starting point of any future negotiations sharply in Israel’s favor and to put the Palestinians in the defensive position of saying no.
Trump called on Abbas, the Palestinian leader, who played no substantive role in shaping the plan, to join talks with Israel’s government. “President Abbas,” Trump said, “I want you to know that if you choose the path to peace, America and many other countries, we will be there, we will be there to help you in so many different ways.”
Trump’s announcement ended years of suspense over a highly anticipated peace plan that was widely criticized even before its details were known. But rather than viewing it as a serious blueprint for peace, analysts called it a political document by a president in the middle of an impeachment trial working in tandem with Netanyahu, a prime minister under criminal indictment who is about to face his third election in a year.
But the guests invited to the East Room, including conservative Republican megadonor Sheldon Adelson and evangelical Christian leaders, greeted the plan with enthusiastic applause.
“It’s a big opportunity for the Palestinians, and they have a perfect track record of blowing every opportunity they’ve had in their past,” Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, who oversaw the plan, told CNN on Tuesday. He urged Palestinian leaders to “stop posturing” and accept the plan.
The proposal imagines new Israeli borders that cut deep into the West Bank and what Netanyahu has previously described as a Palestinian “state-minus,” lacking a military capable of threatening Israel. The White House called it “a demilitarized Palestinian state” with Israel retaining security responsibility west of the Jordan River, although over time the Palestinians would assume more of that responsibility.
Trump said it was the first time that Israel had authorized the release of such a conceptual map illustrating territorial compromises it would make. He said it would “more than double Palestinian territory” while ensuring that “no Palestinians or Israelis will be uprooted from their homes.”
But under the plan, those Palestinians would find themselves virtually encircled by an expanded Israel and living within convoluted borders reminiscent of a gerrymandered congressional district. The proposal also envisions a tunnel connecting Gaza to the West Bank.
Trump, who loves to claim that he has outdone his predecessors, noted that several past presidents had “tried and bitterly failed” to achieve peace. “But I was not elected to do small things or shy away from big problems,” Trump said.
Netanyahu agreed that Trump had devised a “realistic path to a durable peace” that “strikes the right balance where others have failed.” But his move to annex West Bank territory could make any practical dealings with the Palestinians even more difficult.
Democrats were largely critical. Sen. Chris Van Hollen of Maryland sent a letter to Trump on Tuesday, signed by 11 of his colleagues, calling the proposal a “one-sided” blow to prospects of a “viable” two-state solution.
“Previous presidents of both parties successfully maintained the respect of both Israelis and Palestinians for the United States’ role as a credible player in difficult negotiations. Your one-sided actions have made that impossible,” the senators wrote, calling the plan “a recipe for renewed division and conflict in the region.”
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