President Trump and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu deliver remarks from the White House, we’re they’re expected to unveil details of a Middle East peace plan.
President Trump is expected to unveil his long-awaited Israeli-Palestinian peace plan that he hopes will bring about "the deal of the century." But the Palestinian leadership, which severed relations with the U.S. administration as it took a series of pro-Israel moves, has already rejected the plan.
The president was set to be joined by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in announcing the plan on Tuesday, which has been in the making since the earliest days of the administration when Trump assigned his senior adviser and son-in-law Jared Kushner the task of trying to forge the elusive deal.
A day before, the president met separately with Netanyahu and Benny Gantz, the leader of Israel's Blue and White political alliance, Netanyahu's principal political opponent. Both Netanyahu and Gantz have expressed their approval of the plan.
While Trump described the plan in his speech as a “historic” and a “fundamentally different plan”, it borrows much from previous plans [although with some glaring departures] mixing old elements of the Oslo peace accords with bits designed to explicitly please Israel’s hard right.
A four-year settlement freeze
One of the biggest surprises of the Trump proposal is the proposal that Israel freezes settlement construction for four years, while increasing the amount of territory under direct Palestinian control.
While successive US administrations, as well as the EU, have encouraged Israel to halt settlement building, that will be hugely undermined by recognition of Israeli sovereignty over the major settlement blocks which is rejected by the Palestinians, not least following Netanyahu’s announcement he plans to ask his cabinet to vote on an annexation plan on Sunday.
Proposed Israeli sovereignty over major settlement blocs
This is perhaps the biggest dealbreaker in the Trump peace plan. The plan’s suggested recognition of Israeli sovereignty over illegal settlements in the West Bank is a move that is also likely to be opposed by many in the international community, as well as Palestinians.
“Approximately 97% of Israelis in the West Bank will be incorporated into contiguous Israeli territory, and approximately 97% of Palestinians in the West Bank will be incorporated into contiguous Palestinian territory. Land swaps will provide the State of Palestine with land reasonably comparable in size to the territory of pre-1967 West Bank and Gaza.”
The plan makes clear that those Israelis in “enclaves” that are not contiguous with Israel should remain if they want, with access to Israel and under Israeli protection.
Future Palestinian state and Gaza
Under the terms of the “peace vision” Trump affirms his support for a two-state solution which he had previously failed to articulate. The plan sees a future Palestinian state consisting of the West Bank and Gaza, connected by a combination of above-ground roads and tunnels – again an old notion.
Palestinians in Gaza, currently ruled by Hamas, would be offered land swaps in Israel close to the Egyptian border but remain largely excluded from planning until a ceasefire and the removal of Hamas. Israel would retain sovereignty over Gaza’s territorial waters.
Jerusalem as Israel’s “undivided capital”
This is another dealbreaker rather than a dealmaker, and is one of the most problematic final status issues.
In his speech Trump quickly contradicted himself by suggesting that the future capital of a Palestinian state could be in east Jerusalem – but only if Palestinians rose to the challenges of statehood. Netanyahu later confirmed that Trump meant Abu Dis, a neighbourhood on the outskirts of Jerusalem and beyond the separation wall.
The document itself suggests Palestinians could engage in a bizarre rebranding of Abu Dis, and rename it ‘Al Quds’ – the historic Arabic name for Jerusalem – “or another name as determined by the State of Palestine”.
Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas immediately responded saying “Jerusalem was not for sale”.
“I’ll do a lot for Palestinians”
Trumpeting how much he has done for Israel – including moving the US embassy to Jerusalem, unilaterally recognising Israeli sovereignty over the Golan heights and withdrawing from the Iran deal – Trump said that he’d be “fair” and do a lot for the Palestinians.
In keeping with his transactional world vision, that means doubling the amount of territory under direct Palestinian control and supporting a future Palestinian state with up to $50bn in assistance.
Palestinians were promised a similar increase in autonomy in a five-year transition period that followed the Oslo agreements. That never occurred and Israel expanded its settlement building in the intervening period.
The plan also appears to have taken onboard a proposal previously mooted by the far-right Israeli politician and former defence minister, Avigdor Lieberman, to transfer Israeli citizens of Palestinian origin who live in the so-called “Triangle” in Israel next to the occupied Palestinian Territories into any new Palestinian state.
“These communities, which largely self-identify as Palestinian, were originally designated to fall under Jordanian control during the negotiations of the Armistice Line of 1949, but ultimately were retained by Israel for military reasons that have since been mitigated. The Vision contemplates the possibility, subject to agreement of the parties that the borders of Israel will be redrawn such that the Triangle Communities become part of the State of Palestine.”
The Jordan Valley
The Jordan valley has been under Israeli occupation since 1967. The plan sees the valley – which it says is “critical for Israel’s national security” – “under Israeli sovereignty”, another highly controversial move, although it suggests Israel should grant Palestinian enterprises access.
“Notwithstanding such sovereignty, Israel should work with the Palestinian government to negotiate an agreement in which existing agricultural enterprises owned or controlled by Palestinians shall continue without interruption or discrimination, pursuant to appropriate licenses or leases granted by the State of Israel.”
Israeli sovereignty over the Jordan valley is opposed by Jordan, one of only two Arab countries, with Egypt, to have a peace treaty with Israel.
The release of the 180-page plan — which was drafted by aides to Jared Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law and an old family friend of Netanyahu — was staged as a celebration, and acted as a dual campaign rally, with the American president and the Israeli prime minister boasting of all they had achieved for Israel to a room filled with far-right supporters of the Jewish state, including business magnate Sheldon Adelson, the Republican and Likud megadonor who spent millions of dollars to elect both leaders.
Trump, who intervened in a previous Israeli election campaign on Netanyahu’s behalf — by recognizing Israel’s annexation of the Golan Heights last year — gave the embattled prime minister a podium at the White House to detail conditions imposed on the Palestinians which sounded like terms of surrender.
To start with, Netanyahu said, the Palestinians would be required to recognize Israel as a Jewish state, cede the entire Jordan Valley, disarm Hamas, and abandon hope for both the return of refugees who fled homes in what is now Israel and for a capital in Jerusalem’s Old City.
“Your peace plan offers the Palestinians a pathway to a future state,” Netanyahu told Trump. “I know that it may take them a very long time to reach the end of that path; it may even take them a very long time to get to the beginning of that path,” he added.