President Trump unveils Middle East peace plan embraced by Israel, rejected by Palestinians

The plan was announced with no participation from Palestinian officials.

January 28, 2020, 4:13 PM

President Donald Trump on Tuesday unveiled his plan for Middle East peace, proposing a Palestinian state, but also allowing Israel to take control of a significant portion of the West Bank without any Palestinian input.

Standing beside Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the White House, Trump said that Palestinians could achieve a state once they rejected terrorism and made major political and territorial concessions.

Netanyahu said that he accepted the U.S. proposal and that "regardless of the Palestinian decision," Israel planned to carry out the plan's proposed division of land in the disputed West Bank.

Over the next four years, Netanyahu said, Israel would apply its laws to Jewish settlements in the West Bank and to a hotly contested strip of land in the Jordan Valley, while maintaining the status quo in areas envisioned for a Palestinian state. Doing so would allow Israel to completely encircle Palestinians in the West Bank and, in its view, strengthen its security.

President Donald Trump and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu arrive for an announcement of Trump's Middle East peace plan in the East Room of the White House in Washington, D.C on Jan. 28, 2020.
Mandel Ngan/AFP via Getty Images

Trump rolled out the proposal -- several years in the making and closely guarded -- at a politically precipitous time for both him and his ally Netanyahu. Following the announcement, Trump's lawyers continued their defense in his Senate impeachment trial and Netanyahu was formally indicted on Tuesday for fraud, bribery and breach of trust -- five weeks before Israeli parliamentary elections.

Notably absent from the White House announcement were any Palestinian officials, who had cut off ties with the Trump administration in 2017 after the United States recognized Jerusalem as Israel's capital.

They had preemptively rejected the peace initiative, accusing Trump and his administration of decisions blatantly biased in favor of Israel. The president on Monday acknowledged that Palestinians would likely initially reject it, but he expressed hope they would eventually accept it.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas blasted the proposal late Tuesday.

"After the nonsense that we heard today we say a thousand no's to the ‘deal of the century,’” he said at a press conference in Ramallah.

After regional news reports this week said that Abbas refused to speak with Trump on the phone, Trump addressed Abbas directly during his remarks at the White House, saying he had sent the Palestinian leader a letter that day.

Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and President Donald Trump take part in an announcement of Trump's Middle East peace plan in the East Room of the White House in Washington, D.C. on Jan. 28, 2020.
Mandel Ngan/AFP via Getty Images

"President Abbas, I want you to know that if you choose the path to peace," Trump said, "America and many other countries will -- we will be there we will be there to help you in so many different ways and we will be there every step of the way."

In Ramallah, Abbas spoke on the phone with the leader of Hamas's political wing, Ismail Haniyeh. It was a sign of rare Palestinian unity amid anger there.

The Palestinian president also spoke on the phone with the leader of the political wing of the Palestinian militant group Hamas, Ismail Haniyeh, who pledged his solidarity in rejecting the U.S. proposal, the official Palestinian news agency, Wafa,reported. It was a sign of rare Palestinian unity amid anger there.

PHOTO: Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas speaks after a meeting of the Palestinian leadership in the West Bank city of Ramallah, Jan. 22, 2020.
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas speaks after a meeting of the Palestinian leadership in the West Bank city of Ramallah, Jan. 22, 2020. President Abbas said "a thousand no's" to the Mideast peace plan announced by President Donald Trump, which strongly favors Israel.
Majdi Mohammed/AP

Palestinian negotiators aligned with Abbas rejected the plan, too.

"Achieving peace requires first and foremost respect and adherence to the fundamental (principles) of international law," the Palestine Liberation Organization wrote in a tweet. "The U.S. plan recognizes Israel's illegal colonization and annexation of occupied lands belonging to the State of Palestine."

While ambassadors from Oman, Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates attended the White House event -- and received standing ovations when lauded by Trump and Netanyahu -- the plan was widely rejected across the Muslim world.

Jordan told Israel not to annex territory. Its foreign minister, Ayman Safadi, "warned against the dangerous consequences of unilateral Israeli measures, such as annexation of Palestinian lands, the building and expansion of illegal Israeli settlements on Palestinian occupied lands and encroachments on the Holy Sites in Jerusalem, that aim at imposing new realities on the ground," the Jordanian embassy in Washington said in a statement.

Safadi "stressed" that "Jordan condemns such measures as a violation of international law and provocative actions that will push the area towards more conflict and tension," the statement read.

The Turkish foreign ministry, meanwhile, called the proposal "stillborn" and "an annexation plan aiming at usurping Palestinian lands and killing two-state solution," according to Turkey's official Anadolu Agency.

Under the Trump administration's plan, which was posted on the White House's website, the Palestinians would agree to a number of political concessions over the next several years in order to gain autonomy and economic prosperity.

A major point of contention remains the future of Jerusalem, which both Israel and Palestinians claim as their capital. Under the Trump administration plan, an existing security barrier -- built by Israel in territory disputed by the Palestinians -- would serve as the border between Israeli and Palestinian parts of the Jerusalem area.

That vision clashes with previous proposals to make all of "East Jerusalem" -- the predominantly Arab eastern part of the city -- the capital of a Palestinian state, ceding more of Jerusalem to Israel.

President Donald Trump welcomes Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the White House, Jan. 27, 2020, in Washington.
Mark Wilson/Getty Images

The plan included what it referred to as a "conceptual map" showing proposed borders of that Palestinian state -- and changes to Israel's contours. The White House said that while the plan avoided any forced population transfers, 3% of each population would end up in the other's territory, with the option to move or to gain citizenship to their respective nations.

Under the plan, roads, tunnels and other transportation links would connect different parts of the Palestinian state physically split up by Israel.

The Gaza Strip would expand to include industrial, residential and agricultural zones -- but Palestinian leadership would have to agree to the territory's demilitarization.

The plan calls for Hamas, which controls Gaza, and other Palestinian militant groups to commit to nonviolence.

While the plan had been three years in the making, only last week -- as Trump faced an impeachment trial in the Senate -- did the president announce that he would finally roll it out.

One of the president’s lawyers, Harvard professor Alan Dershowitz, attended the peace plan roll out, while at least one U.S. senator in attendance, Ted Cruz of Texas, departed early to catch the start of proceedings.

On Monday, Trump hosted Netanyahu and his chief political rival, Benny Gantz, for separate meetings at the White House. Gantz did not attend the Tuesday announcement.

The president's son-in-law and senior adviser Jared Kushner oversaw the formulation of the peace plan. The administration unveiled an economic component last summer but delayed sharing the rest amid political turmoil in Israel. Two parliamentary elections in under seven months there failed to result in a stable government, with another round scheduled for March 2.

Netanyahu faces a tough re-election bid as Gantz mounts a strong challenge. The formal indictment in Jerusalem came Tuesday, a day after he dropped his bid for immunity from charges stemming from several corruption cases.

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