- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 28, 2020

President Trump announced a highly anticipated Middle East peace plan Tuesday that would recognize Israel’s control over vast portions of the West Bank, including areas bordering Jordan, but allow Palestinians to eventually obtain their own state if they reject terrorism and meet other conditions.

While there were signs of support from some Arab powers — Oman, Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates all sent their ambassadors to a rollout at the White House — no Palestinian representatives were at the event and the overall response from Palestinian leaders Tuesday was one of anger and dismissal.

Reactions from others in the region were cautious and neutral. Egyptian officials praised the administration’s effort and called on Palestinians to “carefully study” the plan, although Jordan was more skeptical, warning against any Israeli “annexation of Palestinian lands” and calling for a return to 1967 borders that call for a Palestinian state encompassing the entire West Bank. Saudi Arabia, a key ally of the Trump White House in the region, offered a studiously neutral review of the proposal, saying the kingdom “appreciated” Mr. Trump’s efforts and urged direct peace talks between the Israelis and Palestinians.

Mr. Trump, flanked by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the White House, stressed that the 80-page blueprint offers a “realistic two-state solution” and “territorial compromises” to address a problem that has defied resolution for decades.

The plan was crafted largely by the president’s son-in-law and White House adviser Jared Kushner, and Mr. Trump lauded it for getting into fine details, rather than focusing on broad concepts.

But there remains little sign Palestinian leaders have any appetite for the deal now on the table. Mr. Trump told an Israel-friendly crowd at the White House that the plan calls for Jerusalem — the home of Jewish, Christian and Muslim holy sites — to remain Israel’s “undivided capital,” while the Palestinians would be given a new capital on the outskirts of the city for their new state.

SEE ALSO: Israel headed for clash with ICC over West Bank settlements

He also said the plan wouldn’t force Israel to compromise its security, suggesting all West Bank areas currently occupied by the Israeli military would ultimately fall under Israeli sovereignty. The plan does, however, call for a four-year freeze on Israeli settlement activity in the West Bank, the expansion of which in recent years has been a source of mounting outrage among Palestinians.

A summary circulated by the White House said the plan “provides for a demilitarized Palestinian state living peacefully alongside Israel, with Israel retaining security responsibility west of the Jordan River.”

“Over time, the Palestinians will work with United States and Israel to assume more security responsibility as Israel reduces its security footprint,” the summary said.

Mr. Trump said Palestinians would be allowed to “eventually double their territory and the U.S. will proudly open an embassy in East Jerusalem.”

The plan, touted by White House as the “Deal of the Century,” also calls for a “massive $50 billion” economic program that administration officials hope will tap foreign investment for a Palestinian state from wealthy Gulf Arab nations.

While it is not clear whether such nations will inject that investment, and whether the Trump administration will pressure U.S. companies to also invest, the president said Tuesday that “it is only reasonable that I have to do a lot for the Palestinians or it just wouldn’t be fair.”

Democrats quickly criticized the plan, but influential Republicans applauded it.

“The Trump administration has united the major political factions in Israel behind a two-state solution that guarantees security for Israel and will lead to a 1,000 percent increase in the quality of life for the Palestinian people,” Sen. Lindsey Graham said.

“To our Palestinian friends: Do not let this historic moment pass,” the South Carolina Republican said in a statement.

‘Thousand no’s‘ from Abbas

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas expressed anger, telling reporters Tuesday in the West Bank city of Ramallah that Palestinians will “not surrender” to Mr. Trump.

“After the nonsense that we heard today we say a thousand no’s to the Deal of The Century,” Mr. Abbas said, asserting that Palestinians remain committed to ending the Israeli occupation of the West Bank. “We will not kneel and we will not surrender.”

Hamas, the Islamic militant group ruling Gaza was more hostile, outright rejecting the plan as “conspiracies” and asserting that “all options are open” with regard to how Palestinians might respond.

“The [Israeli] occupation and the U.S. administration will bear the responsibility for what they did,” senior Hamas official Khalil al-Hayya told The Associated Press as he participated in one of several protests that broke out across the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip.

Protesters burned tires and pictures of Mr. Trump and Mr. Netanyahu.

But there are indications some Palestinian leaders are wary that Gulf Arab powers might embrace the plan.

Mr. Abbas held an emergency meeting Tuesday with other Palestinian factions, including Hamas, to discuss a unified response, a day after The Jerusalem Post had cited one Palestinian official as saying on condition of anonymity that there was “growing fear in Ramallah that countries such as Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates and Egypt are not opposed to Trump’s plan.”

During his rollout at the White House, Mr. Trump thanked Oman, Bahrain, and the United Arab Emirates for boosting the plan and sending their ambassadors to the event. But leaders of those countries have so far remained neutral in their public statements.

A Saudi government statement said Tuesday the kingdom “supports all efforts aimed at reaching a just and comprehensive resolution to the Palestinian cause.”

“A military solution to the conflict has not brought peace or security to any party,” the Saudi statement said, stopping far short of an endorsement of the Trump plan

Netanyahu satisfied

Mr. Netanyahu’s presence at the White House came at a delicate political moment for the Israeli prime minister, who was formally indicted by Israel’s attorney general Tuesday on charges of bribery, fraud and breach of trust in Israel.

Mr. Netanyahu maintains his innocence and told the crowd at the White House Tuesday that he was honored to be on hand in Washington for the peace plan rollout. “This is a historic day,” he said, evoking the “brilliant future” created by U.S. recognition of Israel’s independence in 1948.

He thanked Mr. Trump for recognizing Israeli sovereignty over parts of the Jordan Valley that he said were vital for security and “central to our heritage.” He also said the plan would disarm Hamas in Gaza.

Palestinians have refused for more than a year to engage in the talks with the Trump administration and say the administration concocted a biased plan that cuts off their path to a fully sovereign state.

Mr. Trump said Palestinians should be enticed by billions of dollars in investment that will help their economy thrive on its own. “They will be doing phenomenally all by themselves,” the president said. “They are a very, very capable people.”

But critics questioned the timing of the plans release, since Mr. Trump’s team has been working on it for three years and decided to drop it in the middle of his Senate impeachment trial. Some also argued that the rollout was timed help Mr. Netanyahu distract from his own political crisis at home.

Democrats said the plan was counterproductive.

“It makes no sense, after waiting for three years, to unveil a plan with no Israeli government in place, and after no consultations with the Palestinians,” Sen. Chris Murphy, Connecticut Democrat, said. “It’s also no coincidence this plan supports recognizing illegal settlements and unilateral Israeli annexation, while discarding any notion of a two-state solution.”

Robert Malley, a top Obama administration Middle East official and now president of the International Crisis Group, suggested the plan is too “indifferent” to the views of Palestinians to stand a chance at succeeding.

“Strip away the domestic and Israeli political considerations that determined the timing of the plan’s release, and the message to the Palestinians, boiled down to its essence, is: ‘You’ve lost, get over it,’” Mr. Malley said in a statement.

At one point during Tuesday’s event, Mr. Trump diverted from his points on the peace plan to praise Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s confrontation with NPR anchor Mary Louise Kelly, who has accused Mr. Pompeo of subjecting her to an obscenity-laced tirade after a contentious on-air interview.

“That reporter couldn’t have done too good a job on you yesterday, huh. I think you did a good job on her, actually,” the president said. “That’s good, thank you, Mike.”

While many in Washington have criticized Mr. Pompeo’s behavior in the incident, the president’s comments drew loud laughter from administration supporters at Tuesday’s event.

• Lauren Meier contributed to this article, which is based in part on wire service reports.

• Tom Howell Jr. can be reached at thowell@washingtontimes.com.

• Guy Taylor can be reached at gtaylor@washingtontimes.com.

Copyright © 2022 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

Please read our comment policy before commenting.

Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide