Trump to unveil Middle East peace plan despite Palestinian rejection

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Hind Al Soulia - Riyadh - US President Donald Trump announced that his long-awaited Israeli-Palestinian peace plan will be released on Tuesday – despite the Palestinians already rejecting the proposal – calling it a “big start” as he met Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his electoral rival Benny Gantz at the White House.

He called it “a very big plan…a suggestion [for peace] between Israel and the Palestinians, it's the closest it's ever come and we'll see what happens.”

He announced the rolling out of the plan alongside Mr Netanyahu at the White House, despite the Palestinians rejecting it ahead of its release and not being invited to Washington. He said it would be rolled out at midday local time.

Mr Trump said the Israeli prime minister and his rival Mr Gantz, who is also in Washington for a meeting with the president ahead of a March election, would be in favour of the plan's contents. Mr Netanyahu called the political outline for a solution to the conflict, which is expected to be largely pro-Israel in its content, the "opportunity of a century" and hailed it as a chance to "make history". Mr Trump said the Palestinians would eventually accept the plan.

"They probably won't want it initially," he said. But I think in the end they will ... It's very good for them. In fact it's overly good to them. So we'll see what happens. Now without them, we don't do the deal and that's okay."

"Without them, we don't do the deal. That's OK. ... We think that there is a very good chance that they're going to want this," he added.

The plan also dubbed as “deal of the century” has been put together in the last two years by Mr Trump’s team, namely his advisor and son in law Jared Kushner, his ambassador to Israel David Friedman, and special representative Avi Berkowitz who took over Jason Greenblatt’s position. According to the Israeli press, it’s a 50-page document which includes a map of the final outcome.

The Palestinian prime minister on Monday called on the world to reject the peace plan, saying that it “does not constitute a basis” for a political solution.

Mohammed Shtayyeh, addressing a cabinet meeting, said that Mr Trump’s long-awaited political component of the plan was a bid to help the president and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as they come under pressure from political troubles at home.

"This is a plan to protect Trump from impeachment and protect (Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin) Netanyahu from prison. It is not a Middle East peace plan," Mr Shtayyeh told a cabinet meeting.

"This plan gives Israel sovereignty over Palestinian territory," he said.

On Tuesday, Trump will deliver joint remarks with Mr Netanyahu at the White House to outline his plan, which is aimed at generating momentum toward resolving one of the world's most intractable problems.

It comes as Mr Trump is facing an impeachment trial in the Senate while Mr Netanyahu, who is facing indictment over corruption allegations, will contest an election next month which Mr Gantz is hoping to win.

"We call on the international community to not be partners in this because it contravenes international law," Mr Shtayyeh told the Palestinian cabinet.

"The rights of the Palestinian people are not for sale."

The Palestinians have not been consulted on the political component of the deal, having cut all ties with the Trump administration over its pro-Israel stance.

The Trump administration has relocated the US embassy from Tel Aviv to West Jerusalem, effectively recognising the city as Israel’s capital. The Palestinians seek the city’s eastern sector to be the future capital of any sovereign state.

Only Guatemala followed in the US’ footsteps in moving its diplomatic mission to Jerusalem.

Alleged leaks of the plan - denied by Mr Trump - have suggested it could declare settlements in the occupied West Bank legal. It is unclear if the plan will support Palestinian statehood, but according to the Jerusalem Post it is expected to include the annexation of all Israeli settlements to Israel, along with most of the Jordan Valley.

The US proposal could also pull back from the creation of a Palestinian state with east Jerusalem as its capital after Trump in 2018 recognised Jerusalem as Israel's capital.

While Israel is likely to be supportive of the plan, the reaction of international powers could be key. The European Union is likely to reaffirm its support for a two-state solution.

Democrats have also expressed their opposition. Senator Bob Menendez and chairman of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs Eliot L Engel released a statement on Monday that criticised Mr Trump's approach to solving the conflict.

Men and children play in the Kida outpost near the Israeli Shilo settlement on January 27, 2020 near the Palestinian city of Nablus in the occupied West Bank. AFP

“The establishment of a Palestinian state would provide a home for millions of Palestinians. The Palestinian people deserve the right to self-determination, and the United States should support this goal," it said.

“A two-state solution cannot be born on the backs of unilateral actions from either side. Unilateral actions do not contribute to a sustainable peace and would not serve U.S. interests. Unilateral steps would make it harder to come back to the negotiating table and could set unrealistic expectations and unachievable demands."

Mr Shtayyeh said Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas would call a meeting of the Palestinian leadership to discuss the best ways to respond to the plan.

In Gaza on Monday a few hundred Palestinians protested against the Trump plan, which Palestinians ironically call the "Deal of the Century".

Mr Trump did not call the document a final outcome but said it “is very important for peace in the Middle East.” He added “we have to get others to to agree to it …many of Arab Nations have agreed to it to…they think it’s a big start. ..it’s a fantastic start.” Arab governments have not so far commented on the document and there is no evidence that suggests they have seen it.

Robert Satloff, the executive director at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, called the Trump decision to release a peace plan a departure from traditional American policy. “It wasn’t the role of a US president to be a peace planner, but to create an environment by which Israelis and Palestinians can negotiate,” Mr Satloff said in a briefing with reporters on Monday.

The expert signaled three metrics that should define the plan, its objective, how to get there and a timetable.

But Khaled Elgindy, a senior fellow at the Middle East Institute, decried the idea of not including the Palestinians in the process. “The notion that an American president, in consultation with two Israeli leaders, could decide on the future of Palestinians without any Palestinian involvement seems to epitomise Mr Trump’s overall approach to the conflict…to hold the very notion of Palestinian agency in contempt,” Mr Elgindy wrote. He called the approach “misguided and bizarre”, and one that would “fundamentally redefine the basic terms of an Israeli-Palestinian settlement by effectively doing away with the possibility of a two-state solution.”

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Jared Kushner speaks on the peace plan in February 2019

Updated: January 27, 2020 10:02 PM

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