Donald Trump’s Middle East peace plan met with weary derision in occupied East Jerusalem

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Hind Al Soulia - Riyadh - The peace plan unveiled by US President Donald Trump on Tuesday has been met with derision and weary resignation in occupied East Jerusalem, where residents see little chance of their fortunes changing.

Surrounded by clothes in her small shop not far from Jerusalem’s Old City, Umm Ahmad hit out at the architects of the latest Middle East peace plan.

“You know the people who lie and believe their lies,” the shopkeeper said hours after Mr Trump outlined his proposal.

"They are doing this and they are believing that they can, through their lies, divide and distribute the land."

Mr Trump said the deal marked a “historic opportunity for the Palestinians to finally achieve an independent state", but it falls far short of Palestinians’ basic requirements for peace.

While there have been protests in the occupied West Bank and Gaza over the deal, occupied East Jerusalem was calm on Wednesday as Palestinians went about their shopping.

At Damascus Gate, an entry point to Jerusalem’s holy sites including Al Aqsa Mosque compound, tour groups wearing headsets and clutching selfie sticks gathered under grey skies.

In the Muslim Quarter just inside the gate, tailor Mohammed Marwan recalled previous attempts at reaching a peace deal.

“The ‘Deal of the Century’ ... they stamped their approval on it 20 years ago,” Mr Marwan said as his wrinkled hands pushed fabric through his sewing machine.

After the landmark Oslo Accords of the 1990s failed to achieve lasting peace, a 2000 meeting in the US between Palestinian and Israeli leaders ended without a deal.

US President Donald Trump shakes hands with Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel's prime minister during a news conference in the East Room of the White House. Bloomberg

Ivanka Trump, senior adviser to President Trump, and Jared Kushner, senior White House advisor, smile during a news conference in the East Room of the White House in Washington. Bloomberg

US President Donald Trump and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu take part in an announcement of Trump's Middle East peace plan in the East Room of the White House in Washington. AFP

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, joined by Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, waves as he is acknowledged during an event with President Donald Trump and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in the East Room of the White House in Washington. AP Photo

US President Donald Trump speaks as Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel's prime minister, listens during a news conference in the East Room of the White House. Bloomberg

US President Donald Trump speaks during a news conference in the East Room of the White House in Washington. Bloomberg

US President Donald Trump and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu take part in an announcement of Trump's Middle East peace plan in the East Room of the White House in Washington. AFP

Palestinian demonstrators chant slogans as they stand by flaming tyres during a protest against US President Donald Trump's expected peace plan proposal in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip. AFP

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“It’s nothing new. They’ve been preparing the people for it and now they say it’s all fine,” Mr Marwan said.

Mr Trump said his proposals were “a great deal for the Palestinians” but they were immediately rejected by the leadership.

“We will not kneel and we will not surrender,” Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas said.

Palestinian authorities cut ties with Washington after Mr Trump recognised Jerusalem as Israel’s capital in December 2017 , breaking decades of international consensus that the city’s status should be decided through negotiations.

Under the new Middle East peace plan, the US president said Jerusalem would be Israel’s “undivided capital”, while a Palestinian capital would be located in “eastern Jerusalem”.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who stood beside Mr Trump as the plan was unveiled, later specified the proposed Palestinian capital would be in Abu Dis.

The village lies behind the security wall built by Israel and Palestinians must pass through a checkpoint to reach central Jerusalem.

Palestinians have maintained their future capital must be in occupied East Jerusalem, with Mr Abbas rejecting a pledge of $50 billion (Dh183.6bn) investment if they agreed to the deal.

“Jerusalem is not for sale,” he said late on Tuesday.

The deal also refuses Palestinians’ “right of return” to homes from which they fled after the creation of Israel in 1948, and foresees Israel controlling the border with Jordan.

Described by Mr Trump as a “win-win” opportunity for Palestinians and Israelis, the details of his plan were dismissed in the eastern sector of the holy city.

“It’s not going to work out,” bus driver Abu Hassan said in a discussion with a young shopkeeper.

“Palestine is for Palestinians. Whatever the Americans do, whatever the Israelis do, we don’t care."

Washington’s plan cements Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank, which are regarded illegal under international law, paving the way for Israel to annex the land where more than 400,000 settlers live.

Standing in occupied East Jerusalem’s bus station, Mr Hassan could not see how such a plan would possibly work.

“We need a Palestinian state, and for all Israelis to leave the country and Palestine returns to Palestinians," he said. "That’s what we hope for."

The UN said it remained committed to a two-state solution based on the borders drawn up before the 1967 Arab-Israeli War, when Israel seized the West Bank and Gaza.

PLO chairman Yasser Arafat shakes hands with Israeli prime minister Yitzhak Rabin, as US president Bill Clinton stands between them, after the signing of the Israeli-PLO peace accord, at the White House September 13, 1993. Reuters

United States' special envoy Dennis Ross looks on as Saeb Erekat, left, the chief Palestinian negotiator, and Dan Shomron, the chief Israeli negotiator, initial the documents that bring to a conclusion the long-delayed and overdue Israeli troop redeployment in the West Bank city of Hebron. Reuters

Palestinian president Yasser Arafat and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu both gesture for the other to leave a meeting December 24 1996 in the Israeli Civil Administration headquarters located along the Israeli - Gaza Strip border area. The two leaders met for for over three hours in a bid to clinch the agreement on the long-delayed Israeli troop redeployment in Hebron. Although no agreement was reached US envoy Dennis Ross said that "real progress" was made towards the long-elusive accord. Reuters

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu shakes hands with a smiling Palestinian Authority president Yasser Arafat at a meeting at the Erez crossing between Israel and the Gaza Strip Wednesday Jan 15, 1997. Israel and the PLO concluded a long-elusive agreement on extending Palestinian rule to Hebron in the West Bank. Reuters

Mahmoud Abbas, left, and Ariel Sharon turn to the cameras and smile as they shake hands at the start of their meeting in Sharon's office November 18. The two met to review the work of all the Israeli-Palestinian peace committees and to set a date for the resumption of final status talks. Reuters

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian president Yasser Arafat during their meeting at Erez crossing point, northern Gaza Strip, December 24, 1996. Arafat and Netanyahu met here in search of an agreement to end the Israeli occupation of Hebron and revive the peace process. In the background at left is US mediator Dennis Ross. Reuters

PLO chairman Yasser Arafat holds the second phase of the Oslo peace accords after the initialling of the document, September 24, 1995, as Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres looks on. Israel and the PLO will officially sign the agreement in Washington later this week. Reuters

US President Barack Obama arrives with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, left, and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas to make a statement on Middle East Peace talks in the East Room of the White House, September 1, 2010. Reuters

Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak jokingly pushes Palestinian president Yasser Arafat into the Laurel cabin on the grounds of Camp David as US President Bill Clinton watches during peace talks, July 11, 2000. Arafat and Barak were insisting that the other proceed through the door first. Camp David is the venue where Egypt and Israel made peace in September 1978, and the Laurel cabin was the site of many of the meetings. Reuters

France's President Nicolas Sarkozy, centre, shakes hands with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, left and Israel's prime minister Ehud Olmert after a joint news briefing at the Elysee Palace July 13, 2008. Reuters

Palestinian President Yasser Arafat shakes hands with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu after US special envoy Dennis Ross, centre, spoke, early January 15, 1997 after the two leaders met and agreed on the term for an Israeli troop redeployment in Hebron. The talks lasted less than two hours and concluded months of negotiations. Reuters

US President Barack Obama watches Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, left, and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas shake hands during a trilateral meeting in New York September 22, 2009. Reuters

US President George W. Bush discusses the Middle East peace process with prime minister Ariel Sharon of Israel, left, and Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas in Aqaba, Jordan, June 4, 2003. Reuters

Palestinian and Israeli top negotiators Abu Ala, left, and Uri Savir shake hands after signing the second phase of the Oslo peace accords September 24 1995. PLO chairman Yasser Arafat is in the middle speaking to team member Sait Barecat, (L), after eight days of talks. Reuters

Israel's Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, right, greets Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas during their meeting in Jerusalem September 16, 2008. Reuters

US National Security Advisor John Bolton answers a question from a reporter about how he refers to Palestine during a news conference in the White House briefing room in Washington, U.S., October 3, 2018. Reuters

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Rights groups have criticised the plan, with Amnesty International calling it a “dismal package of proposals to violate international law”.

Human Rights Watch, whose country director was recently expelled by Israel, said the peace process had become “a fig leaf for Israel’s entrenched discriminatory rule over Palestinians”.

The deal has the support of Mr Netanyahu’s hard-right caretaker government, which is trying to press forward with annexation before Israel’s March 2 elections.

But even if such a move were delayed and the prime minister was beaten at the polls, his main rival Benny Gantz has pledged to implement the peace plan if he takes the top job.

Mr Abbas has called for Palestinian unity and his Fatah movement held a rare meeting on Tuesday with Gaza’s rulers Hamas, but the two factions remain deeply divided.

With Israel determined to press on with Washington’s plan, in occupied East Jerusalem residents were uncertain what the future may hold for them.

“I don’t know, I don’t know. I don’t have the words,” Umm Ahmad said with a sigh.

Updated: January 30, 2020 11:20 AM

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