Trump Offers Mideast Plan That Palestinians Say Is Non-Starter

Josh Wingrove, Yaacov Benmeleh and Jordan Fabian

(Bloomberg) -- President Donald Trump announced what he called a detailed plan for Middle East peace that provides a “win-win” solution to make Israel and the region safer, but the hurdles to the proposal quickly emerged as Palestinians and some Arab nations signaled their opposition.

At a White House event Tuesday alongside Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Trump said his plan offered a “contiguous” territory for a Palestinian state once key conditions are met, including the “rejection of terrorism.” The proposal opens a transition to a two-state solution that leaves Jerusalem as Israel’s “undivided capital,” Trump said to applause from an audience with casino magnate and Republican donor Sheldon Adelson in the front row.

“Today Israel takes a big step towards peace,” Trump said. “My vision presents a win-win opportunity for both sides. There’s nothing tougher than this one, but we have to get it done.”

But the pomp of the ceremony belied the widespread view outside the White House that the plan is probably dead on arrival. Palestinian officials weren’t consulted on the proposal, and many of the details divulged on Tuesday -- including Israel getting a green light to annex existing West Bank settlements -- ensure it will struggle to gain traction.

Speaking after Trump’s presentation, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas said “we say ‘no,’ and a thousand times ‘no”’ to the Trump vision. In a televised address from his headquarters in Ramallah, Abbas vowed to begin dissolving the Palestinian Authority, leaving a void in the region.

Netanyahu said at the White House that it may take the Palestinians “a very long time” to get an independent state, but “if they agree to abide by all the conditions you’ve laid our in your plan, Israel will be there.”

For the first time since peacemaking began almost three decades ago, the plan jettisons what had been articles of faith in previous rounds of U.S.-led negotiations, including some version of joint sovereignty over Jerusalem and viewing Israel’s borders before the 1967 Middle East war as the foundation for a peace agreement.

A map Trump tweeted out after the presentation showed a patchwork of Palestinian territory, portions of which were linked only by a road or tunnel, featuring vague developments such as a “high tech manufacturing industrial zone” along the border with Egypt that currently don’t exist.

Jared Kushner, the president’s son-in-law and chief architect of the plan, said the map was a bold sign of the president’s initiative.

“This is the first time in the history of the peace process that there’s been an official map that was drawn,” Kushner said in a Bloomberg Television interview.

Trump said his proposal would require the Palestinian Authority to adopt “basic laws” on protecting human rights, fighting corruption, stopping malign activities of Hamas and Islamic Jihad, ending financial compensation to terrorists and stopping incitement against Israel. He said territory destined for Palestinian control would stay undeveloped for four years to give space for talks with Israel to progress.

A fact sheet distributed by the White House indicated that Israel won’t have to surrender settlements built across much of the territory that’s claimed by Palestinians. The plan also rejects a key Palestinian demand -- the “right of return” by Palestinian refugees. Instead, refugees and their descendants who have long sought to return to Israeli-controlled territory will have to choose between remaining in Palestinian lands, moving to a third country or integrating into the country they currently live in.

‘Illegal Colonization’

The Palestine Liberation Organization’s negotiations affairs department said in a tweet that “the U.S. plan recognizes Israel’s illegal colonization and annexation of occupied lands belonging to the State of Palestine.”

Jordan, a key U.S. ally, rejected the U.S. proposal and said in a statement that a Palestinian state must be negotiated based on Israel’s 1967 borders. Jordan warned Israel against annexing Palestinian lands.

But Netanyahu signaled he’s moving fast to implement portions of the proposal beneficial to Israel -- and possibly to his political future ahead of March elections. His government will vote Sunday on a proposal to annex West Bank territory where settlements stand. Palestinians consider those settlements illegal.

Trump Peace Bid Sets Aside Palestinian Goals: Mideast Takeaways

While Trump and Netanyahu were speaking in Washington, hundreds of Palestinians demonstrated in the Gaza Strip, mainly in Gaza city center. They burned Israeli and U.S. flags as well as a puppet of Trump.

Khalil al-Hayya, a senior Hamas leader said Trump’s plan “is nonsense. It is a hostile deal, and the Palestinians will exert all possible efforts using all means to confront it, until it is toppled.”

Trump has long said his administration’s unorthodox approach to Mideast peace was justified because so many previous efforts had failed. His effort has been embraced by Netanyahu, who stood next to the president at the White House as it was released.

“I was not elected to do small things or shy away from big problems,” Trump said.

Arab League

Trump previously broke with international convention on the Mideast by moving the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem from Tel Aviv, recognizing Israel sovereignty over a portion of the Golan Heights and proclaiming that Israeli settlements in the West Bank aren’t necessarily illegal, measures all supported by Netanyahu. The administration has also cut off most U.S. aid to the Palestinians and closed the Palestine Liberation Organization’s diplomatic mission in Washington.

Paul Scham, executive director of the Gildenhorn Institute for Israel Studies at the University of Maryland, said moving forward with a plan that isn’t backed by the Palestinians is “strange, to put it mildly.”

“The consensus among people who follow this is that this is really solely a political stunt because it will help Netanyahu in his ongoing election, March 2, and will presumably help Trump as well with his base,” Scham said. The proposal may shore up Trump’s backing from evangelical Christians, who are stalwart defenders of Israel, as well as conservative Jewish contributors, for his November re-election bid.

At Abbas’s request, the Arab League will meet in an emergency session in Cairo on Saturday.

Trump addressed Abbas directly in his speech, saying he sent the Palestinian leader a letter and vowing that the U.S. proposal would foster economic prosperity for his people.

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

Impeachment Lawyer

The unveiling of the proposal comes as Netanyahu is facing political peril at home, confronting three separate corruption trials. That’s occurring as Israel heads to a third election in less than a year in early March, after two previous attempts failed to leave any leader in position to form a governing coalition.

Tuesday’s announcement is among a number of events Trump is holding this week that may distract public attention from the second week of the president’s Senate impeachment trial. Trump also is set to sign the U.S.-Mexico-Canada trade agreement and hold campaign rallies in New Jersey and Iowa.

But there was one reminder of Trump’s impeachment at the White House event. A member of the president’s defense team, Alan Dershowitz, was seen mingling in the crowd after the speech as the song “What a Wonderful World” played in the background.

--With assistance from Amy Teibel, Fadwa Hodali, Saud Abu Ramadan, Ivan Levingston and Kevin Cirilli.

To contact the reporters on this story: Josh Wingrove in Washington at jwingrove4@bloomberg.net;Yaacov Benmeleh in Washington at ybenmeleh@bloomberg.net;Jordan Fabian in Washington at jfabian6@bloomberg.net

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Bill Faries at wfaries@bloomberg.net, ;Lin Noueihed at lnoueihed@bloomberg.net, Joshua Gallu

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