US President Donald Trump proposed creating a Palestinian state as part of a Middle East peace plan, drawing Palestinian condemnation for strict conditions and agreeing to let Israel maintain control of long contested West Bank settlements.
Trump announced his plan for Israeli-Palestinian peace at a White House event with embattled Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at his side. It includes what Trump called a four year freeze by Israel on new settlement activity.
Trump’s stated aim was to end decades of conflict the plan advanced favoured Israel, underscored by the absence of Palestinians.
It seemed unlikely to advance Israeli-Palestinian talks that broke down in 2014, but the plan was called “an important starting point for a return to negotiations” by the United Arab Emirates. Saudi Arabia and Egypt also offered encouraging statements.
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas mocked what Trump called the “deal of the century,” describing it as the “slap of the century.”
Palestinians refuse to deal with the Trump administration in protest at pro-Israel policies such as moving the US Embassy to Jerusalem, the eastern part of which is sought by the Palestinians.
Trump set in motion a four-year timeline for Palestinians to agree to a security arrangement with Israel, halt attacks by Islamist militant group Hamas and set up governing institutions to establish a Palestinian state with Abu Dis, a part of east Jerusalem, as the capital.
That poses a potential problem for Palestinians.
Abu Dis is a West Bank village east of municipal boundaries for Jerusalem. Palestinians living in Abu Dis are cut off by a concrete Israeli security wall and checkpoints.
Palestinians reject any proposal that does not envision a Palestinian capital in all of East Jerusalem, including the walled Old City.
Trump’s plan says the barrier should serve as a border between the capitals of the two states, adding Jerusalem should remain Israel’s undivided, sovereign capital.
“My vision presents a win-win opportunity for both sides, a realistic two state solution that resolves the risk of Palestinian statehood to Israel’s security,” Trump said.
‘JERUSALEM IS NOT FOR SALE’
Abbas, speaking to reporters in Ramallah, said: “Jerusalem is not for sale, our rights are not for sale and are not for bargain and your deal, the conspiracy will not pass.”
White House senior adviser Jared Kushner, an architect of the plan, told Reuters Television the Palestinians “look quite foolish” for ejecting the plan and should take time to consider “a strong opening offer.”
“If we feel there is a good-faith chance or a desire to come with a counter-proposal, we’ll figure out the right forum to engage in to bring about a solution,” he said.
Before the Trump announcement, thousands of Palestinians demonstrated in Gaza City and Israeli troops reinforced positions near a flashpoint between the Ramallah and the Jewish settlement Beit El on the West Bank.
Critics say Trump and Netanyahu are intent on diverting attention from domestic troubles. Trump is going through an impeachment trial, while Netanyahu was formally indicted on corruption charges on Tuesday. Both men deny any wrongdoing.
Netanyahu also faces a difficult election in March – his third in less than a year. He is locked in a battle with Blue and White Party chief Benny Gantz, who supported the Trump plan.
Netanyahu said the Trump plan offered Palestinians a pathway to a future state but it may take them “a long time to get to the beginning “.
“If they agree to abide by all the conditions put forward, Israel will be there. Israel will negotiate peace right away,” he said.
Trump sent a letter to Abbas asking him to study the deal.
“I explained to him the territory allocated for his new state will remain open and undeveloped for four years. During this time, Palestinians can use all appropriate deliberation to study the deal, negotiate with Israel, achieve criteria for statehood and become a truly independent and wonderful state,” he said.
Under Trump’s proposed Middle East peace plan, the US will recognise Israeli settlements on the occupied West Bank.
The White House document said Israel agreed to a four-year “land freeze” to secure the two state solution. A senior Israeli official played down the settlement freeze in the West Bank.
Senior US administration officials expected initial Palestinian scepticism over the plan but hoped to negotiate over time. It places high hurdles for Palestinians to reach their long-sought goal of a state.
“Strip away domestic and Israeli political considerations that determined the timing of the plan’s release and the message to the Palestinians is: ‘You’ve lost, get over it,’” said Robert Malley, president of the International Crisis Group and a former US National Security Council official.
The US plan is the most detailed attempt to break the deadlock between Israel and the Palestinians in years.
Trump endorsed a proposed map outlining the states, US officials said. The Palestinian state would be double the size of land Palestinians currently control and would be connected by roads, bridges and tunnels.
Israel will take steps to ensure Muslim access to al-Aqsa mosque in Jerusalem and respect Jordan’s role regarding holy sites, US officials said.
Trump’s plan calls for Palestinian refugees to settle in a future Palestinian state and creates a “generous compensation fund” for them, one official said.