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Politics

Trump touts a U.S. plan to resolve Mideast conflict to Israel’s leaders, but not to Palestinians

Donald Trump
President Trump and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the White House.
(Michael Reynolds / EPA-Shutterstock)

President Trump on Monday hosted Israel’s two top political figures at the White House, sharing details of his long-stalled U.S. proposal to balance Palestinians’ statehood claims with Israel’s security concerns — a plan that is likely to fail given the lack of Palestinian involvement.

With Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at his side in the Oval Office, Trump said he would unveil the full plan on Tuesday and sought to downplay Palestinian objections.

“They probably won’t want it initially. I think in the end, they will,” Trump said. “It’s very good for them. In fact, it’s overly good to them.”

In Ramallah, the seat of Palestinian Authority in the West Bank, President Mahmoud Abbas seemed to close that door.

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“Trump won’t threaten me,” Abbas, 84, said at a meeting of the central committee of Fatah, the Palestinians’ ruling party. “He is an awful man, who wants to impose a plan we do not want. In whatever time I still have left, I will not become a traitor.”

Although the plan remains under wraps, some details have emerged. It is widely seen as favoring Israeli demands, including security control of the vast Jordan River Valley, recognition of most if not all Israeli settlements in the West Bank and virtually no meaningful Palestinian control of the disputed holy city of Jerusalem.

Trump and Netanyahu, two politicians besieged on their domestic fronts, heaped praise on one another in an appeal to both of their voting bases. Netanyahu told Trump he was the “greatest friend” Israel has ever had in the White House and he looked forward to “making history” with his friend and ally.

Trump and Secretary of State Michael R. Pompeo met separately with Netanyahu’s chief opposition rival, Benny Gantz, who had the delicate task of appearing gracious while not playing into the political calculations of Netanyahu.

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Veteran U.S. diplomats involved in the Middle East also excoriated the administration for proceeding without Palestinian support or involvement, predicting that Trump would merely dust off previously failed ideas as a political stunt.

“Releasing a plan (untethered from anything other than politics) six weeks before Israel’s 3rd election within a year and without regard to Palestinians, takes diplomatic malpractice to new levels,” tweeted Aaron David Miller, a former Middle East peace negotiator and diplomat for Republican and Democratic administrations.

Martin Indyk, another former negotiator and former assistant secretary of State, called the unveiling of the plan a “farce.”

Both Trump, who is facing an impeachment trial in the Senate, and Netanyahu, indicted in Israel on corruption charges, could use the political respite offered by the photo ops that Washington will provide Tuesday with the formal announcement of the plan.

Netanyahu is fighting for his political life and this week faces a hearing on whether the Israel parliament, or Knesset, will grant him immunity from prosecution. The Knesset was scheduled to vote on the issue Tuesday, and it is not expected to grant immunity.

Trump last week surprised everyone, including the Israelis, by announcing he would finally reveal elements of his plan to resolve decades of conflict between Israel and the Palestinians. He has called this “the ultimate deal,” and assigned his son-in-law Jared Kushner to head the negotiations.

But those negotiations were troubled from the start, with Kushner, also a senior advisor, repeatedly sent back to the drawing board and unable to muster the support from Gulf Arab states that he sought. Most important, Palestinians were not included in the talks, dooming any agreement to failure.

Palestinian leaders boycotted meetings with Trump’s representatives after a series of administration steps they saw as overtly pro-Israel. These included Trump’s decision in 2017 to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and move the U.S. Embassy there from Tel Aviv. Under decades of international consensus, the status of the contested holy city, part of which Palestinians seek as the capital of an eventual independent state, was to be determined as part of an overall peace agreement.

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Trump went on to recognize Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights, a fertile plateaus eized from Syria in the 1967 war, and to legitimize Israeli settlements in occupied West Bank lands claimed by the Palestinians, which most of the international community regard as illegal. Both steps reversed decades of U.S. policy and called into question the “two-state solution” for the region — an independent Palestinian nation living peacefully alongside Israel — that has been the pillar of Middle East peace-making for years.

Several of Trump’s pro-Israel actions came amid Netanyahu’s hard-fought — and thus far unsuccessful — reelection campaign, and have been widely seen in Israel as an attempt to give the longest serving Israeli prime minister a boost. Netanyahu and his right-wing Likud Party have faced Gantz, a former army commander and head of a new centrist political party, in two inconclusive elections last year, forcing yet a third round of voting in early March.


In addition to Kushner, the team that Trump assembled included other pro-Israel figures: his former real estate lawyer Jason Greenblatt and his ambassador to Israel and former bankruptcy lawyer David Friedman. All three had long ties to the Israeli settlement community, whose vast expansion in recent years Palestinians say threatens the formation of any sort of integral Palestinian state.

Some in the administration say the forthcoming plan is more of a “vision” than an agreement. Kushner has said its core is to offer economic opportunity to the Palestinians instead of the fulfillment of political aspirations — an idea that has failed in the past.

“It’s a very big plan,” Trump said Monday, adding it would be unveiled at noon EST Tuesday. “It will be a suggestion between Israel and the Palestinians.”

Trump’s negotiators say they are attempting to be more pragmatic than previous administrations. Trump said early in his administration it would be one of his crowning achievements to forge a peace agreement where other governments have failed.

Palestinians, however, have reacted angrily, saying they will not be “bought off.”

“Trump’s plan is the plot of the century to liquidate the Palestinian cause,” Palestinian Foreign Minister Riyad Maliki said in Ramallah.

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Hanan Ashrawi, a veteran Palestinian leader, noted the timing of the sudden White House invitation to Netanyahu and Gantz.

“Note that the 28th [of January] was the date of the Knesset’s immunity vote on Netanyahu’s corruption charges,” she said on Twitter. “Add to it Trump’s impeachment issues & you have a lethal diversionary tactic at the expense of Palestinian rights & int’l law--criminality+ personal agendas=no peace.”

Netanyahu’s political calculations include signing on to a deal heavily tilted in Israel’s favor, which he hopes will shore up his support among Israel’s far right. He hosted several leaders of the settlement community to accompany him to Washington.

“In no case, under no condition, will we allow for the establishment of a Palestinian state or recognition of such a state and we will not relinquish a single centimeter of the land of Israel to Arabs,” said Naftali Bennett, Netanyahu’s acting defense minister and potential rival whose support Netanyahu will need to form a government.

Staff writer Wilkinson reported from Washington and special correspondent Tarnopolsky from Jerusalem.


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