US officials say President Donald Trump’s long-awaited Middle East peace plan calls for the creation of a State of Palestine with its capital in portions of East Jerusalem, ending speculation as to whether his administration, in preparing a proposal without input from Palestinian leaders, would abandon a “two-state resolution” to the conflict.
The officials say the plan to be unveiled on Tuesday more than doubles the territory currently under Palestinian control, although it also recognizes Israeli sovereignty over major settlement blocs in the West Bank, something to which the Palestinians will almost certainly object. The Palestinians have already rejected the proposal, accusing Trump of being biased in favor of Israel as he has adopted policies that bolster Israel at their expense.
The plan does call for a four-year freeze in new Israeli settlement construction, during which time details of a comprehensive agreement would be negotiated, according to the officials who spoke on condition of anonymity ahead of Trump’s announcement. However, it was not immediately clear if the freeze could be extended if a final deal is not concluded in the four years.
The 50-page political outline goes further in concessions to the Palestinians than many analysts had believed was likely. However, it would require them to accept conditions they have been previously unwilling to consider, such as accepting West Bank settlements. It builds on a 30-page economic plan for the West Bank and Gaza that was unveiled last June and which the Palestinians have also rejected.
Under the terms of the “peace vision” that Trump’s son-in-law and senior adviser Jared Kushner has been working on for nearly three years, the future Palestinian state would consist of the West Bank and Gaza, connected by a combination of above-ground roads and tunnels, according to the officials.
The officials said that both Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his main political challenger in March elections, Benny Gantz, had signed off on the plan. Netanyahu will be beside Trump as he unveils the plan at the White House.
The event comes as Trump’s impeachment trial continues in the Senate and Israel’s parliament had planned a hearing to discuss Netanyahu’s request for immunity from criminal corruption charges. Netanyahu withdrew that request hours before the proceedings were to begin, but Israel’s parliament, the Knesset, is still expected to meet. The body had been likely to vote against immunity, dealing Netanyahu a blow.
In the run-up to the March 2 election, Netanyahu has called for annexing parts of the West Bank and imposing Israeli sovereignty on all its settlements there. Israel captured the West Bank in the 1967 Mideast war, and the Jordan Valley in particular is considered a vital security asset.
Security responsibility for the Jordan Valley would remain in Israel’s hands for the foreseeable future but could be scaled back as the nascent Palestinian state builds its capacity, under the terms of the plan, which says that statehood will be contingent on the Palestinians meeting international governance criteria.
The officials said they expected negative responses from the Palestinians, as well as Turkey and Iran, but were hopeful that Jordan and Egypt, the only two Arab nations to have peace treaties with Israel, would not reject it outright. The officials said they expected Gulf Arab states like Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and others to cautiously welcome the plan.
The reaction of Jordan, which would retain its responsibilities over Jerusalem’s al-Aqsa Mosque under the plan, will be particularly significant, according to the officials, who said Kushner and others were reaching out to Arab leaders ahead of the rollout.
The Palestinians see the West Bank as the heartland of a future independent state and east Jerusalem as their capital. Most of the international community supports their position, but Trump has reversed decades of U.S. foreign policy by siding more blatantly with Israel. The centerpiece of his strategy was recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and moving the American Embassy there. He’s also closed Palestinian diplomatic offices in Washington and cut funding to Palestinian aid programs.
Those policies have proven popular among Trump’s evangelical and pro-Israel supporters and could give him a much-needed boost from his base as he gears up for a reelection battle this year.
But the Palestinians refuse to even speak to Trump and they are calling on support from Arab leaders. The Palestinian leadership also has encouraged protests in the West Bank, raising fears that the announcement in Washington could spark a new round of violence. Ahead of the announcement, the Israeli military said it was reinforcing infantry troops along the Jordan Valley.
The Palestinian leadership has rejected the proposal even before its release as the plan is expected to be favourable to Israel, and Netanyahu has hailed it as a chance to “make history” and define Israel’s final borders.
There were protests even before Trump’s announcement, and Hamas expressed rare support of Mahmoud Abbas, who is from the rival Fatah faction, welcoming his call for a broad meeting of Palestinian factions.
Saeb Erekat, the secretary general of the Palestine Liberation Organisation, referred to the plan as a “hoax”. The Palestinian ambassador to the UK, Husam Zomlot, said it was “fraud on every count”.