Dearborn forum's reaction to peace plan: 'Nothing new'

Sarah Rahal
The Detroit News

Dearborn — Community members joined in a town hall Wednesday to express solidarity with Palestinian Americans, calling a proposed peace plan with Israel announced by President Trump on Tuesday "nothing new" and saying it signaled little for the Palestinians. 

Hani Bawardi (holding microphone), history professor at University of Michigan Dearborn, speaks to community members on how they should articulate responses to the plan at the Arab American National Museum Wednesday.

"There was no Palestinian on earth that was optimistic about what Trump was going to say about us," said Amer Zahr, a Palestinian American comedian and adjunct law professor.

"The fact that this thing happened basically as a celebration yesterday ... America's trying to say it's an honest broker, and this thing happened as a celebration in the White House between the U.S. and Israeli without any Palestinian presence at all. 

A group of 25 people gathered at the Arab American National Museum to learn more about the peace plan and offer reaction after Trump unveiled the plan Tuesday alongside Israel's prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu.

Trump’s plan envisions a disjointed Palestinian state that turns over key parts of the West Bank to Israel. It sides with Israel on key contentious issues that have bedeviled past peace efforts, including borders and the status of Jerusalem and Jewish settlements, and attaches nearly impossible conditions for granting the Palestinians their hoped-for state.

Trump called his plan a “win-win” for Israel and the Palestinians, and urged the Palestinians not to miss their opportunity for independence. But Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, who accuses the U.S. of unfair bias toward Israel, rejected it out of hand.

“We say 1,000 no’s to the Deal of the Century,” said Abbas, using a nickname for Trump’s proposal.

Abbas dismissed the plan as "nonsense" and vowed to resist it. Netanyahu called it a "historic breakthrough" equal in significance to the country’s declaration of independence in 1948.

The Israel prime minister vowed to annex the strategic Jordan Valley and all the Israeli settlements in occupied lands. Netanyahu said he’d ask his Cabinet to approve the annexation plans in their next meeting on Sunday.

The plan doesn't change much of what's already happening on the ground for Palestinians, said Zahr.

"The map they put out, in fact, reflects the status quo, which is Israel in control of the West Bank, all of its settlements and not giving access to Palestinians outside of their highly populated areas," Zahr said. "In a weird way, this does unveil and tell the world what's going on with Palestinians right now ...

"Hopefully, for Palestinians, this will be a wake-up call. No government has really entertained the idea of us having a state or any real autonomy in our land." 

The peace plan comes amid Trump’s impeachment trial and after Netanyahu was indicted on counts of fraud, breach of trust and bribery in three separate cases on Tuesday. Both face elections this year.

Khalid Turaani, a Palestinian American activist, said the purpose of the event was to gather as a community to issue a joint response to the plan.

"This is the collusion of the impeached and indicted coming together. This is not a deal," Turaani said. "Israelis do not want Palestinians in their 'Jewish' state. They are isolating Palestinians and expelling parts of Israel that have people there. This plan is giving the Israelis everything they could not get with years of war and negotiations while giving the Palestinians everything they don't want."

The Palestinians seek all of the West Bank and east Jerusalem, areas captured by Israel in the 1967 Mideast war, for an independent state and the removal of many of the more than 700,000 Israeli settlers from these areas.

Meanwhile, other Palestinian supporters said they couldn't support the plan that would eliminate the possibility of a two-state solution.

"The solution is to end the Israeli occupation or to continue to resist the occupation and dismantling the apartheid regime that exists today," Turaani said.

"The map that Trump released, how many Palestinian children would be able to learn how to draw the map of their 'country' before they finish high school? I'm not sure many will. It looks like a puzzle."

Jenna Hassan, a member of Students for Justice in Palestine, said "it's like they took the bread and left the crumbs."

"This really isn't anything new," she said. "It's trying to continue and complete a colonialist project."

Zahr said they will continue pushing to tell the Palestinians' story.

"Nothing really changes for us. This has united Palestinians in a way that may be positive, but I think it'll be a wake-up call for the world to see what's going on in Palestine."

Associated Press contributed to this report.

Twitter: @SarahRahal_