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Trump's Mideast plan dismissed by Palestinian advocates in Detroit area

Matthew Lee and Aron Heller
Associated Press

Washington — President Donald Trump unveiled his long-awaited Mideast peace plan Tuesday alongside a beaming Benjamin Netanyahu, presenting a vision that matched the Israeli leader’s hard-line, nationalist views while falling far short of Palestinian ambitions.

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.

President Donald Trump pauses while speaking during an event with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in the East Room of the White House in Washington, Tuesday, Jan. 28, 2020, to announce the Trump administration's much-anticipated plan to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Palestinian President Mahmoud 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.

“It’s a great plan for Israel. It’s a great plan for peace,”  Netanyahu said.

Reaction from local Palestinian advocates was dismissive, one activist calling the plan "dangerous" for both sides, while some Metro Detroit Jews said they appreciated the administration's efforts.

Netanyahu vowed to immediately press forward with his plans 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, an explosive move that could trigger harsh international reaction and renewed violence with the Palestinians.

“This dictates once and for all the eastern border of Israel,” Netanyahu told Israeli reporters later. “Israel is getting an immediate American recognition of Israeli sovereignty on all the settlements, without exceptions.”

In a statement Tuesday, Rabbi Asher Lopatin, executive director of the JCRC/AJC, which represents the Metro Detroit Jewish community, said his group "appreciates the administration's effort to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, assuring Israel’s security and Jerusalem’s uncontested status, while creating a path to Palestinian statehood. To realize this long-sought vision, sincere negotiations are critical."

U.S. Rep. Rashida Tlaib, who has expressed support for the movement to boycott and divest from the Israeli government and companies that support Israel as well as impose sanctions on Israel and last year rejected its decision to admit her to the West Bank on humanitarian grounds under certain restrictions, criticized the move.

“The Trump-Netanyahu plan is a sham and far from advancing peace," the Detroit Democrat said in a statement. "It’s clear that this was designed as a political stunt, and it's fitting that it happened on the day that Netanyahu was indicted for corruption. Palestinians and Israelis deserve a thoughtful plan that advances equality and justice, not apartheid."

"We see this as a recipe for a larger conflict in the Middle East," said Khalid Turaani, a Palestinian American activist. "This is not a peace plan. This is a conflict being put off. This is very dangerous for Palestinians. It is very dangerous for the Israelis, and definitely not helpful for the United States and its standing in the world."

Given the Palestinian opposition, the plan seems unlikely to lead to any significant breakthrough. But it could give a powerful boost to both Trump and Netanyahu, who are both facing legal problems ahead of tough elections.

Trump called his plan a “win-win” for both Israel and the Palestinians, and urged the Palestinians not to miss their opportunity for independence. But 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,” Abbas said, using a nickname for Trump’s proposal.

“We will not kneel and we will not surrender,” he said, adding that the Palestinians would resist the plan through “peaceful, popular means.”

The plan comes amid Trump’s impeachment trial and on a U.S. election year, and after Netanyahu was indicted on counts of fraud, breach of trust and bribery in three separate cases. The longtime Israeli leader, who denies any wrongdoing, also faces a March 2 parliamentary election, Israel’s third in less than a year. He hopes to use the plan, and his close ties with Trump, to divert attention from his legal troubles.

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 more than 700,000 Israeli settlers from the West Bank and East Jerusalem.

But as details emerged, it became clear that the plan sides heavily with Netanyahu’s hard-line nationalist vision for the region and shunts aside many of the Palestinians’ core demands.

"From the Arab perspective, there is going to be a kind of confirmation that the United States was not looking to act as a neutral and objective broker within the negotiations," said Saeed Khan, senior lecturer in the Wayne State University Department of Near East & Asian studies and global studies director.

Imad Hamad, executive director of the American Human Rights Council, which has headquarters in Dearborn, called the plans a "one-sided deal" that could lead to more conflict.

"It's not about who’s more powerful than the other. It’s about the basic rights of the Palestinian people," he said. "Occupation is the root of the problem and continues to be."

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, all settlers would remain in place, and Israel would retain sovereignty over all of its settlements as well as the strategic Jordan Valley.

“The Israeli military will continue to control the entire territory,” Netanyahu said. “No one will be uprooted from their home.”

The proposed Palestinian state would also include more than a dozen Israeli “enclaves” with the entity’s borders monitored by Israel. It would be demilitarized and give Israel overall security control. In addition, the areas of east Jerusalem offered to the Palestinians consist of poor, crowded neighborhoods located behind a hulking concrete separation barrier.

Trump acknowledged that he has done a lot for Israel, but he said he wanted the deal to be a “great deal for the Palestinians.”

The plan would give the Palestinians limited control over an estimated 70% of the West Bank, nearly double the amount where they currently have limited self-rule. Trump said it would give them time needed to meet the challenges of statehood.

The only concession the plan appears to demand of Israel is a four-year freeze on the establishment of new Israeli settlements in certain areas of the West Bank. But Netanyahu clarified later that this only applied to areas where there are no settlements and Israel has no immediate plans to annex, and that he considered the plan to impose no limitations on construction.

Thousands of Palestinians protested in Gaza City ahead of the announcement, burning pictures of Trump and Netanyahu and raising a banner reading “Palestine is not for sale.”

Trump said he sent a letter to Abbas to tell him that the territory that the plan has set aside for a new Palestinian state will remain open and undeveloped for four years.

“It’s going to work,” Trump said, as he presented the plan at a White House ceremony filled with Israeli officials and allies, including evangelical Christian leaders and wealthy Republican donors. Representatives from the Arab countries of Bahrain, Oman and the United Arab Emirates were present, but there were no Palestinian representatives.

“President Abbas, I want you to know, that if you chose the path to peace, America and many other countries … we will be there to help you in so many different ways,” he said. “And we will be there every step of the way.”

The 50-page plan 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.

It envisions a future Palestinian state consisting of the West Bank and Gaza, connected by a combination of roads and tunnels. It also would give small areas of southern Israel to the Palestinians as compensation for lost West Bank land.

But the many caveats, and ultimate overall Israeli control, made the deal a nonstarter for the Palestinians.

Netanyahu and his main political challenger in March elections, Benny Gantz, had signed off on the plan.

“Mr. President, because of this historic recognition and because I believe your peace plan strikes the right balance where other plans have failed,” Netanyahu said. “I’ve agreed to negotiate peace with the Palestinians on the basis of your peace plan.

The Jordan Valley annexation is a big part of Netanyahu’s strategy and a key promise meant to appeal to his hard-line nationalist base, which mostly applauded the Trump plan.

U.S. officials, speaking on condition of anonymity ahead of the plan’s release, said they expected negative responses from the Palestinians, but were hopeful that Jordan and Egypt, the only two Arab nations to have peace treaties with Israel, would not reject it outright.

Jordan gave the plan a cool reaction, saying it remained committed to a two-state solution based on Israel’s pre-1967 lines. It also said it rejected any unilateral move by Israel, referring to the annexation plan.

The reaction of Jordan, which would retain its responsibilities over Jerusalem’s al-Aqsa Mosque under the plan, is particularly significant. Located next to the West Bank, Jordan also is home to a large Palestinian population.

Egypt, the first Arab country to reach a peace deal with Israel, urged Israelis and Palestinians to carefully study the plan. The European Union also said it needed to study it more closely.

Saudi Arabia, another key Arab country, said it appreciated the Trump administration’s efforts and encouraged the resumption of direct talks between Israel and the Palestinians “under the auspices of the United States.”

U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said the United Nations supports two states living in peace and security within recognized borders, on the basis of the pre-1967 borders, according to his spokesman.

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.

But the Palestinians refuse to even speak to Trump and they called on support from Arab leaders.

Detroit News Staff Writer Mark Hicks contributed.

Key points in plan

BORDERS: The peace plan says Israel will have to make “significant territorial compromises” and that a Palestinian state should have territory “reasonably comparable in size to the territory of the West Bank and Gaza pre-1967,” when Israel seized those territories, along with east Jerusalem, in a regionwide war. The plan provides for mutually agreed land swaps. But a “conceptual map” released with the plan shows a disjointed Palestinian state, with Israeli and Palestinian enclaves linked to their respective states by what the plan calls “pragmatic transportation solutions,” including bridges, tunnels and roads. The Jordan Valley, which accounts for around a fourth of the West Bank, “will be under Israeli sovereignty.”

JERUSALEM: The peace plan would leave most of annexed east Jerusalem, including its Old City and holy sites, under Israeli control while allowing the Palestinians to establish a capital on the outskirts of the city outside Israel’s separation barrier. It said Jerusalem’s holy sites, sacred to Jews, Christians and Muslims, should be open to worshipers. The understandings governing the flashpoint holy site known as the Al-Aqsa mosque compound to Muslims and the Temple Mount to Jews would remain in place.

SETTLEMENTS: The plan allows Israel to immediately annex virtually all its settlements in the occupied West Bank, which are viewed as illegal by the Palestinians and most of the international community. It would freeze settlement construction in areas earmarked for the future Palestinian state during the period of negotiations, but those areas are already largely off-limits to settlement activity. “Not a single settlement will be evacuated,” Netanyahu told reporters. “Itamar is equal to Tel Aviv,” he said, referring to a Jewish settlement in the heart of the West Bank.

SECURITY: Under the plan, Israel “will maintain overriding security responsibility” for the state of Palestine, which will be “fully demilitarized.” The Palestinians will have their own internal security forces but Israel will control the borders and monitor all crossings. A “Crossings Board” made up of three Palestinians, three Israelis and a U.S. representative will oversee the crossings and resolve disputes. Israel will only implement its obligations under the plan if the Gaza Strip, which is currently ruled by the Islamic Hamas movement, is transferred back to the full control of the Palestinian Authority or another entity acceptable to Israel. Hamas and all other militant groups in Gaza must disarm and the territory must be fully demilitarized.

REFUGEES: Hundreds of thousands of Palestinians fled or were forced out of what is now Israel during the 1948 war around its creation. Those refugees and their descendants now number around 5 million and are scattered across the region. The Palestinians believe they have the “right of return” to former properties, something Israel has always rejected, saying it would destroy Israel’s Jewish character. The peace plan says “there shall be no right of return by, or absorption of, any Palestinian refugee into the state of Israel.” It says refugees can live in the state of Palestine, become citizens of the countries where they live or be absorbed by other countries. It says the U.S. will try to provide ”some compensation” to refugees.