Israel hails Trump’s Middle East peace plan


Donald Trump unveiled his long-delayed Middle East peace plan on Tuesday, saying it would lay the foundations for “a realistic two-state solution” to end the protracted Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

But setting the tone for a plan that appeared to be heavily weighted in favour of Israel, the US president said Jerusalem, the holy city, would be the undivided capital of the Israeli state. David Friedman, US ambassador to Israel, later told reporters that a “meaningful portion” of the occupied West Bank would also be allocated to Israel, including the Jordan Valley.

Palestinian leaders, who have refused to talk to US officials since Mr Trump announced in December 2017 his decision to move the American embassy to Jerusalem, have previously said they would reject the plan. The details announced on Tuesday will further inflame their anger and fuel allegations that Mr Trump is pursuing a pro-Israeli bias.

The US president insisted the plan was a “win-win” for both sides, saying the proposals would more than double Palestinian territory. He said the Palestinian authorities would have four years to meet US-set conditions of statehood, during which Israel committed not to develop the land allocated for the future state. He added that the Palestinian capital would be in eastern Jerusalem, but did not state where.

Benjamin Netanyahu, the Israeli prime minister, lauded the plan as he stood alongside Mr Trump at the White House saying the US president had “charted . . . a brilliant future for Israel”.

Mr Netanyahu, who is gearing up for his third election battle in less than a year, also said the White House’s plan would enable Israel to annex areas of occupied territory in the West Bank.

“You are recognising Israel must have sovereignty in the Jordan Valley, and other strategic areas in Judea and Samaria,” said Mr Netanyahu, using the biblical description for the West Bank. “You are recognising Israel’s sovereignty over all Jewish communities in Judea and Samaria, large and small alike.”

He said he was prepared to negotiate with Palestinian leaders, but the prospect of talks appeared remote.

Mr Trump’s previous actions over the past two years — including his recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and accepting Israeli claims to sovereignty over the occupied Golan Heights, which Israel captured from Syria in the 1967 war — had already inflamed Palestinian leaders and crushed their hopes of a viable two-state solution.

The status of Jerusalem is one of the most contentious issues at the heart of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. While Israel considers the holy city its undivided capital, Palestinians see East Jerusalem as their future capital.

Dennis Ross, a former senior state department official who led Middle East peace efforts under both Republican and Democratic administrations, said the “tell-tale indicator” of whether the vision might have any possible future would come from the Arab response.

Two Palestinian officials close to prime minister Mohammed Shtayyeh said their concern was also whether Arab countries such as Egypt or Saudi Arabia, which have forged close ties to the Trump administration, will try to pressure the Palestinians to engage with the plan.

A Saudi official said the kingdom is likely to look for positives in Mr Trump’s plan, but that it would ultimately be up to the Palestinians to decide how to respond.

Mr Trump’s plan was developed by Jared Kushner, Mr Trump’s son-in-law and adviser, largely in secret.

Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank, which includes East Jerusalem, are home to more than 500,000 Israelis living under Israeli military rules. The towns are considered illegal by most of the world, except for the US, which recently reversed its longstanding policy on their legitimacy.

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