White House Unveils Long-Awaited Middle East Peace Plan
WASHINGTON – President Donald Trump unveiled his long-awaited Middle East peace plan on Tuesday, earning applause from Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu despite staunch opposition from Palestinians who say it falls short of what they had hoped.
The White House plan calls for the creation of a State of Palestine with its capital in East Jerusalem while recognizing Israeli sovereignty over major settlements in the West Bank.
It also calls for a four-year freeze in new Israeli settlement construction, during which time details of a comprehensive agreement would be negotiated.
Trump said he sent a letter to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas to tell him about the plan, which the president described as “the path to peace.”
“It’s going to work,” Trump said. “If they do this, it will work. Your response to this historic opportunity will show the world to what extent you are ready to lead the Palestinian people to statehood.”
Though the president calls the plan a “win-win” for both Israel and the Palestinians, Israel’s annexation of parts of the West Bank has long been a non-starter for Palestinians leaders.
Nevertheless, Trump said, the plan unveiled Tuesday is “a great deal” for them, one that he said will give the Palestinian people the time they need to meet the challenges of statehood.
Nearly two dozen protesters gathered about a block away from the White House in response to the announcement.
In the meantime, thousands of Palestinians protested in Gaza City, burning pictures of Trump and Netanyahu and raising a banner reading “Palestine is not for sale.”
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas said he planned to hold an emergency meeting to discuss the plan and invited officials of Hamas, an Islamic militant group that seeks Israel’s destruction.
The official Wafa news agency quoted Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh calling on Palestinian factions to set their differences aside and unite against the plan.
Meanwhile Netanyahu and his main political challenger in the March elections, Benny Gantz, had signed off on the plan.
“It’s a great plan for Israel. It’s a great plan for peace,” Netanyahu said.
Netanyahu’s spokesman, Jonathan Urich, later announced via Twitter that the Israeli leader will ask his Cabinet on Sunday to approve his plan to annex parts of the West Bank.
Netanyahu has been calling for annexing parts of the West Bank and imposing Israeli sovereignty on all its settlements ahead of the March 2 election. 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.
U.S. officials, speaking on condition of anonymity ahead of the plan’s release, 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 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.
The announcement of the peace plan brought a crush of Israeli news media to White House, filling the press room to capacity and adding an extra air of excitement to the proceedings.
None, however, were willing to say whether they believed a course toward peace was finally at hand.
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