Tue, 29 Sep 2020

President Donald Trump's long delayed Middle East peace plan won support in Israel on Wednesday but was bitterly rejected by Palestinians facing possible Israeli annexation of key parts of the West Bank.

Trump, who unveiled the plan on Tuesday at the White House standing alongside Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu with no Palestinian representatives on hand, said his initiative could succeed where others had failed.

Major powers and some regional players responded with caution, saying Trump's project deserves study while stressing that a durable solution to the conflict can only emerge through Israeli-Palestinian negotiations.

But Trump's proposals reportedly included no Palestinian input and grants Israel much of what it has sought in decades of international diplomacy, namely control over Jerusalem as its "undivided" capital, rather than a city to share with the Palestinians.

It also offers a US green light for Israel to annex the strategically crucial Jordan Valley - which accounts for around 30% of the West Bank - as well as other Jewish settlements in the area.

"History knocked on our door last night and gave us a unique opportunity to apply Israeli law on all of the settlements in Judea (and) Samaria," said Israel's rightwing Defence Minister Naftali Bennett, using the Israeli term for the occupied West Bank.

The Blue and White party led by Benny Gantz, Netanyahu's main election rival in the upcoming March 2 polls, embraced Trump's proposals as offering "a strong, viable basis for advancing a peace accord with the Palestinians", in a statement on Tuesday.

But the head of Israel's leftwing coalition Labour-Gesher-Meretz, Amir Peretz, condemned Netanyahu's expected move towards "unilateral annexations".

Palestinian state?

Trump's proposal foresees the creation of a "contiguous" Palestinian state but under strict conditions, including a requirement that it be "demilitarised".

On the flashpoint issue of Jerusalem, Trump said Israel should retain control over the city as its "undivided capital". At the same time, the Palestinians would be allowed to declare a capital in parts of east Jerusalem beyond an Israeli security wall, the plan said.

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The US president also painted a future where some $50bn in investments would eradicate the misery gripping Palestinians today. But the Palestinians angrily rejected the entire plan.

"This conspiracy deal will not pass. Our people will take it to the dustbin of history," Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas said.

The Hamas Islamist movement, which runs the Gaza Strip, said it could never accept compromise on Jerusalem being capital of a future state.

Near the town of Tubas in the Jordan Valley on Wednesday, protesters waved Palestinians flags as Israeli soldiers looked on.

"If the Americans try to implement this plan the Palestinian people will make it fail," said 63-year-old Khaled Sawafta.

A headline in the Palestinian daily newspaper Al-Hayat Al-Jadida summed up the sentiment.

"No! A thousand times No!" it read.

Impeachment, indictment

Trump himself is in the midst of an impeachment battle over his alleged abuse of power and he faces a difficult re-election campaign in November.

Pro-Israel evangelical Christians form a key part of his voter base and they have backed his frequent moves to bolster Israel's position in the Middle East.

ALSO READ | Palestinian PM calls on world to boycott Trump peace plan

Netanyahu was formally indicted on three corruption charges on Tuesday after he abandoned an attempt to seek parliamentary immunity.

His rightwing Likud faces a neck-and-neck race with rival Gantz's centrist Blue and White in a month, with Netanyahu seemingly gambling that his high-profile partnership with Trump will galvanise his support.

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