Trump ignores critics to unveil Israel-Palestinian peace plan

Sebastian Smith, Agence France-Presse

Posted at Jan 29 2020 12:21 AM

US President Donald Trump and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu walk to the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, US, January 27, 2020. Kevin Lamarque, Reuters

WASHINGTON - President Donald Trump on Tuesday will ignore accusations of pro-Israeli bias and unveil what he says is a peace plan that can solve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Long-held secret, the plan was to be aired by Trump and visiting Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in joint public remarks at the White House.

Given that it has been emphatically rejected by the Palestinians, the latest of many US proposals to address the bitter, multi-generational Middle East conflict might seem to have little future.

In Gaza, thousands protested, burning pictures of Trump and the American flag.

In a rare event, rival Palestinian factions Hamas and Fatah were set to meet in the West Bank city of Ramallah to discuss a response.

Russia, a growing force in Mideast politics, sounded skeptical, with Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov saying that initial indications reflected "an approach that is totally different from what has been recognized by the international community."

Netanyahu's office said he would travel to Moscow on Wednesday to present the plan in-person to President Vladimir Putin.

Trump insists he is optimistic and whatever happens, both he and Netanyahu could reap political benefits as they battle respective domestic scandals.

"It might have a chance," Trump said of the plan at an initial Oval Office meeting with Netanyahu on Monday.

Trump, whose impeachment trial in the Senate is entering a critical phase, said his plan was getting widespread support from "many of the Arab nations" and claimed that even Palestinians would come round to the idea.

"It's very good for them, in fact it's overly good for them," Trump told reporters. "We think we will have ultimately the support of the Palestinians."

Netanyahu, praising Trump as "the greatest friend that Israel's had in the White House", described the plan as "the deal of the century".

Netanyahu also faces corruption charges, as well as a tense election in just over a month, with his right-wing Likud currently neck-and-neck with Benny Gantz's centrist Blue and White party.

On Monday, Trump also met separately with Gantz, but the limelight fell almost entirely on the incumbent prime minister -- as will any political dividends from a peace plan favoring Israel.

Right-wing Israelis angry

No Palestinians have been invited to the White House event. They say they were never included in crafting the plan, which was overseen by Trump's son-in-law Jared Kushner.

While details remained under wraps right up to the White House unveiling, analysts say it is likely to formalize US recognition of Israel's occupation of swaths of land.

Palestinian prime minister Mohammed Shtayyeh on Monday urged international powers to boycott the plan, which he said was designed "to protect Trump from impeachment and protect Netanyahu from prison."

"It is not a Middle East peace plan," Shtayyeh told a cabinet meeting. "This plan gives Israel sovereignty over Palestinian territory."

But speculation that it could also lay out the terms of an eventual Palestinian state was enough to spark immediate resistance from hardline Jewish settlers who form the vanguard of Israel's push into Palestinian lands.

Israeli Transport Minister Bezalel Smotrich of the far-right Yemina union stressed in an interview with army radio that his party "won't under any conditions agree to recognition, whether explicit or implicit, of a Palestinian state."

Trump has already thrown Netanyahu a string of political presents throughout his first term.

He has broken with international diplomatic consensus to recognize the disputed city of Jerusalem as the Israeli capital. He recognized Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights, seized from neighboring Syria. And he has ended opposition to Israeli settlements on occupied Palestinian land.

Ahead of Tuesday's announcement, the Israeli army said it was beefing up forces in the Jordan Valley, a swath of the occupied West Bank expected to feature in Trump's plan.