Donald Trump has recognised Israeli sovereignty over Jewish settlements in the West Bank for the first time as he outlined his proposed Middle East peace deal and revealed that Boris Johnson called him offering to help.
Trump said the British prime minister called the US president hours before he announced his long-awaited “deal of the century” on Tuesday, offering British diplomatic support to help him get an Israeli-Palestinian deal done.
The Palestinians have already rejected the Trump plan, which includes recognition of West Bank settlements as sovereign Israeli territory, despite them being deemed illegal under international law, and recognising Jerusalem as the “undivided” capital of Israel.
Trump said there would be a Palestinian state under his deal, with any new state’s capital in East Jerusalem. He also said the size of territory controlled by the Palestinian Authority would double, but that no Jewish settlement would be uprooted.
He said there would need to be a long settlement-building freeze from Israel, but that the Palestinians would need to end terrorism, sign up to human rights obligations, end corruption and stop paying the families of convicted terrorists.
Currently Jordan administers the Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem, Islam’s third holiest site, and Trump said he wanted this to continue, before warning the Palestinians that this could be their “last chance” to get a state.
The timing of Trump’s announcement has been a major talking point, on the day that his friend Benjamin Netanyahu withdrew his bid for Israeli parliamentarians to grant him immunity from prosecution, owing to a lack of support.
The Israeli prime minister was immediately indicted on three corruption charges and will now either face a trial or be forced to agree a plea bargain, while Trump’s own impeachment process in the US Senate has also started to prove a headache, with former security chief John Bolton now looking likely to testify against his former boss.
Stood next to Trump for the announcement, Netanyahu said he would negotiate with the Palestinians on the basis of the deal outlined, but did not mention a “Palestinian state,” which would cross a major red line for many of his party members and allies.
“Today, for the first time, you recognised our sovereignty over strategic areas of Judea and Samaria [the West Bank], which are central to our heritage and crucial to our history,” said Netanyahu.
Trump said Netanyahu had given him a map of the areas in the West Bank where Israel was prepared to cede territory. If true, that would be something new from Netanyahu, who was Israeli PM while John Kerry unsuccessfully sought to kick-start negotiations while he was President Obama’s chief envoy.
The announcement comes as official figures revealed that settlement-building in the West Bank now stood at its fastest ever rate, with settlements increasing by three percent annually, far in excess of building rates in Israel.
Trump did not mention Gaza or refugees during his speech on Tuesday, although these appear to be addressed in a corresponding 80-page report detailing the plan, which is being sponsored by three Arab states – Oman, Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates. Neither Jordanian nor Saudi Arabian leaders support the plan.
Analysts such as BICOM chief executive James Sorene had earlier said the plan would be “ridiculed” if it did not address the issue of millions of Palestinian refugees, many of whom still live in camps in neighbouring states such as Jordan and Syria.
British Jewish group Yachad, which advocates a two-state solution, said it was a “one-sided deal that will only prolong the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, weaken the peace camp and strengthen extremists on both sides”.
Both Netanyahu and Israeli opposition leader Benny Gantz have been in Washington for meetings this week, but the Palestinians were unrepresented, because they reject Trump as a neutral arbitrator. Trump has cut hundreds of millions of dollars of US funding to the Palestinians, closed Palestinian diplomatic offices in the US, recognised occupied land as Israeli, moved the US embassy to Jerusalem, and stayed silent on settlement expansion.
Gantz, who co-heads Israel’s largest party, could easily form the next government. This week he called Trump’s proposal “a significant and historic milestone” but said any effort to implement it should wait until Israel’s next election on 2 March.