Trump Plan’s First Result: Israel Will Claim Sovereignty Over Part of West Bank


JERUSALEM — The only immediate consequence of the Trump peace plan — and possibly all that will ever come of it — was the green light President Trump gave to Israel Tuesday to expand its territory by effectively annexing vast stretches of land it has long coveted on the West Bank.

On paper, the plan offers the Palestinians a state, at last, as well as a partial four-year settlement freeze while they mull it over.

But Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will not wait, saying that he would move Sunday to apply sovereignty over the strategically vital Jordan Valley and to all Jewish settlements in the West Bank.

The move would take in up to 30 percent of the occupied West Bank, and for the first time establish what Israeli leaders have coveted since capturing the territory in the 1967 Six Day War: a permanent eastern border for Israel along the Jordan River, recognized by the United States.

It would ensure that Israel would never have to leave places like Hebron, Shiloh and Beit El, which Jews consider their biblical heartland.

Mr. Netanyahu’s action was explicitly blessed by President Trump on Tuesday, when he promised to “recognize Israeli sovereignty over the territory that my vision provides to be part of the state of Israel.”

Standing beside Mr. Trump at the White House, Mr. Netanyahu commended him for recognizing Israel’s need for a buffer along the Jordan River, giving it strategic depth against enemies to the east and the ability to prevent the smuggling of weapons to the Palestinians.

“This is something we’ve longed to have,” Mr. Netanyahu said, adding that applying sovereignty along the Jordan would “enable Israel to defend itself, by itself.”

Earlier peace proposals envisioned uprooting tens of thousands of Israelis from West Bank settlements to give those areas to the Palestinians for their own state.

But the Trump plan promises to leave both settlers and Palestinians in their homes.

The conceptual map drawn up by the White House looks torturously gerrymandered, all but erasing the pre-1967 boundary that long formed the baseline for a potential agreement. Islets of Israeli territory dangle on access roads from what is now Israel proper like so many earrings, and new Palestinian enclaves nearly as large as the Gaza Strip are dreamed up in what is now the Negev Desert along the Egyptian border.

It also appears to reward Israel for having created facts on the ground: The would-be Palestinian capital, for example, would be cobbled together from East Jerusalem neighborhoods that Israel cut off from the rest of the city when it built its security barrier.

The plan also contemplates land swaps that could give the Palestinians parts of what is now Israel in exchange for letting West Bank settlements remain, though some of those areas of Israel are heavily populated by Arab citizens.

Dan Rothem, a former aide to Prime Minister Ehud Olmert who specializes in maps of proposed peace deals, estimated that the Trump plan would give the Palestinians land equivalent to 84 percent of what they had before the 1967 war.

The green light from the White House outraged Israeli supporters of a more generous accommodation with the Palestinians and alarmed those who have warned that any annexation could set off renewed violence.

“It’s worse than any of us could anticipate,” said Nimrod Novik, a longtime peace negotiator and former aide to the Israeli leader Shimon Peres.

The Palestinians had no hand in the plan’s drafting, having cut all ties with the Trump administration after it recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. But while they reacted with predictable anger, there was no threat of specific action and little to suggest that their relationship with Israel would fundamentally change.

President Mahmoud Abbas of the Palestinian Authority made a show of inviting officials from Hamas and other factions to an emergency meeting in Ramallah. But after watching Mr. Trump and Mr. Netanyahu, Mr. Abbas, in his own televised address, made no threats of substantive action, such as cutting off security cooperation with Israel, which is the cornerstone of the Israeli-Palestinian relationship and the key to Mr. Abbas’s hold on power in the West Bank.

“Jerusalem is not for sale,” the aged and frail Mr. Abbas said, at times appearing to require whispered prompts from Saeb Erekat, the veteran Palestinian negotiator. “The deal of the century will not pass. Our people will throw it into the garbage can of history.”

Hanan Ashrawi, a senior Palestine Liberation Organization executive committee member, called the Trump plan “a real existential assault on Palestine and the Palestinian people.”

“It’s an Israeli-American agreement that has nothing to do with peace,” she said.

Mr. Netanyahu and Mr. Trump were primarily trading Palestinian rights to distract from their legal troubles — Mr. Netanyahu’s pending criminal charges and Mr. Trump’s Senate trial — and to improve their chances of re-election, she said. “In the longer term, the other strategic objective is to deliver Palestine to the Israelis,” she added.

Mr. Netanyahu told Israeli reporters in Washington that his cabinet would vote on the measure on Sunday. The decision could still be subject to legal challenges because the current cabinet is an interim government.

Israeli leaders, including Mr. Netanyahu, had refrained from extending Israeli law anywhere in the West Bank for decades, fearing international sanctions. Most of the world considers Israeli settlements there illegal.

But Mr. Trump’s green light came with a promise to veto any such moves against Israel by the United Nations Security Council, Mr. Netanyahu indicated to Israeli reporters.

For Mr. Netanyahu, who is battling for his future after being charged in three corruption cases, annexation offers the opportunity to lay down a legacy beyond being the country’s longest-serving prime minister and the first sitting one to be indicted.

Mr. Netanyahu’s challenger, Benny Gantz of the centrist Blue and White party, has opposed any unilateral annexation and has said that there is no rush to annex territory until after the March 2 elections.

His party issued a statement Tuesday hailing Mr. Trump’s plan as “historic” and calling it “entirely consistent with the principles of state and security” espoused by the party.

But it stuck to its call for international coordination, describing the plan as a “strong, viable basis for advancing a peace accord with the Palestinians,” and emphasizing the need to preserve the existing treaties with Jordan and Egypt.

Opponents of the Trump plan and of unilateral Israeli action warn of a potential domino effect leading to violence.

Ominously, the Israeli military said Tuesday it was bolstering its infantry forces in the Jordan Valley in response to security assessments, with the defense minister warning of unrest on the West Bank and of the possibility that Palestinian security forces might not cooperate in suppressing it.

Critics said annexation could damage Israel’s already strained relations with Jordan, which has a large Palestinian population.

The plan’s radical overhaul of the basic terms of reference for talks could so poison the atmosphere as to close the door on negotiations “for years or even decades to come,” said Yonatan Touval, an analyst at Mitvim, a left-leaning Israeli foreign policy institute.

And annexation could give more fodder to the International Criminal Court, which is examining a potential war crimes case against Israel for its settlement activity on the West Bank.

Yet defenders of the plan said the 1967 lines had not been sacred for a long time: The Bush administration said in 2004 that changing “realities on the ground” should be taken into account in redrawing the boundary between Israel and the West Bank.

And while the Israeli response to previous American proposals has traditionally been “yes, with reservations,” Israelis say Palestinian response has either been negative or nonexistent.

With the Palestinians missing in action, according to Dore Gold, a longtime Netanyahu adviser who said he had also been consulted by the Trump team, the plan is “a kind of declaration that the old paradigm had failed and that something new was needed.”

Yaakov Amidror, a former Israeli national security adviser, said Israelis would prefer a bilaterally negotiated agreement. “But when the neighbors are not coming to the table, what’s the alternative?” he said.


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