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Trump announces long-awaited Israeli-Palestinian peace package amid doubts it will lead to progress

Parallel to his ongoing impeachment trial, President Trump revealed his Middle East peace plan with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Jan. 28. (Video: The Washington Post)

President Trump proposed a sweeping Middle East peace plan Tuesday that would establish a disjointed Palestinian state largely surrounded by Israel, while granting Israel most of what it has sought over decades of conflict. The proposal appears to have little chance of success.

Trump touted the plan as the potential solution to decades of bloody strife, but his administration did little to solicit the support of Palestinian leaders who had rejected it sight unseen and played no role in its drafting. The president presented the proposal as the best Palestinians could hope to get during a ceremony where he stood beside Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who eagerly embraced both the president and what he presented.

“Today’s agreement is a historic opportunity for the Palestinians to finally achieve an independent state of their very own,” Trump said. “After 70 years of little progress, this could be the last opportunity they will ever have.”

The plan would grant Israel vast license to incorporate Jewish settlements and maintain a yoke of security on land it now occupies — proposals that could have immediate consequences. Netanyahu plans to move forward with annexing the Jewish settlements in the West Bank and parts of the Jordan Valley as soon as this weekend, a government official said, in a move that could inflame tensions in the region and is being done with the tacit support of the White House.

The detailed proposal offers a four-year window for Palestinians to begin negotiations for what would amount to a smaller, weaker version of statehood than envisioned by past U.S. presidents. But the conditional sovereignty is still more than Palestinians have now, and more than many of Trump’s critics thought he would offer.

“My vision presents a win-win opportunity for both sides,” Trump said. “A realistic two-state solution that resolves the risk of Palestinian statehood to Israel’s security.”

The announcement came as both Trump and Netanyahu face politically perilous moments at home. The U.S. Senate is in the midst of the president’s impeachment trial, which has been roiled by new reports regarding his actions toward Ukraine. And hours before the peace plan’s release in Washington, the prime minister’s indictment on corruption charges was filed in a Jerusalem court.

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Both men embraced the release of the long-awaited plan in a celebratory ceremony that they portrayed as a historic moment and a testament to their leadership.

“I was not elected to do small things or shy away from big problems,” Trump said.

The package of U.S. ideas calls for a remapping of the West Bank and Jerusalem while offering Palestinians a pathway to statehood if they meet a set of tests.

No Palestinians attended the White House preview of what Trump called a highly detailed proposal for resolving the ­Israeli-Palestinian conflict, which dates from Israel’s founding in 1948. Trump said he sent a letter Tuesday to Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas inviting him to consider the plan.

“President Abbas, I want you to know that if you choose the path to peace, America and many other countries will — we will be there,” Trump pledged.

Trump tweeted a copy of the proposed new map of Israel and future Palestinian territories, and he also tweeted about the plan in Hebrew and Arabic.

Abbas met Tuesday with a rare collection of often-feuding factions, including leaders of Hamas, the Palestine Liberation Organization and Islamic Jihad.

He dismissed the Trump plan — nicknamed the “deal of the century” — as the “slap of the century” and pledged not to abandon the quest for what he called true independence, even for a $50 billion investment fund envisioned in the White House proposal.

“Trump, Jerusalem is not for sale,” Abbas said. “Our rights are not for sale.”

U.S. officials hope Arab leaders who are weary of the endless conflict will see the plan as perhaps the last, best chance to settle it before Israeli settlements, other construction and security measures on occupied territory render a self-governing Palestinian entity moot.

The two neighboring states that have made peace with Israel — Egypt and Jordan — did not send representatives to Tuesday’s event, while the United Arab Emirates, Oman and Bahrain did.

In addition to concerns over the details of the proposal, some Arab countries were upset about how it was rolled out. An Arab official involved in previous meetings with a team led by Trump senior adviser and son-in-law Jared Kushner said none of the Arab representatives had been allowed to see the final version of the plan before it was unveiled. A series of calls from the White House to Arab capitals over the weekend appeared mostly aimed at persuading leaders not to dismiss the proposal out of hand, said the official, who spoke on the condition that his name and country be withheld, citing the sensitive nature of the discussions with Washington.

“Where this has failed, badly, is in coordination and pre-briefs,” the official said. “This is a case of the White House dictating a mostly Israeli vision of a way ahead and not selling it in advance. The ‘Art of the Deal’ appears lacking in this case,” the official said, referring to Trump’s 1987 book on business deals.

Once a signature priority for Trump, the peace deal effort was hobbled early on by a Palestinian boycott and then repeatedly delayed by a political crisis in Israel.

After holding back the secretive package during two rounds of inconclusive elections in Israel, the Trump administration decided to publish it ahead of a third vote in March and let the chips fall where they may, several people familiar with the process said.

Standing with a grinning Netanyahu, Trump listed actions he has taken that seem to tip the scales toward Israel, including a 2017 announcement recognizing Jerusalem as the country’s capital. Palestinians walked away from the peace effort at that point and have not returned.

Trump also recognized Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights and pulled out of the 2015 Iran nuclear deal despised by Netanyahu.

“Therefore, it is only reasonable that I have to do a lot for the Palestinians, or it just wouldn’t be fair,” Trump said as the room went quiet. “Now, don’t clap for that, okay? But it’s true. It wouldn’t be fair. I want this deal to be a great deal for the Palestinians. It has to be.”

At the conclusion of Trump’s speech, mosques across the West Bank and in East Jerusalem began broadcasting readings from the 33rd chapter of the Koran, a verse that warns, “Do not obey the disbelievers and the hypocrites.”

By midnight, small groups of protesters were throwing rocks in parts of Ramallah. Near the northern checkpoint controlling access from East Jerusalem, video showed burning vehicles and rockets being fired from a truck.

The Palestinian entity depicted in the Trump document would occupy about 70 percent of the West Bank, less than in plans envisioned by Presidents Bill Clinton, George W. Bush or Barack Obama, and would have a capital on the outskirts of East Jerusalem rather than in the heart of that ancient section of the city as long demanded by Palestinians and their Arab backers.

Israel would give up some land along the Egyptian border, adjacent to the Gaza Strip, and a chunk of territory along the northern tip of the West Bank largely occupied by Israeli Arabs who the plan says self-identify as Palestinians.

The United States cannot effect the proposals, but U.S. ideas for what a peace settlement should include have guided the most recent failed efforts at a negotiated settlement.

Netanyahu thanked Trump profusely, calling him the finest friend Israel has ever had and pledging to talk if Palestinians come to the table. He said Trump’s view that Israel can absorb settlements is a key to lasting peace rather than its undoing.

“Rather than pay easy lip service to Israel’s security and simply shut your eyes, hope for the best, you recognized that Israel must have sovereignty in places that enable Israel to defend itself, by itself,” Netanyahu said.

Democrats and Middle East analysts were quick to criticize the White House proposal. Most characterized it as a one-sided abandonment of the two-state solution, and they predicted the Palestinians would reject it outright.

“Previous presidents of both parties successfully maintained the respect of both Israelis and Palestinians for the United States’ role as a credible player in difficult negotiations,” a group of 12 Democratic senators led by Chris Van Hollen of Maryland wrote in a letter to Trump. “Your one-sided actions have made that impossible. It is clear that this latest White House effort is not a legitimate attempt to advance peace. It is a recipe for renewed division and conflict in the region.”

Trump aired his proposals in private meetings Monday with Netanyahu and the veteran Israeli leader’s challenger in upcoming elections, Benny Gantz, as part of the administration’s strategy to release the U.S. guidelines for a settlement before Israelis vote in March. Netanyahu and Gantz are in a dead heat after two inconclusive elections in the past year.

The plan developed by Kushner addresses each of the major issues that have scuttled past peace efforts, including competing land claims and the administration of holy sites in Jerusalem.

In an interview Tuesday on CNN, Kushner said the plan does “a great deal” for Palestinians but did not strike a conciliatory tone. If they reject it, “they’re going to screw up another opportunity, like they’ve screwed up every other opportunity that they’ve ever had in their existence,” Kushner said.

Ahead of the plan’s release, Hamas, the militant group governing the Gaza Strip, agreed to sit down Tuesday to craft a joint response with archrival Abbas, whose Fatah party controls the West Bank.

“The unitary scene is the first nail in the coffin of this deal; when we are united, Trump and no one else will dare violate our rights,” Khalil al-Hayya, the deputy head of Hamas, said at a rally Monday night in Gaza City. “We tell everyone that we are united against the deal of the century and to drop all conspiracies. We are one people under one flag.”

Some in Israel are concerned about a Palestinian uprising in the wake of the plan’s release. A violent backlash is one of the factors that Washington has weighed in deciding when and how to go forward after Palestinians rebuffed all U.S. outreach only months after the effort began during Trump’s first year in office.

But Michael Milshtein, head of the Palestinian Studies Forum at the Moshe Dayan Center at Tel Aviv University,cited a disparity between what is being said by the Palestinian leadership and the mood of the Palestinian people.

“If you look at the discourse on the streets, people are not really talking about this plan at all,” he said. “What happens now is really a big test for Abbas because it will show how much support he has among his people, but I don’t believe that there is the energy among the Palestinian public to go out in mass protest.”

Hendrix and Eglash reported from Jerusalem. Hazem Balousha in Gaza City, Sufian Taha in Jerusalem, Taylor Luck in Amman, Jordan, and Carol Morello and Joby Warrick in Washington contributed to this report.