Donald Trump has launched his “ultimate deal” for Middle East peace, saying the detailed 80-page proposal would be a “realistic two-state solution” that had already been agreed to by Israel as the basis for talks.
“Today, Israel takes a big step towards peace,” Trump said in a joint press conference with the Israeli prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, at the White House. “I was not elected to do small things or shy away from big problems,” he added, in a speech supported by cheers and applause from the audience.
In a series of sometimes contradictory statements, Trump said the plan would:
“It’s a great plan for Israel, it’s a great plan for peace,” he said. Critically, Netanyahu said the “status quo” of Israeli control over the Palestinian territories would remain in place until a deal was reach, which he anticipated would take years.
He added to Trump: “You have been the greatest friend that Israel has ever had in the White House.”
Palestinians leaders, however, were absent from the launch. They have long dismissed Trump as being biased against them, and pre-emptively rejected his proposal.
US officials have sought to garner support for the plan from Arab countries, and the ambassadors from the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Oman were present on Tuesday. However, representatives from Middle Eastern countries that have been vital to past peace efforts – Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Jordan – did not attend.
Trump invited Netanyahu and his main domestic opponent, Benny Gantz, to the White House this week to discuss the proposal. The Israeli politicians will face off against each other in an election on 2 March, and Washington wanted to ensure the plan would be rolled out regardless of the result.
Gantz later said the plan was a “significant and historic milestone” that he would work to implement if elected.
Earlier this week, Saeb Erekat, the secretary general of the Palestine Liberation Organisation, described it as a “hoax”. The Palestinian ambassador to the UK, Husam Zomlot, said it was “fraud on every count”.
Trump and the plan’s chief architect, his son-in-law, Jared Kushner, have delayed the official rollout many times since they first began developing it in 2017.
Releasing it now has been interpreted as a way to distract from Trump’s impeachment trial and to help his ally, Netanyahu. The 70-year-old Israeli leader faces three criminal corruption indictments and an uncertain election campaign in just over a month. On Tuesday, he begrudgingly dropped a request for parliamentary immunity after it appeared certain he would fail to garner enough votes.
The Palestinian prime minister, Mohammad Shtayyeh, said the plan had more to do with Trump and Netanyahu’s legal woes than peace. “This is a plan to protect Trump from impeachment and protect Netanyahu from prison. It is not a Middle East peace plan,” he said.
Small protests were held in the occupied West Bank on Tuesday, with teenagers burning tyres in the street. Larger rallies were planned for Wednesday.
In Gaza, over which Israel maintains a tight blockade on people and goods, Ahmed Shafiq, a master’s student, said he felt wronged. “I cannot do anything to reject this plan. There is talk about depriving all rights. No one helps us. We feel we are alone,” he said.
“I am not against peace, but what is being talked about is not peace. Peace is not imposed on people.”
The two main Palestinian political factions, rivals Hamas and Fatah, agreed to hold a rare emergency meeting on Tuesday evening but it was unclear what effect it could have.
Trump’s administration has promoted itself – especially to a large section of US evangelical voters who ardently back the Jewish state – as the most pro-Israel in the country’s history. Washington has already implemented a number of historic changes in the region.
It reversed decades of policy by refraining from endorsing the internationally backed two-state solution. It has also recognised Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, cut millions of dollars in aid to Palestinians, and announced it no longer views Israeli settlements in occupied territory as “inconsistent with international law”.
While it was rumoured the plan would favour settlers, a delegation of leaders from the settlements who travelled with Netanyahu to Washington complained that Palestinians should not be allowed any type of country, even if it was territorially broken up and without an army or an airport.
The Guardian understands that Washington does not intend to press the Palestinians too hard to accept the plan. However, by releasing a detailed set of suggestions that are seen as strikingly favourable to Israeli ultranationalists, its publication is likely to embolden the country’s rightwing government to take steps long seen as taboo.
Hours before its announcement, several British charities, including Medical Aid for Palestinians and Care International UK, released a joint letter warning that the rights of Palestinians were in great danger.
“There is a major risk that the so-called ‘peace plan’, set to be released imminently, will lead to the formal annexation of Palestinian land, perpetual Israeli occupation, and the negation of Palestinians’ collective right to self-determination,” the letter said.