US, Israeli wordplay over Trump peace plan

29 January 2020 - 08:57
By Reuters
US President Donald Trump.
Image: REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst US President Donald Trump.

While US President Donald Trump unveiled a Middle East peace plan on Tuesday that was hailed by Israel as an historic breakthrough and a sign of the allies' seamless coordination, there were some telling inconsistencies in the small print.

* PALESTINIAN "STATE" OR "LIMITED SOVEREIGNTY": Trump proposed the eventual formation of a Palestinian state.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu spoke only of "conditional, limited Palestinian sovereignty." The idea of a Palestinian state is anathema to ultranationalists in Netanyahu's cabinet.

* PALESTINIAN CAPITAL IN EAST OR EASTERN JERUSALEM: A White House official who briefed reporters ahead of Trump's announcement said a Palestinian capital was envisaged in East Jerusalem.

But Trump used the term "eastern Jerusalem." According to Netanyahu, the proposed Palestinian capital would be in Abu Dis, a West Bank village just east of the Israeli municipal boundaries for Jerusalem.

Israel, which deems all of Jerusalem its capital and won U.S. recognition of this status in 2017, would not accept a Palestinian sovereign foothold in the city. Palestinians, for their part, want East Jerusalem - with the walled Old City at its heart, housing major Muslim, Christian and Jewish shrines - as their future capital.

* WEST BANK "ANNEXATION" OR "APPLICATION OF LAW": Israeli media have carried quotes from unnamed U.S. officials suggesting the Trump administration would accept "annexation" by Israel of occupied West Bank land.

But Israel speaks only of "applying Israeli law" in Jewish settlements or other West Bank areas. The term "annexation,' should apply to land taken from a sovereign country, Israel says, whereas the West Bank was formerly held by Jordan, not the Palestinians.

* "SETTLEMENT FREEZE"? Trump pledged a four-year "land freeze" as part of efforts to encourage Palestinians to restart direct peace negotiations with Israel. But the Israelis quickly played down any prospect of them agreeing to a freeze on settlement activity, after similar such moratoria in the past stoked anti-government anger by settlers.

One senior Israeli official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said flatly: "There is no freeze." What there would be, the official said, is a continuation of current inactivity around a cluster of settlements in areas where Israel does not intend to declare formal jurisdiction.