And yet there they were, President Trump and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, together in the East Room of the White House on Tuesday afternoon to announce the release of Trump's long-delayed Israeli-Palestinian peace plan.
There was pageantry and mutual congratulations. The only thing missing was Palestinians.
“Forging peace between Israelis and Palestinians may be the most difficult challenge of all,” Trump said. “All prior administrations from President Lyndon Johnson have tried and bitterly failed. But I was not elected to do small things or shy away from big problems.”
Praising his skill as a “dealmaker,” Trump said his “vision presents a win-win opportunity for both sides — a realistic two-state solution that resolves the risk of Palestinian statehood and to Israel’s security.”
The 80-page plan calls for the creation of a Palestinian state, an idea many observers considered dead as recently as last year. It gives Palestinians the Gaza Strip and additional territory on the West Bank but leaves control of vital security corridors, including the Jordan Valley, in Israel’s hands.
“We will not allow a return to the days of bloodshed, bus bombings, nightclub attacks and relentless terror,” Trump said. “Peace requires compromise, but we will never ask Israel to compromise its security.”
The plan was produced under the supervision of White House adviser and Trump son-in-law Jared Kushner without input from the Palestinian side, which has already rejected parts of it. It envisions a four-year freeze on the construction of new Israeli settlements on the West Bank, during which the two sides can continue to negotiate a final treaty. The right-wing nationalist parties that Netanyahu has relied on for his governing coalition may object to that part of it.
“As everyone knows, I have done a lot for Israel,” Trump said, boasting about moving the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem and his recognition of Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights.
“It is only reasonable that I have to do a lot for the Palestinians, or it just wouldn’t be fair,” Trump continued, adding in a wry aside to the audience: “Now, don’t clap for that.”
The announcement came a day after Trump held separate meetings with Netanyahu and Benjamin Gantz, the Blue and White party leader who is looking to unseat Netanyahu in Israel's upcoming elections.
The president also took a moment to thank Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, prompting a long ovation from the room filled with administration officials, Israeli diplomats and representatives from some of the Arab Gulf states.
Trump took note of the applause. “That reporter couldn’t have done too good a job on you,” he joked, referring to Pompeo’s expletive-laced diatribe against an NPR journalist who questioned him about his role in the Ukraine scandal that is the basis for Trump’s impeachment. “Think you did a good job on her, actually.”
In his remarks, Netanyahu noted that Trump’s plan demands that “the Palestinians will finally have to recognize Israel as the Jewish state” and recognizes that “the Palestinian refugee problem must be solved outside the state of Israel.” The latter provision is likely to meet with objections from Palestinians who have held out in previous negotiations for a “right of return” for the descendants of people displaced from the new state of Israel at its formation in 1948.
Netanyahu thanked Kushner for his work on the plan. “Without your wisdom, your persistence, your resolve, this day would have never come,” Netanyahu said.
Neither of the embattled world leaders took questions, and left the room to an instrumental rendition of Louis Armstrong’s “What a Wonderful World.”
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