“Today,” Trump announced from the East Room, “Israel takes a big step towards peace.”
That juxtaposition was the central and startling backdrop to the unveiling of a proposal three years in the making that was overwhelmingly expected to be skewed in Israel’s favor and is largely viewed as dead on arrival in the region.
The plan Trump revealed Tuesday did call for the creation of a new state for the Palestinians, ending questions about his support for the so-called “two state solution.”
And Trump said his plan would double Palestinian territory, including a capital in eastern Jerusalem, where he said the US would open an embassy.
But the plan would also recognize Israeli sovereignty over West Bank settlements, according to Netanyahu, who spoke after Trump. That’s a step Palestinians have rejected in the past.
Trump nevertheless insisted his plan was different from past failed attempts at brokering peace between Israelis and Palestinians.
And he made a nod to the absent party, saying the Palestinians deserve a “far better life” than their current situation.
Trump said the plan proposed a “realistic two-state solution” that does not compromise Israel’s security. And he said Israel’s leaders told him the proposal would provide the basis for direct negotiations with Palestinians.
But Trump acknowledged that in order for his plan to have any hope of taking hold, “it’s only reasonable that I do a lot for the Palestinians, or it wouldn’t be fair.”
This a “historic opportunity for the Palestinians to finally achieve an independent state,” Trump said, warning: “This could be the last opportunity they will ever have.”
Berfore seeing the details, Palestinian officials had rejected the plan out of hand — saying that any deal that does not label Israel as an “occupying force” will be the “fraud of the century.”
Trump administration officials, meanwhile, insist it is an earnest, if unorthodox, effort to resolve the decades-old conflict, pointing to their invitation of Netanyahu’s political rival, Benny Gantz, to see the plan as proof that it is apolitical.
Trump sounded circumspect about the chances of success for his own plan as he welcomed Netanyahu into the Oval Office on Monday ahead of the plan’s release.
“We’re going to show a plan that’s been worked on by everybody, and we’ll see whether or not it catches on,” Trump said. “If it does, that would be great. And if it doesn’t we can live with it too. But I think it might have a chance.”
Some Middle East experts have argued that the plan — given the lack of Palestinian involvement and the release’s proximity to upcoming Israeli elections — is squarely aimed at bolstering Netanyahu, giving him a statesman-like moment weeks before the Israeli election. It’s also a move that emphasizes the importance of Netanyahu’s close ties to the Trump administration.
The White House proposal on Tuesday is expected to address the conflict’s most central and intractable political issues, from the status of Jerusalem to borders and security, Israeli settlements and the right of return for Palestinian refugees. It will build on a $50 billion economic proposal unveiled last June, which called for international investment, grants and loan over 10 years to spur the Palestinian economy if there is first a political resolution to the conflict.
But the economic proposal was met with a thud in the Palestinian territories, where mistrust in the Trump administration reigns following a steady stream of policy moves that have bolstered Israel and undermined the Palestinian position: from US recognition of Jerusalem and the Golan Heights as sovereign Israeli territory to cutting off all US support for aid projects aimed at helping Palestinians.
Ahead of the peace plan release, speculation has reached a fever-pitch about the extent to which the Trump administration will propose Israel annex swaths of the Palestinian territories. As the Trump administration prepared to release its proposal, Netanyahu’s rival Gantz joined him last week in vowing to annex the Jordan River Valley that separates the Palestinian West Bank from Jordan, though Gantz said he would do so in coordination with the international community.
Senior Trump administration officials have repeatedly emphasized that Israel’s security needs have only increased in the years since previous proposals have been on the table, suggesting that the Trump proposal will lean toward bolstering those Israeli security needs. But they have also said that there will be elements of the plan that will be appealing to Palestinians.
Throughout the process, though, Trump administration officials have refused to say whether their plan will back the notion of a two-state solution to the conflict, raising the question of whether the proposal will accede to Palestinian demands for a sovereign state. Calls for a Palestinian State, even if conditioned on demands the Palestinians would never accept, has already been flatly rejected by at least some of Israel’s hardline right-wing.
Trump administration officials have made clear, though, that they are leaning on increasingly close relations between Israel and Sunni Arab countries in the Middle East, a rapprochement largely borne out of tensions with Iran. Gulf countries, like Saudi Arabia, have signaled that they could take their relationships with Israel out of the shadows and into the open if there is a resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Trump administration officials hope those Arab countries will wield their influence to encourage Palestinians to at least consider this proposal though Trump said many of the Arab countries have already agreed to the plan. But those countries have been noticeably quiet to this point, hesitant to endorse a plan that has not yet been unveiled.
CNN’s Kevin Liptak and Oren Lieberman contributed to this report.