Palestinians reject U.S. peace plan as Kushner keeps silent on political details

White House senior adviser Jared Kushner gives a speech at the opening of the "Peace to Prosperity" conference in Manama, Bahrain, June 25, 2019 in this still image taken from a video. Peace And Prosperity conference pool/Reuters TV via REUTERS

By Matt Spetalnick

MANAMA (Reuters) – Palestinians poured scorn on the Trump administration’s much-touted peace plan for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict on Wednesday, saying its framework for a trade and investment boost ignored their political aspirations for statehood.

Gulf states attending an international meeting in Bahrain, orchestrated by the plan’s architect, U.S. President Donald Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner, gave it qualified support.

But they also stressed that any peace settlement must be based on two-state solution.

Kushner told reporters his team would release the plan’s political details, which remain secret, “when we’re ready”, adding: “We’ll see what happens”.

He said a peace deal would happen when both sides are ready to say “yes”. He acknowledged that they may never get there.

Neither the Israeli nor Palestinian governments are attending the meeting, which takes place amid a years-long stalemate in other international efforts to resolve a conflict that has lasted more than 70 years.

Senior Palestine Liberation Organisation official Hanan Ashrawi, speaking in the West Bank city of Ramallah, said the Manama conference was “quite disingenuous”.

“It is totally divorced from reality. The elephant in the room is the (Israeli) occupation itself,” she told a news conference.

Several thousand Palestinians demonstrated in the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip and burned posters of Trump and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. “No to the conference of treason, no to the conference of shame” read one banner.

The chief of the Islamist Hamas, Ismail Haniyeh, criticized the plan as a ruse against the Palestinian people.

“This money must not come at the expense of our enduring rights, or at the expense of Jerusalem or the right of return or at the expense of sovereignty and resistance,” he said.

The foreign minister of Bahrain said the plan, nearly two years in the making, was an “opportunity not to be missed”.

He reiterated the need for a two-state solution, which has underpinned every peace plan for decades, but Trump’s team has consistently refused to commit to it.

“I think if we take this matter seriously it could be a very important game-changer,” Sheikh Khalid bin Ahmed al-Khalifa told Israeli public broadcaster Kan in English.

Netanyahu, a close Trump ally, has said Israel was open to the economic proposals.

But many Arab states, including Lebanon, stayed away from the event while others including Jordan and Egypt, the two Arab nations that have reached peace agreements with Israel, sent deputy ministers.

The Lebanese government and parliament both oppose the U.S. plan, Prime Minister Saad al-Hariri said on Wednesday.

 

Randall Stephenson, Chairman and CEO, AT&T is seen during the "Peace to Prosperity" conference in Manama, Bahrain, June 25, 2019. Peace to Prosperity Workshop/Handout via REUTERS

Randall Stephenson, Chairman and CEO, AT&T is seen during the “Peace to Prosperity” conference in Manama, Bahrain, June 25, 2019. Peace to Prosperity Workshop/Handout via REUTERS

HARD SELL

Washington hopes the wealthy Gulf states will bankroll the plan, which expects donor nations and investors to contribute $50 billion to Palestinian and neighboring Arab state economies.

Saudi Finance Minister Mohammed al-Jadaan said the kingdom would support whatever brings prosperity to the region but that it was important that it was driven by the private sector.

UAE Minister of State for Financial Affairs Obaid Humaid al-Tayer said: “We should give this initiative a chance”.

Riyadh said on the eve of the conference that any peace deal should be based on a Saudi-led Arab peace initiative that calls for a Palestinian state drawn along borders which predate Israel’s capture of territory in the 1967 Middle East war.

It also envisages a capital in East Jerusalem and refugees’ right of return – points rejected by Israel.

It is not clear whether the Trump team plans to abandon the two-state solution, which is backed by the United Nations and most countries. Kushner has said the plan would not adhere to the Arab initiative.

Any solution must settle long-standing issues such as the status of Jerusalem, mutually agreed borders, Israel’s security concerns, Palestinian demands for statehood, and the fate of Israel’s settlements and military presence in territory where Palestinians want to build that state.

Palestinian leaders are refusing to engage with the White House, accusing it of pro-Israel bias. Breaking with the international consensus, Trump in 2017 recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, infuriating the Palestinians and other Arabs.

SOUND POLITICS

Former British Prime Minister Tony Blair also emphasized the need for a two-state solution and said peace required both political and economic tracks.

“It’s absolutely foolish to believe you can have economics without sound politics, but it’s likewise completely futile to think politics will work without economics buttressing it,” he told the gathering.

International Monetary Fund managing director, Christine Lagarde, said generating economic growth in conflict-riven countries can be a struggle.

The IMF puts unemployment at 30% in the West Bank and 50% in Gaza, which has suffered years of Israeli and Egyptian blockades and recent foreign aid cuts and sanctions by the Palestinian Authority, Hamas’ rival in the Israeli-occupied West Bank.

“Gaza right now is feeling a lot of pain because of bad leadership and the sanctions that have been imposed on them because of it,” Kushner said.

“So the question that (Hamas)leadership has to ask themselves is…do they hate their neighbor in Israel more than they love their citizens and their people?”

The 179 proposed infrastructure and business projects in the plan include a $5 billion transportation corridor to connect the West Bank and Gaza, which has been floated before and stalled for lack of underlying political or security agreements.

Palestinian businessman Ashraf Jabari, chairman of the Palestinian Business Network, told the gathering it was difficult to build an economy with a “siege and unstable situation”.

“Frankly, we demand an independent Palestinian state on the territories occupied by Israel in 1967,” said the businessman from Hebron, who has co-founded a trade group to boost business between Palestinians and Israeli settlers.

(Story was refiled to remove extraneous words from headline)

(Reporting by Matt Spetalnick in Manama, Dan Williams in Jerusalem, Rami Ayyub in Ramallah, Nidal al-Mughrabi in Gaza, Davide Barbuscia, Lisa Barrington, Aziz El Yaakoubi, Nafisa Taher, Hadeel AlSayegh and Alexander Corwnwell in Dubai; Writing by Ghaida Ghantous; Editing by Angus MacSwan)

Netanyahu election rival pledges to ‘separate’ from Palestinians

FILE PHOTO: Benny Gantz, head of Resilience party is seen after a news conference, in Tel Aviv, Israel February 21, 2019. REUTERS/Amir Cohen

By Dan Williams

JERUSALEM (Reuters) – The centrist Blue and White party posing the biggest election challenge to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu pledged a policy of “separation” from Palestinians in occupied land on Wednesday, but stopped short of backing their goal of statehood.

However, the party’s number two, former finance minister Yair Lapid, predicted that parting ways with the Palestinians would eventually lead to them having a state of their own alongside Israel.

Netanyahu and fellow rightists have cast themselves as blockers of any initiative to cede territory to the Palestinians.

Blue and White, led by former armed forces chief Benny Gantz, has hedged on the issue for weeks as it gained ground in opinion polls ahead of the April 9 election.

In its inaugural platform, published on Wednesday, Blue and White said that once in power it would confer with Arab states “and intensify the process of separation from the Palestinians, while ensuring an uncompromising commitment to Israel’s national security”.

The policy blueprint envisages Israel retaining control of the Jordan Valley and blocs of Jewish settlements in the West Bank but remains hazy on what might be done with more isolated outposts in territory captured in the 1967 Middle East war.

Pressed on this, Lapid told Israel’s Ynet TV: “I believe that, in separating from the Palestinians, we will ultimately arrive at two states. But no responsible politician would get into details before the Trump plan is presented.”

U.S. President Donald Trump is widely expected to make public a peace plan after the Israeli election.

Asked if Lapid’s remarks reflected Blue and White policy, a party spokeswoman said she could not elaborate on the platform.

Opinion polls give Blue and White around 35 of parliament’s 120 seats against 30 for Netanyahu’s Likud party.

Palestinians were circumspect.

“What does he (Lapid) mean by a state?” asked Wasel Abu Youssef, an official in the umbrella Palestine Liberation Organization.  “We want a Palestinian sovereign state on the 1967 borders, with East Jerusalem as its capital, empty of settlements, with territories that are connected, not isolated.”

In 2009, pressured by the Obama administration, Netanyahu said he would accept a Palestinian state under several provisos. But with U.S.-sponsored peace talks stalled since 2014, he has shifted tone, vowing never to uproot West Bank settlements.

“A Palestinian state would endanger our existence,” the prime minister said in speech last month. “This is what they (Gantz and Lapid) are planning to do. They obscure it. They hide it.”

Most world powers deem the settlements illegal and support independence for the Palestinians, who want statehood in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, with East Jerusalem as their capital.

Israel pulled settlers and soldiers out of Gaza in 2005. It annexed East Jerusalem after the 1967 war, in a move that has not won international recognition, and regards all of the city as its capital. Blue and White echoed this position in its platform.

(Additional reporting by Nidal al-Mughrabi; Writing by Dan Williams; Editing by Jeffrey Heller and Frances Kerry)

Israel changes law to make it harder to cede Jerusalem control

An Israeli flag is seen near the Dome of the Rock, located in Jerusalem's Old City on the compound known to Muslims as Noble Sanctuary and to Jews as Temple Mount December 6, 2017.

By Maayan Lubell

JERUSALEM (Reuters) – Israel’s parliament passed an amendment on Tuesday that would make it harder for it to cede control over parts of Jerusalem in any peace deal with the Palestinians, who condemned the move as undermining any chance to revive talks on statehood.

The legislation, sponsored by the far-right Jewish Home coalition party, raises to 80 from 61 the number of votes required in the 120-seat Knesset to approve any proposal to hand over part of the city to “a foreign party”.

Last month U.S. President Donald Trump angered the Palestinians, Middle East leaders and world powers by recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.

As home to major Muslim, Jewish and Christian holy sites, Jerusalem’s status is one of the most sensitive issues in the decades-old Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Trump’s Dec. 6 decision sparked regional protests and prompted the Palestinians to rule out Washington as a peace broker in any future talks.

Nabil Abu Rdainah, a spokesman for Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, described Trump’s policy shift on Jerusalem and the passage of the amendment as “a declaration of war against the Palestinian people”.

“The vote clearly shows that the Israeli side has officially declared an end to the so-called political process,” Abu Rdainah said, referring to U.S.-sponsored talks on Palestinian statehood that collapsed in 2014.

Israel captured East Jerusalem in the 1967 Middle East war and annexed it in a move not recognized internationally. It says the entire city is its “eternal and indivisible” capital.

Palestinians seek to make East Jerusalem the capital of a state they seek to establish in the occupied West Bank and in the Gaza Strip.

The amendment, long in the legislative pipeline, was passed with 64 lawmakers voting in favor and 52 against.

Opposition head Isaac Herzog said Jewish Home was leading Israel “toward a terrible disaster”. Jewish Home’s leader, Naftali Bennett, said the vote showed that Israel would keep control of all of Jerusalem forever.

“There will be no more political skulduggery that will allow our capital to be torn apart,” Bennett said on Twitter.

A bid to revive Israeli-Palestinian negotiations led by the president’s adviser and son-in-law, Jared Kushner, has so far shown no progress.

On Sunday, Netanyahu’s Likud party unanimously urged legislators in a non-binding resolution to effectively annex Israeli settlements built in the West Bank.

Political commentators said Likud’s decision might bolster right-wing support for Netanyahu, who could seek a public mandate in an early election while he awaits possible criminal indictments against him on corruption suspicions. He denies wrongdoing.

Parliamentary elections are not due until November 2019 but the police investigations in two cases of alleged corruption against Netanyahu and tensions among coalition partners in his government could hasten a poll.

Some commentators, pointing to an existing law that already sets a similar high threshold for handing over territory in a land-for-peace deal, have said Jewish Home was essentially competing with Likud for support among the right-wing base.

(This version of the story refiles to remove extraneous word in paragraph 14.)

(Reporting by Maayan Lubell, additional reporting by Ali Sawafta in Ramallah; Editing by Jeffrey Heller and Raissa Kasolowsky)

France Explains Vote For Palestinian Statehood

France is explaining the controversial decision to vote in favor of Palestinian statehood at the U.N. Security Council.

France’s ambassador to Israel said his nation was backing the resolution because they wanted to encourage Israel and the Palestinians to resume their peace negotiations.

Ambassador Patrick Maisonnave had been summoned to the Israel Foreign Ministry after the vote because of Israel’s “deep disappointment” with the actions of the French government.  Israel had previously said they would reject any resolution from the U.N. that put a timetable on the statehood for Palestine.

France had objected to the wording of the resolution and had tried to push a more moderately worded document that was rejected before the vote on the Palestinian measure.

The measure failed in the Security Council by one vote.  Palestine’s response was to try and obtain statehood at the International Criminal Court so they could continue their campaign against Israel.

UN Security Council Rejects Palestinian Statehood Resolution

Palestinian leaders were shocked Tuesday when their resolution for Palestinian statehood was rejected by the U.N. Security Council by an 8-2 vote with 5 nations abstaining.

The measure needed 9 “yes” votes for the measure to pass.

The resolution would have created a 12 month timetable for negotiations for a final peace deal with Israel.  The measure would also require Israel to pull out of the West Bank within three years and declare that East Jerusalem is the capital of the Palestinian state.

Palestinian leaders had told press sources before the vote they had the nine votes required to pass the measure and force the United States to use their veto as a permanent member to stop the action.  However, Nigeria and Rwanda, which the Palestinians expected to support them, abstained from the vote at the last minute.

Only the U.S. and Australia voted no on the measure.  The five nations that abstained from the vote (effectively helping stop passage) were the U.K., Lithuania, South Korea, Nigeria and Rwanda.

France, China, Russia, Argentina, Chad, Chile, Jordan and Luxembourg voted in favor.

Israeli officials were furious French officials who voted in favor of the measure despite claiming they had serious issues with the wording of the resolution.  France had tried to push forward what they termed a “more moderate resolution” that did not include the timetables and other demands on Israel made by the Palestinians and their supporters.

State Department spokesman Jeff Rathke told reporters that many countries agreed with the U.S. that the measure was “unconstructive and poorly timed.”

“We think it sets arbitrary deadlines for reaching a peace agreement and for Israel’s withdrawal from the West Bank, and those are more likely to curtail useful negotiations than to bring them to a successful conclusion,” Rathke said. “Further, we think that the resolution fails to account for Israel’s legitimate security needs.”

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said ahead of the vote if the Security Council did not reject the resolution, “we will.”  He added that direct negotiations and not imposed conditions are the only way to reach a long lasting peace in the region.

Palestinians Plan UN Resolution For Statehood

Officials at the United Nations say Palestinian leaders are quietly putting together a draft resolution that would recognize statehood for Palestine.

Despite opposition from Israel and U.S. officials, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas said he would be pushing forward with the resolution that calls for a peace deal with Israel within a year and an “end to occupation of Palestinian territories by 2017.”

“Today the Arab group will meet in New York, and we will submit the original draft resolution to the Security Council hoping to conclude the vote by tomorrow or the day after,” senior Palestinian official Saeb Erekat told Reuters.

The crux of the resolution would be negotiations for the deal with Israel that would require the land captured by Israel in the 1967 war be returned to Palestine.

The proposal would also say that East Jerusalem is the capital of the Palestinian state and calls for an end to Israeli settlements in Jerusalem and the West Bank.

“We will continue to rebuff vigorously attempts to force terms that would jeopardize our security,” Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.