- Associated Press
Wednesday, January 29, 2020

AL-KASSARAT, West Bank (AP) - The Palestinians have furiously rejected President Donald Trump’s Mideast plan that would grant them limited autonomy in parts of the West Bank, while allowing Israel to annex all its settlements there and keep nearly all of east Jerusalem.

But they have few realistic options to prevent its implementation as Israel plows ahead with plans to unilaterally annex territory.


The Western-backed Palestinian leadership will come under mounting pressure from ordinary Palestinians and its rivals in the Islamic militant group Hamas to cut off security ties with Israel and the United States or even dismantle the increasingly unpopular Palestinian Authority.

But such drastic moves would risk further undermining the international consensus around solving the conflict, which largely supports the Palestinians’ goal of an independent state in the West Bank, Gaza and east Jerusalem, territories Israel captured in the 1967 Mideast war.

President Mahmoud Abbas appears determined to shore up international support. He is traveling to Cairo this week for meetings at the Arab League, and the Palestinians’ U.N. ambassador, Riyad Mansour, said Abbas plans to head to an African Union gathering and the U.N. Security Council within the next two weeks. Mansour said the Palestinians are consulting with council members about an as-yet-unwritten resolution - a text critical of the Trump plan would likely face a U.S. veto.

Small protests have been held in the West Bank and Gaza, but most Palestinians appear to have largely shrugged off the plan. Few Palestinians place any stock in American peace plans after decades of failed initiatives, and little is expected to change on the ground as Israel extends sovereignty over settlements it has long treated as an integral part of its territory.

“Nothing will change,” said Mahmoud Abu Anwar, a vegetable vendor in the West Bank city of Ramallah. The Israelis “are building on our land and they will keep building, with or without an American plan. … But we will remain here, no matter what they do to us.”

Over the long term, however, if Israel implements the plan, it appears far more likely to entrench a one-state reality - something both Israeli and Palestinian leaders have long rejected - than to lead to a negotiated solution.

“I prefer a Palestinian state, but if they want to annex our land, we don’t mind being citizens in Israel,” said Naseem al-Jahaleen, who lives in a small Palestinian farming community in the Jordan Valley, which Israel would be allowed to annex under the plan.

He said it might even improve things, if Israel grants residents citizenship and allows them to build freely. Palestinian residents of the area currently live under Israeli military rule, which imposes restrictions on construction and movement that do not apply to residents of nearby Jewish settlements.

The long-awaited Trump plan, which was unveiled Tuesday, would allow Israel to annex all its West Bank settlements - which the Palestinians and most of the international community view as illegal - as well as the Jordan Valley, which accounts for roughly a fourth of the West Bank.

In return, the Palestinians would be granted statehood in Gaza, scattered chunks of the West Bank and some neighborhoods on the outskirts of Jerusalem, all linked together by a new network of roads, bridges and tunnels. Israel would control the state’s borders and airspace and maintain overall security authority, something critics say would rob statehood of any meaning.

The plan would abolish the right of return for Palestinian refugees displaced by the 1948 war and their descendants, a key Palestinian demand. The entire agreement would be contingent on Gaza’s Hamas rulers and other armed groups disarming, something they have always adamantly rejected.

Abbas responded to the deal with “1,000 no’s.”

He has always rejected violence, and few expect a new uprising in response to the plan. But Palestinian officials have hinted they may respond by suspending security coordination with Israel or dismantling the Palestinian Authority altogether. That would leave Israel responsible for the complicated and expensive task of providing basic services to hundreds of thousands of Palestinians in the West Bank.

The Palestinians have made such threats in the past, with few people taking them seriously. But this time might be different, especially if Israel proceeds with annexation.

“Not taking action is not really an option for them anymore,” said Ibrahim Dalalsha, a Palestinian analyst. “The tables were turned by the announcement of the U.S. peace plan.”

He expects the Palestinian Authority to respond to any annexation move by severing security contacts with Israel and the U.S. - the last channel remaining after the Palestinians cut off all contacts with the Trump administration over its recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.

Dalalsha says Palestinian security forces would still provide law and order and prevent attacks from areas under their control, but would no longer work alongside Israel.

That would be popular among many Palestinians - who increasingly view the Palestinian Authority as an enforcer of the Israeli occupation. But Abbas himself has long relied on the coordination with Israel to suppress Hamas and other rivals, and any move to cut ties could be seen internationally as an erosion of the Palestinian commitment to fighting terrorism.

Going forward, the perception of the international community will be key.

Saudi Arabia and Egypt, Arab states that are close U.S. allies, said they appreciated Trump’s efforts and called for renewed negotiations without commenting on the plan’s content. Ambassadors from the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Oman attended the unveiling, in a tacit sign of support. The European Union said it was studying the proposal, while Germany said the plan “raises questions” that it will discuss with European partners.

To the extent that the plan, at least on paper, calls for two states, it may attract some international support or at least be immune to outright rejection. Some countries might embrace the plan to improve relations with Trump, who on Tuesday claimed, without evidence, that it has the support of “many, many countries.”

If European or Arab countries were to embrace the plan, they could exert pressure on the Palestinians to do the same, leaving an increasingly weakened Abbas isolated on the world stage.

As a result, the Palestinian leadership is likely to remain bound to the idea of a negotiated two-state solution, even as the Trump plan pushes it even farther out of reach.

Tareq Baconi, an analyst with the Crisis Group, an international think tank, said the latest plan, like previous ones, will ensure that the “charade” of the two-state solution will continue.

“It gives Jerusalem, but not actually Jerusalem; it gives territorial contiguity but not actually territorial contiguity; it gives Gaza but not actually Gaza,” he said. “It gives enough of a veneer of statehood that it looks like statehood hasn’t been completely removed from the table, when in reality of course it has, because it’s been emptied of all notions of sovereignty.”

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Associated Press writer Mohammed Daraghmeh reported this story in Al-Kassarat and AP writer Joseph Krauss reported from Jerusalem. AP writer Jennifer Peltz at the United Nations contributed to this report.


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