More than two years after he first proposed a plan to revive the long moribund Israeli-Palestinian peace process, U.S. President Donald Trump is finally set to release details. But there is profound mistrust between the sides and no longer mutual acceptance that the United States is the natural broker of any solution.
WHAT ARE THE KEY ISSUES?
* The status of Jerusalem, including historical sites sacred to Judaism, Islam and Christianity.
* Establishing mutually agreed borders.
* Finding security arrangements to satisfy Israeli fears of attacks by Palestinians and hostile neighbors.
* The Palestinian demand for statehood in territory – the West Bank, Gaza Strip and East Jerusalem – captured by Israel in the 1967 Middle East War.
* Finding a solution to the plight of millions of Palestinian refugees.
* Arrangements to share natural resources, such as water.
* Palestinian demands that Israel remove its settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. More than 400,000 Israelis now live among about 3 million Palestinians in the West Bank, with another 200,000 settlers in East Jerusalem.
WHY REVIVE THE PEACE PLAN NOW?
Both Trump and Netanyahu would like to divert attention away from their domestic troubles. Trump faces an impeachment trial while Netanyahu was indicted on corruption charges in November. Both deny wrongdoing.
They also both face re-election campaigns – Netanyahu in March and Trump in November. Netanyahu twice tried and failed to secure a majority in the Israeli parliament last year.
Trump has repeatedly delayed the launch of his plan to avoid causing election problems for Netanyahu because of the possibility it will require some concessions from Israel.
He faces his own political clock and could ill-afford to wait for months for Israel to decide its next prime minister, according to a source familiar with the peace team’s thinking.
WHAT’S IN THE TRUMP PLAN?
The proposal is dozens of pages long but little has been revealed about its contents.
Palestinian and Arab sources who were briefed on the draft fear it seeks to bribe Palestinians into accepting Israeli occupation, in what could be a prelude to Israel annexing about half of the West Bank including most of the Jordan Valley, the strategic and fertile easternmost strip of the territory.
Palestinians say the Jordan Valley, nearly 30 per cent of the West Bank, would be a vital part of their future state, as the breadbasket of the West Bank and its border with Jordan.
Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner, the plan’s principal author, launched the first stage in Bahrain in June. It called for a $50 billion investment fund to boost the Palestinian and neighboring Arab state economies.
WHAT ARE ITS CHANCES?
The last Israeli-Palestinian peace talks collapsed in 2014.
Enduring obstacles include the expansion of Israeli settlements on occupied land and generations of mutual suspicion.The last two decades have also seen the rise to power in Gaza of the armed Islamist movement Hamas, which is formally committed to Israel’s destruction and is in the midst of a decades-long power struggle with the Western-backed Palestinian Authority, headed by President Mahmoud Abbas.
The elephant in the room is the two-state solution – the long-standing international formula to bring about peace by creating an independent Palestinian state co-existing side-by-side with Israel.
The United Nations and most nations around the world back this blueprint, the foundation of every peace plan for decades.
The Trump administration has refrained from endorsing it. In November it reversed decades of U.S. policy when Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced Washington no longer regarded Israeli settlements in the West Bank as a breach of international law.
Palestinians and most of the international community view the settlements as illegal under international law. Israel disputes this.
CAN THE UNITED STATES BE AN HONEST BROKER?
Netanyahu, who heads Israel’s ruling right-wing coalition, “gladly” accepted Trump’s invitation to Washington. On the eve of the announcement he said: “The deal of the century is the opportunity of a century, and we’re not going to pass it by.”
His principal domestic rival, the centrist former general Benny Gantz, also visited Washington to discuss the deal with Trump, calling it “a significant and historic milestone”.
Both are jostling for maximum political advantage ahead of the March 2 election, where Gantz will seek to oust Netanyahu as Israeli prime minister.
But Palestinian Prime Minister President Mohammad Shtayyeh said the Trump administration plan was “nothing but a plan to finish off the Palestinian cause. We reject it.”
The Palestinian leadership said Washington can no longer be regarded as a mediator after a series of Trump decisions that delighted Israel but infuriated Palestinians.
These included recognizing Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, moving the U.S. Embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, and slashing hundreds of millions of dollars in humanitarian aid to the Palestinians.
The cuts were widely seen as a means of pressuring the Palestinian leadership to come back to the negotiating table. So far, that has failed.
(Additional reporting by Jeff Mason in Miami, Samia Nakhoul in Beirut; Maayan Lubell, Jeffrey Heller, Dan Williams and Rami Ayyub in Jerusalem; Nidal al-Mughrabi in Gaza and Ali Sawafta in Ramallah; Writing by Stephen Farrell; Editing by Mark Heinrich)