Donald Trump has unveiled his vision for Middle East peace in a White House launch that gifted Israel a wishlist of its long-held demands while promising Palestinians a potential “state”, but with severe restrictions.
Standing next to the smiling Israeli prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, Trump announced details of the 181-page plan to cheers and applause. Palestinian leaders were absent from the launch, having pre-emptively rejected his proposal, citing flagrant bias.
“Today, Israel takes a big step towards peace,” Trump said on Tuesday. “I was not elected to do small things or shy away from big problems.”
A copy of the plan, released by the White House, said the proposal intended to:
Establish Jerusalem as Israel’s “undivided” capital, with a potential Palestinian capital to the east and north of the city.
Recognise the vast majority of Israeli settlements on occupied Palestinian territory as part of the country. A Palestinian state would receive territory, mostly desert, near Gaza to compensate for the loss of about 30% of the West Bank. Gaza and the West Bank would be linked by high speed rail.
Recognise the Jordan valley, which makes up about a third of the occupied West Bank, as part of Israel.
Offer a path to some form of Palestinian statehood but with no army, and overarching Israeli security control in some areas, including over the sea. The plan also sets a series of conditions the Palestinians have to meet before receiving independence including the “complete dismantling of Hamas”, which governs Gaza.
The possibility of stripping Israeli citizenship from tens of thousands of Arab Israelis who live in 10 border towns, with those towns and their residents being included into any future state of Palestine.
Recognise sections of the desert bordering Egypt as part of any future Palestinian state.
Refuse Palestinian refugees the “right of return” to homes lost to Israel in previous conflicts.
Trump said the economic portions of the plan, would lead to 1m new jobs for Palestinians over the next 10 years, invest $50bn in the new state and triple its GDP.
Netanyahu lauded the proposal as “a great plan for Israel, it’s a great plan for peace”. Critically, he said the “status quo” of Israeli control over the Palestinian territories would remain in place until a deal was reached, which he anticipated would take years.
He added to Trump: “You have been the greatest friend that Israel has ever had in the White House.”
Speaking to reporters after the joint press conference, Netanyahu said he would seek to take steps to annex the Jordan valley as soon as next week. He said Israel only intended to agree to “conditional, limited sovereignty” for the Palestinians.
The Guardian understands that Washington does not intend to press the Palestinians too hard to accept the plan. However, the publication of a set of ideas seen as strikingly favourable to Israeli ultranationalists is likely to embolden the country’s rightwing government to take steps long seen as taboo.
After the announcement, Netanyahu’s hawkish allies called for the immediate annexation of Jewish settlements in the occupied West Bank.
The Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas, criticised the deal as a “conspiracy” that “will not pass”, while in Gaza, the Hamas official Sami Abu Zuhr described the document as worthless. “Palestine will prevail, and Trump and the deal will go to the dustbin of history,” he said.
The US ambassador to Israel, David Friedman, who was part of the team that drew up the proposals, called them a “huge advancement in the peace process” because he said that for the first time Israel has delineated territorial concessions. But he said he expected it will take time for the Palestinians to embrace the process.
“You have a modern first world strong democratic nation trying to make peace with a highly divided and challenged people and series of different governments. How do you make a deal when one side is Israel and one side is the Palestinians?” said Friedman.
But Nicholas Burns, a former senior US state department official, scorned the plan, saying it “forfeits any presence of fairness and consigns the Palestinians to live as stateless people on their own land. It will deepen, rather than resolve, this seven-decade conflict”.
US officials have sought to garner support for the plan from Arab countries, and the ambassadors from the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Oman were present on Tuesday. However, representatives from Middle Eastern countries that have been vital to past peace efforts – Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Jordan – did not attend.
The Lebanese militant group, Hezbollah, which has fought several wars with Israel, said the plan was an attempt “to wipe out Palestinian people’s rights” and accused some Arab states of being complicit in a “deal of shame”.
Ahead of the launch, Trump invited Netanyahu and his main domestic opponent, Benny Gantz, to the White House. The Israeli politicians will face off against each other in an election on 2 March, and Washington wanted to ensure the plan would be rolled out regardless of the result.
Gantz later said the plan was a “significant and historic milestone” that he would work to implement if elected.
Trump also called UK prime minister, Boris Johnson, on Tuesday afternoon to discuss his vision. A Downing Street spokesperson said Johnson told Trump the plan “could prove a positive step forwards”.
The British foreign secretary, Dominic Raab, later referred to Trump’s deal as a “serious proposal” that should be considered.
The plan’s chief architect, Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, has delayed the official rollout many times since he first began developing it in 2017.
Releasing it now has been interpreted as a way to distract from Trump’s impeachment trial and to help his ally, Netanyahu. The 70-year-old Israeli leader faces three criminal corruption indictments and an uncertain election campaign in just over a month. On Tuesday, he begrudgingly dropped a request for parliamentary immunity after it appeared certain he would fail to garner enough votes.
The Palestinian prime minister, Mohammad Shtayyeh, said the plan had more to do with Trump and Netanyahu’s legal woes than peace. “This is a plan to protect Trump from impeachment and protect Netanyahu from prison. It is not a Middle East peace plan,” he said.
The New York-based advocacy group Human Rights Watch said the “long-moribund” peace process had become “a fig leaf for Israel’s entrenched discriminatory rule over Palestinians”.
Small protests were held in the occupied West Bank on Tuesday, with teenagers burning tyres in the street. Larger rallies were planned for Wednesday.
In Gaza, over which Israel maintains a tight blockade on people and goods, Ahmed Shafiq, a master’s student, said he felt wronged. “I cannot do anything to reject this plan. There is talk about depriving all rights. No one helps us. We feel we are alone,” he said.
“I am not against peace, but what is being talked about is not peace. Peace is not imposed on people.”
The two main Palestinian political factions, rivals Hamas and Fatah, agreed to hold a rare emergency meeting on Tuesday evening but it was unclear what effect it could have.
Trump’s administration has promoted itself – especially to a large section of US evangelical voters who ardently back the Jewish state – as the most pro-Israel in the country’s history.
It reversed decades of policy by refraining from endorsing the internationally backed two-state solution. It has also recognised Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, cut millions of dollars in aid to Palestinians, and announced it no longer views Israeli settlements in occupied territory as “inconsistent with international law”.