Children roll tires as they run along the Israeli security barrier wall in the east Jerusalem refugee camp of Shuafat on January 3, 2018. .
(photo credit: AMMAR AWAD / REUTERS)
Two days after EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini warned the US against taking “false steps” on the peace process, the pan-Arab Asharq al-Awsat newspaper reported Wednesday that the Trump administration’s plan to jump-start peace talks calls for east Jerusalem as the capital of a demilitarized Palestinian state whose borders do not match the pre-1967 lines.
According to the Saudi paper published in London, Arab states are unhappy with the framework and are trying to change it before it is presented.
Under the plan, according to the report, the United States would recognize a Palestinian state and its capital in east Jerusalem, on condition that the Old City would come under international protection. The plan calls for the Jordan Valley and major settlement blocs to remain under Israeli sovereignty, and for small, isolated settlements to be relocated.
The Trump administration swiftly dismissed the report
“It is unfortunate that some parties are seeking to prejudice people against our unfinished plan, which these sources have not seen,” said Josh Raffel, a White House spokesman.
“Nobody should be basing their reaction, public or private, on these reports.”
Raffel said the peace team would continue working on its “real plan” and encouraged regional leaders to dismiss rumors in their press.
US allies – including France, Britain and Saudi Arabia, where the sourcing for this report allegedly originated – have not been briefed on details of the plan, and thus are not in a position to confirm or deny its contents with authority. However, some educated guesses on specific proposals may ultimately land closer to truth than to fiction, given that the contours of the conflict are so well known.
“This is a mix of possibilities and ideas, some of which have existed for decades,” a senior White House official said. “We are going to continue working on the plan that is designed to benefit both Israelis and Palestinians and will release it when it is done and the time is right.”
The report’s claim that the White House peace team will support international protection for Jerusalem also contradicts an earlier assertion from a senior administration official that the Western Wall will likely be under Israeli control in any agreement with the Palestinians.
“We cannot envision any situation under which the Western Wall would not be part of Israel,” the senior US official said in December. “But as the president said, the specific boundaries of sovereignty of Israel are going to be part of the final-status agreement.”
“We note that we cannot imagine Israel would sign a peace agreement that didn’t include the Western Wall,” the official added.
Palestinian Authority Foreign Minister Riyad al-Maliki and foreign ministers from Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Jordan, the United Arab Emirates and Morocco met earlier this week in Brussels with Mogherini and the 28 European Union foreign ministers and said that the plan tilts toward Israel and is unacceptable to the Palestinians.
The report stated that the Arab foreign ministers asked the EU to immediately engage with the US and get them to change the parameters of the plan before it is presented, because it will be much more difficult to do so afterward.
Mogherini’s comments after that meeting seemed to give credence to this. She said that the EU and Arab League foreign ministers “have dealt with the conflict long enough around our common table to know what can fly and what cannot fly, and we believe it is wise to consider what can fly and cannot fly in terms of peace plans before putting any plans on the table and avoiding any false steps. Because, given the region, any false step can be very dangerous.”
The Asharq al-Awsat
report, based on Arab diplomatic sources in Paris, said the US intends to present the plan at an international conference to be held in an Arab capital, likely Cairo. The plan, according to the paper, calls for the PA to get more security and administrative authority in Areas A and B of the West Bank, and for the US to raise $40 billion to develop the Palestinian state and its institutions.
Regarding the contentious refugee issue, the plan calls for the refugees and their descendants to be absorbed in the countries where they now reside – and not to be granted a “right of return” – and for compensation to be paid.
The Prime Minister’s Office would not respond to the report.
US Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley said last week at the University of Chicago that the American plan is nearing completion.
“They’re coming up with a plan,” she said of US negotiators Jared Kushner and Jason Greenblatt. All three diplomats briefed members of the UN Security Council on the progress of their plan last week, while omitting key details even in that closed-door session.
Haley said at the university, “It won’t be loved by either side, and it won’t be hated by either side.”
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