Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Tuesday that Israel intends to annex the Jordan Valley and some Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank following the unveiling of U.S. President Donald Trump‘s proposed “peace plan” for the region.
“Regardless of the Palestinian position, Israel will preserve the possibility for peace,” the prime minister said at a joint press conference with Trump at the White House.
“It will apply its laws to the Jordan Valley, to all the Jewish communities in Judea and Samaria, and the other areas your plan designates as part of Israel.”
No Palestinian representatives were invited to attend the White House event and Palestinian leaders have resoundingly rejected the U.S. plan.
On a call with reporters following the press conference, U.S. ambassador to Israel David Friedman said “Israel does not have to wait at all” to annex the territories, adding that the U.S. will recognize Israeli sovereignty over the designated areas regardless of the Palestinian position.
Netanyahu will reportedly ask his cabinet to approve the annexation plan on Sunday.
The Israeli occupation of the West Bank and East Jerusalem are illegal under international law, as is the construction of settlements in Palestinian territory.
This is the official White House plan for Palestine — a swiss-cheese like PA with threadbare links to other zones. There is no way this is accepted by the Palestinians. pic.twitter.com/3Dkw862cY5
— Ryan Bohl (@Ryan_Bohl) January 28, 2020
The Jordan Valley territory granted to Israel under Trump’s plan is home to around 65,000 Palestinians and constitutes about 30 percent of the West Bank.
The status of the Palestinians living there under the plan is unclear, though Netanyahu said Tuesday that no one would be forced to leave their homes.
Earlier in the day, the Israeli military deployed an additional infantry brigade into the Jordan Valley following a “situational assessment” ahead of the unveiling of Trump’s plan.
“The State of Israel is facing crucial days of establishing its permanent borders and applying sovereignty to Jewish settlements in Judea and Samaria,” Defense Minister Naftali Bennett said Tuesday, explaining the deployment.
Palestinians Denounce Proposal
Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas swiftly rejected the proposal Tuesday, vowing the plan unveiled in Washington will “not pass.”
“This conspiracy deal will not pass. Our people will take it to the dustbin of history,” he said
Abbas made the statement in the West Bank city of Ramallah following a meeting of various Palestinian factions including the militant group Hamas, which pledged to “resist the deal in all its forms.”
The Islamist rulers of Gaza have been at odds with president Abbas’s mainstream Fatah movement for years, with Hamas rarely taking part in meetings of the West Bank-based Palestinian leadership.
In Ramallah, some ignored Trump’s presentation while others watched the television coverage of Trump and Netanyahu with disdain.
“What Trump announced was not accepted by any Palestinian,” 69-year-old Mohammed al-Najjar told AFP.
An AFP reporter said around 200 Palestinians confronted Israeli forces near Ramallah shortly following the press conference, burning photos of Trump and Netanyahu.
According to the Red Cresent, more than a dozen Palestinians were injured by rubber bullets and tear gas in the clashes.
Videos and photos are rolling in from the West Bank to Gaza, from Jordan to the refugee camps in Lebanon, of mass protests and marches against the Peace Plan.
1. Rafah, Gaza.
2. Amman, Jordan.
3. Ain al-Hilweh, Lebanon.
4. Ramallah, West Bank. pic.twitter.com/aqyqtwSYON
— Séamus Malekafzali (@Seamus_Malek) January 28, 2020
In anticipation of the proposal, demonstrations were held across the Palestinian territories earlier Tuesday.
Thousands demonstrated in Gaza, burning pictures of Trump and the American flag.
Yasser Heliyel, who was picking eggplants near the Jordan Valley settlement of Yafit on Tuesday, told AFP that an Israeli annexation move would threaten his livelihood.
If the Israeli government officially declared the territory part of its state, it might require farmers to apply for permits.
“If permits were needed it would become a problem. A big problem,” Heliyel told AFP.
He added that Palestinian laborers would resent applying for permission to work on land they consider theirs.
In addition to granting Israeli sovereignty over the Jordan Valley, Trump’s proposals include a wide range of other provisions that are likely to insense Palestinians.
The plan grants Israel full control over an “undivided” city of Jerusalem – considered by both Israel and Palestine to be their capital.
All Palestinian territory not annexed into Israel proper would remain under de facto Israeli military control indefinitely and Hamas would be “disarmed.”
Israel would not recognize the right of return, codified in international law, for Palestinian refugees.
“The Palestinian refugee issue must be solved outside of the state of Israel,” Netanyahu said Tuesday.
Palestinian leaders would also have to agree to recognize Israel as a Jewish state and to permanently demilitarize their own future state.
If the Palestinians agree to all of these terms within a four-year deadline, Netanyahu said Israel would be open to negotiating a “pathway” to a future Palestinian state in the remaining territories not annexed by Israel.
Under the terms of the plan, the Palestinians would also receive billions of dollars in “investment” and an expansion of Gaza.
As Netanyahu prepared to speak at the White House Tuesday, he was formally indicted on three corruption charges after he abandoned an attempt to seek parliamentary immunity.
The prime minister stands accused of accepting bribes, fraud, and breach of trust.
“I won’t let my political opponents use this issue to disturb the historic move I’m leading,” the prime minister said before the event.
Netanyahu’s right-wing Likud party is set to square off for a third razor-thin election against rival Benny Gantz‘s centrist Blue and White party next month.
Neither Gantz nor Netanyahu have been able to form a coalition following the prior two elections.
British Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said on Tuesday that Trump’s plan is “clearly a serious proposal,” saying it had the potential to bring about a “brighter future” for both sides.
But the U.N. said on Tuesday that it stands by the pre-1967 borders, which establish Palestinian control over East Jerusalem, Gaza, and the entire West Bank.
The European Union’s top diplomat said that the bloc remains “firm and united” behind the quest for a negotiated two-state, but said any possible outcome must respect “all relevant U.N. resolutions and internationally agreed parameters.”
Trump's "peace plan" is a rubber stamp for annexation and offers no chance for a real Palestinian state. Releasing a plan without negotiating with Palestinians isn't diplomacy, it's a sham. I will oppose unilateral annexation in any form—and reverse any policy that supports it.
— Elizabeth Warren (@ewarren) January 28, 2020
Jordan’s Foreign Minister said that an independent Palestinian state based on pre-1967 borders is the “only path” to Middle East peace.
Turkey slammed the plan as “stillborn,” calling it an “annexation plan” intended to destroy hopes for a two-state solution.
“This is an annexation plan aimed at killing a two-state solution and extorting the Palestinian territory,” the foreign ministry said in a statement.
“Palestinian people and its land cannot be bought for money.”
Trump’s plan was also slammed by his Democratic rivals.
Presidential candidate Elizabeth Warren called it a “sham,” while fellow candidate Bernie Sanders said it was “unacceptable” and called for an end to the occupation of Palestinian territories.
This article contains reporting and writing from AFP.