Trump Calls His Mideast Peace Plan The 'Deal Of The Century'
STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
This is a day when President Trump releases a peace proposal for the Middle East. He talked about it briefly yesterday at the White House while standing with Israel's visiting prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu.
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PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: We have the support of the prime minister. We have the support of the other parties. And we think we will ultimately have the support of the Palestinians, but we're going to see. And if we do, it'll be a tremendous tribute to everybody. And if we don't, life goes on.
INSKEEP: There are signs today of the possibility that they will simply have to get on with life, as the president suggested there. For one thing, Palestinians are not yet any part of this proposal, although President Trump insists they should like it. For another, Prime Minister Netanyahu has now been formally indicted on corruption charges in his home country.
So how serious is this peace effort? We spoke earlier with Natan Sachs. He directs the Center for Middle East Policy at the Brookings Institution and joined us from Jerusalem.
NATAN SACHS: We've heard all sorts of different leaks. And of course, we don't know the reality of it. What we do know and is very telling is that this is a big peace plan between two parties - Israel and the United States. The party called the Palestinians is not even there. It wasn't invited. It hasn't spoken to the Americans since December 2017 - over two years - so it would be rather surprising if the plan does not come out rather favorable to the Israelis.
INSKEEP: I guess we should note there are a few elements that are always on the table with Israeli-Palestinian peace plans. Where do you draw borders between two states? Do you have two states? Who gets what part of Jerusalem? And what happens with Palestinian refugees who are outside of Israel? Those are the questions.
So the idea is, we think, that some proposal is made on these and other issues that is satisfactory to Israel, and now they would try to get the Palestinians to buy in.
SACHS: Yeah. So what seems to be the case is that on settlements, quite a bit has moved towards Israel in the American plan. It looks like - the latest leaks are that all settlements would remain under Israeli sovereignty, although some of them might be enclaves within the Palestinian state perhaps, and some what's known as settlement outposts would be removed. On Jerusalem, it seems like the Old City and the Holy Basin would be completely in Israeli control or the Palestinians may have some role in it - minimal role - and maybe some Arab neighborhoods on the outskirts of the Palestinians.
The real question here, what everyone in Israel is concerned about or thinking about, is - if the settlements are part of Israel in this deal, is there a green light from the American administration for Israel to apply its law to some of the settlements and annex them to Israel? - there perhaps in the Jordan Valley, perhaps near Jerusalem. That is the major question ahead. Will Israeli unilateral annexation push forward once the Palestinians reject the plan? And reject it, they will.
INSKEEP: We're talking about annexing more and more territory that Palestinians want for their future state. How does this fit in with Prime Minister Netanyahu's promise to annex territory in the Jordan Valley?
SACHS: Well, it's exactly part of it. Netanyahu was hinting to the possibility that he might do that with support of the Americans, and that's crucial for this. But of course, the whole background to this - Netanyahu's announcement on that, Jordan Valley and even these discussions today in Washington - are the elections that Israel is about to have on March 2. These are the third elections within 11 months. And Netanyahu is facing them while he will be indicted with criminal charges, including bribery.
Just today, he withdrew his request for immunity from the Knesset because he was facing a defeat on that vote. And therefore, it's final. He will be put on trial for criminal charges, including bribery. And on the backdrop of that, he has tried to make this major diplomatic decision - even though the government is a temporary government - in part to shore up support for him domestically as someone who can champion Israel in the international arena.
INSKEEP: So two leaders were standing together yesterday. One of them faces reelection in Israel. How significant is it that the other guy faces reelection in the United States?
SACHS: It's very significant. Let's think about the three last presidents who've had major problems and faced possible impeachment. One was Nixon. He resigned before impeachment. But when he was facing biggest troubles, guess what he was doing. He had Kissinger here in the region, negotiating peace between Israelis and Arabs. Then, Bill Clinton was very active on Israeli-Palestinian peace just when his troubles were in the height. And now we have Trump, again, trying to distract from things.
So we have both Netanyahu and Trump playing politics - and an interesting third actor. Just yesterday, we saw the leader of the Israeli opposition, Benny Gantz, who came to Washington to meet the president in something Netanyahu tried to do as a big trap for Gantz. But Gantz managed to turn it around and get an audience himself as if he's a head of state, although he is not yet one.
INSKEEP: Mr. Sachs, thanks for your time - really appreciate it.
SACHS: My pleasure. Thank you.
INSKEEP: Analysis there from Natan Sachs, who directs the Center for Mideast (ph) Policy at the Brookings Institution. We found him in Jerusalem. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.