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On eve of Trump’s long-awaited Middle East peace plan, Palestinians urge boycott

Bel Trew
Israel's controversial separation wall in front of the Palestinian Shuafat refugee camp in the Israeli-annexed eastern sector of Jerusalem: Photo by AHMAD GHARABLI/AFP via Getty Images

The Palestinian leadership has called on world leaders to “stand against” Donald Trump’s long-awaited peace deal as Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his election rival Benny Gantz flew to the US to discuss the agreement.

Speaking at the opening of the weekly cabinet meeting, Palestinian prime minister Mohammad Shtayyeh said Palestinians have rejected the so-called deal of the century as “it is nothing but a plan to finish off the Palestinian cause”.

In Washington, despite the backlash, Mr Trump pressed ahead with back-to-back meetings with the two Israeli leaders a day before details are expected to be made public.

Alleged leaks published in Israeli media appear very favourable to Israel.

They include Israel being given complete control over the whole of the contested city of Jerusalem as well as the right to annex nearly all Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank, which are considered illegal under international law.

Mr Shtayyeh said the plan was intended only to shield Mr Trump and Mr Netanyahu from political and legal challenges they are currently facing.

“This plan is to protect Trump against being impeached and to protect Netanyahu from going to jail, and it is not a peace plan,” he said.

“We reject it, and we demand the international community not be a partner to it because it contradicts the basics of international law and inalienable Palestinian rights,” he added.

“It is nothing but a plan to finish off the Palestinian cause.”

He said that he would arrange meetings to discuss their official response with president Mahmoud Abbas, who had apparently rejected overtures from mediators in recent weeks to arrange a phone call with Trump.

The comments come after Palestinian officials threatened to discard key provisions of the Oslo Accords, agreements signed in the 1990s which define arrangements with Israel and were supposed to be the foundation of a permanent peace deal.

Chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat told AFP on Sunday that they reserved the right “to withdraw from the interim agreement” of the Oslo pact if Trump unveils his plan.

There were also calls for a “day of rage” protests against the agreement by different Palestinians factions.

The Palestinians cut contact with the US two years ago after Washington announced it would move its embassy in Israel to Jerusalem, recognising the contested city as Israel’s capital.

They also roundly denounced a $50-billion economic revival plan laid out by Mr Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner last July which steered clear of confirming Palestinian right to statehood.

There were also voices of concern in the region.

Neighbouring Jordan, which along with Egypt is one of two Arab states that have peace treaties with Israel signed in the 1990s, said on Thursday that annexation of the occupied Jordan Valley – as Mr Netanyahu has pledged to do – “will blow up the peace process”.

Rights groups including Oxfam have also warned it may “dim prospects for peace” and called the deal “a roadmap to permanent occupation”.

The Israelis have however lauded Trump’s initiatives and plans which particularly appeal to Mr Netanyahu’s right-wing pro-settler support base.

Ahead of his flight to Washington Sunday night, the Israeli prime minister said he hoped to “make history” during the visit.

“We are in the midst of very dramatic political events, but the peak is still ahead,” he said. “I am going to Washington with a great sense of purpose, great responsibility and great chance, and I am hopeful we can make history.”

He invited several settler leaders to join him in Washington for the rollout of the plan.

Mr Gantz, whose centrist Blue and White alliance has been neck-to-neck with Mr Netanyahu’s Likud party in the last two elections, also landed in the US to meet Mr Trump on Monday afternoon.

It marked the first time an Israeli politician who does not hold a government position to participate in a private meeting with a US president during election season.

A source told Reuters last week that bringing both Mr Netanyahu and Mr Gantz in on the details was aimed at defusing any suggestion Mr Trump might be favouring one candidate over the other ahead of Israel’s general election which is expected to be very close.

After landing in Washington, Mr Gantz said he hoped to achieve “good relations, and explanation, and understanding between the president and myself”.

“I am looking forward to meeting the president – a president of utmost friendliness to the state of Israel – on a matter that is very important for the state of Israel, with national, strategic and security ramifications,” Gantz said.

The White House has hoped was that if Mr Trump could get the support of both Mr Netanyahu and Mr Gantz for the plan, it would help provide some momentum.

A US official told Associated Press Mr Trump wants to know both Mr Netanyahu and Mr Gantz are on board with the plan before announcing it.

Mr Trump’s message to both: “You have six weeks to get this (plan) going, if you want it,” the official said.

Analysts believe that timing of the announcement is political.

Benny Gantz arrives in Washington for talks with Trump about the peace deal (Elad Malka/Blue and White)

President Trump is heading for US elections under the cloud of an impeachment trial in the Senate and is looking to solidify his position as international statesman.

Mr Netanyahu, meanwhile, is fighting for political survival as he battles to be re-elected after being charged with fraud, breach of trust and accepting bribes in three graft cases.

Mr Gantz’s centrist Blue and White party has refused to sit with Mr Netanyahu in government because of the charges but will find that an increasingly difficult position to take if the deal goes through.

Neither Mr Gantz nor Mr Netanyahu have been able to secure the required parliamentary majority to form a government after the last two elections, unless they join forces.

Mr Trump has delivered political favours to Mr Netanyahu during the previous two races including recognising Israeli sovereignty over the occupied Golan.

However, none of these moves have successfully helped the Israeli leader be re-elected.

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