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Trump says Jerusalem will be 'Israel's undivided capital' as he unveils controversial plan

US president says Palestinian state will be established when conditions are met, and this is their 'last opportunity' to achieve statehood
By Umar A Farooq in Washington

Main points from Trump's announcement:

  • Jerusalem will be Israel's capital
  • Israel to annex illegal settlements in the occupied West Bank and the strategic Jordan valley
  • Israel will freeze new settlement building for four years in areas designated for a future Palestinian state
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  • Parts of East Jerusalem will form the capital of a future Palestinian state
  • Palestinian refugees from areas in Israel will not have a "right of return"
  • US thanks Bahrain, Oman, and the United Arab Emirates for supporting deal 

US President Donald Trump unveiled his controversial plan to address the Israel-Palestine conflict on Tuesday, declaring that Jerusalem will be "Israel's undivided capital" and that this was the "last opportunity" for the Palestinians to achieve statehood.

"Jerusalem will remain Israel's undivided, very important, undivided capital," Trump said, as Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu stood by his side. "But that's no big deal, because I've already done that for you."

He extolled: "The United States will recognise Israeli sovereignty over territory that my vision provides to be a part of the state of Israel.

"We will also work to create a contiguous territory within the future Palestinian state for when the conditions for statehood are met," he said.

The long-awaited plan was drafted with no input from Palestinian leaders, who also refused to engage with the Trump administration.

'We reject the deal of the century and we codemn the US policy,'

- Khalil al-Haya, Hamas official

"I want this deal to be great for the Palestinians... this could be the last opportunity they ever have.

"This map will more than double the Palestinian territory and provide a capital in eastern Jerusalem where America will proudly open an embassy."

The plan also called for a four-year freeze in Israel settlement activity in areas that are designated as part of the future Palestinian state.

The announcement comes after months of waiting - during which the Trump administration implemented a series of policies that have backed Israeli occupation.

Over three years in office, the Trump administration has appointed a hardline pro-settlers lawyer as ambassador to Israel, cut funding to the UN agency for Palestinian refugees (UNRWA), pulled the US from the UN Human Rights Council and declared that settlements are not necessarily illegal. 

It also recognised Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, claiming that the contested holy city is now off the negotiations table.

Done deal: How the peace process sold out the Palestinians

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Done deal: How the peace process sold out the Palestinians
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Middle East Eye's "Done Deal" series examines how many of the elements of US President Donald Trump's so-called "deal of the century" reflect a reality that already exists on the ground.

It looks at how Palestinian territory has already been effectively annexed, why refugees have no realistic prospect of ever returning to their homeland, how the Old City of Jerusalem is under Israeli rule, how financial threats and incentives are used to undermine Palestinian opposition to the status quo, and how Gaza is kept under a state of permanent siege.

Moreover, in September 2018, the US administration expelled the Palestinian diplomatic mission from Washington, making it difficult to involve Palestinians in the plan. 

In fact, not a single Palestinian was present when Trump released the scheme on Tuesday. Instead, ambassadors from Bahrain, Oman and the United Arab Emirates attended the much-maligned meeting.

An end to the right of resistance

The so-called "deal of the century" codifies Washington's recent pro-Israel policies, including denying Palestinians' claims to Jerusalem.

Ilan Pappe, an Israeli historian and socialist activist, told Middle East Eye that the Trump administration was looking to turn Palestinians' political demands for rights into an economic issue.

He said previous US administrations had turned a blind eye to Israel's policies of expanding settlements while publicly opposing annexation and settlements.

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"This administration had closed the gap between the insincere declared positions and the real ones," Pappe said.

"Trump's main focus, under Israel's influence, is to de-politicise the Palestine issue. It is not a matter of rights anymore - right of return or right of self-determination - but an economic and humanitarian issue that can be solved with money, if the exclusive right for self-determination for the Jews would be accepted by the Palestinians for every part of historical Palestine."

And while Trump's policies have not created the status quo of the occupation and settlements, Palestinian rights advocates say the public US shift in favour of Isreal cements the occupation. 

"What the agreement will reflect is US endorsement of existing realities on the ground, which is quite dangerous. It won't change the situation, but it will make them harder to reverse," said Phyllis Bennis, director of the New Internationalism project at the Institute for Palestine Studies.

"I think there also might be language about this being the end of the conflict, which has been tried before. And what it essentially means is not that it's an end to occupation or an end to apartheid or an end to inequality, but that it's an end to the right of resistance.

"So if anybody says: 'well, actually no, it's not over, there's still any inequality here', then they can be treated as a terrorist because they're not accepting that this that the conflict is now over."

'We will resist'

Palestinian officials and activists were quick to denounce the plan even before it was announced.

In the besieged Gaza Strip, thousands rallied against the scheme on Tuesday.

"We say to Trump and to the occupation: You will not find among the Palestinians a single person who agrees to the deal of shame and of the century," Khalil al-Haya, a Hamas official, said at the protest.

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"We give our word today to the world: we reject the deal of the century and we condemn the US policy. We will resist the deal using everything we have. We are united against this deal and we demand our Arab and Muslim nation to reject it."

Following the announcement, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas received a call from Hamas leader and former Prime Minister Ismail Haniya in a show of unity against the plan.

Official Palestinian news agency WAFA reported that Haniya expressed Hamas's support for Abbas's firm stance against the "deal of the century", which he said aims to end the Palestinian national project.

Jared Kushner, Donald Trump's son-in-law and architect of the deal, defended the plan and called it the "last chance for the Palestinians to have a state".

"We tried to carve out a way, with land swaps and bridges and tunnels, to create a Palestinian state that could be contiguous where you can drive form the top through tunnels and bridges, land and highways all the way to the bottom," he told Al Jazeera Arabic.

"If we don't do this today, at the rate Israel is growing, it will never be able to be done."

According to Haaretz, Kushner said in private conversations two years ago that his job was to "make it hard" for the Palestinians to reject the plan, and "not to give them an easy way out."

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