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Bringing generations of conflict in the Middle East to an end has been an elusive goal for decades. Now President Trump has released his plan for doing just that, referring to his proposal as “the deal of the century.” Nick Schifrin reports and speaks to U.S. Ambassador to Israel David Friedman and Nour Odeh, a former spokesperson for the Palestinian authority, for their reactions to the plan.
It has been an elusive goal for decades to end generations of conflict in the Middle East.
Nick Schifrin unpacks today's plan from the Trump administration.
From his very first words, President Trump described what he's called the deal of the century in the context of Israel.
President Donald Trump:
Today, Israel takes a big step towards peace.
Flanked by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, President Trump unveiled the most detailed peace plan in history. Over 50 pages, the plan endorses a Palestinian state, but it wouldn't have control over its defense or airspace and wouldn't come into existence unless Palestinians met specific conditions.
Together, we can bring about a new dawn in the Middle East.
Here is today's map. The border since the 1967 war, in yellow, is the occupied West Bank. And this is the new peace plan's map. Israel would surround a Palestinian state, control a corridor along the Jordan border, including the Jordan Valley, and the homes of 97 percent of Israeli settlers in the West Bank would become part of Israel.
The international community considers those settlements illegal, and Palestinians call the Jordan Valley the breadbasket of their future state. But Netanyahu used the announcement to launch unilateral annexation in the West Bank, which he referred to using biblical names Judea and Samaria.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu:
Israel will apply its laws to the Jordan Valley, to all the Jewish communities in Judea and Samaria, and to other areas that your plan designates as part of Israel.
President Trump said the U.S. would accept that, changing decades of U.S. policy.
And the United States will recognize Israeli sovereignty over the territory that my vision provides to be part of the state of Israel. Very important.
The map also changes Southern Israel. These are Gaza's borders today. The new plan would expand Gaza, with land given up by Israel, and create a tunnel between Gaza and the West Bank, to make a Palestinian state contiguous.
This is the first time Israel has authorized the release of a conceptual map illustrating the territorial compromises it's willing to make for the cause of peace. And they have gone a long way.
On perhaps the most contentious issue of all, Jerusalem, today, President Trump, by emphasizing two words, seemed to decide its fate.
Under this vision, Jerusalem will remain Israel's undivided — very important — undivided capital.
The plan calls for the outskirts of East Jerusalem, already behind what Israel calls the security barrier, to become Palestine's capital.
This map will more than double Palestinian territory and provide a Palestinian capital in Eastern Jerusalem, where America will proudly open an embassy.
The Palestinians are not part of this deal, and they protested today in Gaza, even before the release.
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas rejected it outright.
President Mahmoud Abbas (through translator):
After the nonsense that we heard today, we say 1,000 times no, no, no to the deal of the century.
That rejection, despite the plan providing Palestinians with $50 billion of economic investment.
Since 1967, when Israel captured the West Bank and all of Jerusalem, the U.S. has tried to negotiate Middle East peace. In 1978, President Carter hosted an Israeli-Egyptian pact. In 1994, President Clinton hosted an Israeli-Jordanian pact.
But Israeli-Palestinian peace has proven elusive, in 2000, President Clinton, with Prime Minister Ehud Barak and Palestine Liberation Organization Chairman Yasser Arafat, in 2003, President Bush with Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, and, in 2014, Secretary of State John Kerry with Abbas and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, all efforts that failed.
All prior administrations from President Lyndon Johnson have tried and bitterly failed. But I wasn't elected to do small things or shy away from big problems.
And we get two views on this plan, and turn first to David Friedman. He is the U.S. ambassador to Israel and one of the architects of this plan.
Ambassador Friedman, thank you very much for joining us. Welcome to the "NewsHour."
Thank you, Nick. Thanks for having me.
Previous attempts, as you know, and as President Trump marked today, have failed at Israeli-Palestinian peace. Where do you think you can succeed, where your predecessors have failed?
This is different. This is a hard offer from the Israelis for the first time in the history of this conflict, where the Israelis indicate the terms on which they're willing to live side by side a Palestinian state, the territorial dimensions of a Palestinian state, the conditions that need to be put in place before they would agree to live side by side a Palestinian state.
This is different in terms of details, in terms of really creating, I think, a very clear pathway for Palestinian statehood.
And, look, we think the Palestinians should engage, and we're very grateful that so many other countries around the world have issued such constructive statements urging the same thing.
With those details, of course, comes the opportunity for people to criticize them.
And there are specific details that the Palestinians are criticizing. A couple them, the territory of what is now the West Bank is shrinking. Everything on the Israeli side of the security barrier in Jerusalem is being given to Israel, Palestinians giving up control of their airspace and defense, no right over Palestinian refugees to return to their homes.
Are you making a genuine attempt to engage with Palestinian aspirations?
Look, of course Palestinians will criticize. I'm sure there are many Israelis that are criticizing as well.
The question is, what do they do next? They're not going to get more by holding a day of rage. If they want to address this, I suggest they follow the urging of the international community, which is being expressed in so many different places, and come to the table and speak with the Israelis.
Let me get to that international reaction.
The Arab countries in the region are so important. You have identified their interests as so important to the success of this plan.
The Egyptians and Emiratis have encouraged both sides to study the plan.
But there is a warning from perhaps the most important partner here. The Jordanian foreign minister has "warned against the dangerous consequences of unilateral Israeli measures, such as the annexation of Palestinian lands, the building and expansion of illegal Israeli settlements on Palestinian occupied lands."
And he said that those would violate international law and push the area towards more conflict and tension.
Those actions are what Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu promised to do today after this plan was released. Do you fear this plan could increase conflict and tension?
Well, look, it shouldn't.
We will work more closely with the kingdom of Jordan. As you know, the plan recognizes the special role of King Abdullah with regard to the Muslim holy shrines. We don't share their view on the law.
But what I think we hope they come to realize is the vast opportunity that's created for a better life for Palestinians, and, by the way, for Jordanians as well.
Do you acknowledge that a map that has no Palestinian state border with the Jordanian border, and no requirement for Israeli settlements to be moved back or settlers to be moved into the future state of Israel, do you acknowledge that that map could make it difficult for Arab countries to support this?
I think Arab countries want to see the parties negotiating.
These are — these are terms that, if the Palestinians care about them and want to discuss, they should come to the table. Look, we don't believe in evacuating settlements. We don't believe in evacuating Palestinians from their homes either.
We think the Palestinians should give this a hard look. Look, they have got four years. We're not requiring that the Palestinians react to it immediately. The Israelis, at our request, are freezing the territory that is being allocated to the Palestinians, for four years, no development.
So time is not working against them. And they should take a deep breath, study the plan, identify what they like about it, identify what they don't like about it. And, if they want to change it, they should sit down with Israel, and we're happy to facilitate those discussions.
And, Ambassador, one of the conditions on the Palestinians is to pass human rights and corruption laws, stopping non-state actors, ending incitement, and building institutions.
You have been part of the U.S. effort to cut off some of the assistance to the Palestinian Authority. How can Palestinians build those institutions if the U.S. won't provide the economic assistance to help them do so?
I think if we're at a point where the Palestinians accept this vision, and indicate a willingness to create these institutions, and if there is a financial component to it, I'm sure we'd be happy to look at it.
So, just to put a point on it, you are suggesting that there is an opportunity here for the U.S. to reverse its policy from the last couple of years and actually restart some of that aid to the Palestinian Authority?
Yes. I think the ball is in Ramallah's court right now.
Ambassador David Friedman, one of the architects of this plan, thank you very much.
Thanks, Nick. Appreciate it. A pleasure.
And for the Palestinian perspective, we're joined by Nour Odeh in Ramallah. She's a political analyst and former spokesperson for the Palestinian government.
Thank you very much. Welcome to the "NewsHour."
You were just listening to Ambassador Friedman say it's not — it's important not to revert back to old arguments.
Why not at least pledge to be at the table for what is genuinely a different approach toward peace?
Well, it's a different approach, but I would — I would say that it's not an approach for peace.
What we saw presented today was an agreement between Trump, who wants to combat the impeachment hearings, and Netanyahu, the Israeli prime minister, who is struggling from corruption charges.
Both have a vested interest in surviving politically and speaking to their base. And that's exactly what they did with this plan.
But they certainly didn't speak to peace, nor did they speak to the foundations and requirements of that peace.
What Trump presented is an assault on the very foundations of relations between states which have regulated peace and security for over 70 years. It flouts international law. It legitimizes annexation. It legitimizes settlements, all of which are crimes under international law.
So, engage with some of the specifics of the plan, not only an economic incentive, $50 billion, quite a lot, but also this — the argument that the ambassador made, which was a kind of unprecedented willingness of Israel to put a land swap on the map, and give essentially Gaza more territory for the Palestinian state.
Right, more territory in the desert, while it annexes territory that has the only water aquifer in the West Bank, and while Israel kind of discards part of its territory and Palestinian-Israeli citizens in this so-called swap.
Look, what we have here is not an arrangement for peace. It's an arrangement that allows the Israeli right wing to stay in power, that allows Israel to get rid of Palestinian communities and form some sort of whatever self-rule that Trump wanted to call a state.
The $50 billion is something that President Trump emphasized today, Jared Kushner, the architect of the plan, Ambassador Friedman, one of the authors, have emphasized.
Is that appealing to a Palestinian population and perhaps a youthful Palestinian population that doesn't connect with their government, many of whom see as corrupt, but do want a brighter economic future?
Well, let me put to you this way.
The Israeli occupation costs the Palestinian economy 98 percent of GDP every year. The Israeli restrictions, the Israeli checkpoints, the confiscation of land, the restrictions on investment and development, the banning of Palestinian activity in the very areas that Trump now wants to allow Israel to annex, in violation of international law, all of those cost us nearly our entire GDP every year.
Ending the occupation is the fastest, quickest, cheapest way to ensure Palestinian economic prosperity. And we wouldn't even need the world to give us any handouts.
This is a highly educated population, a population full of youth, full of vitality, full of energy and entrepreneurship. All of that is being denied by the continued occupation, which the Trump plan basically offers an indefinite extension of.
And that's why it simply doesn't work; $50 billion that Jared Kushner is talking about, along with Trump, will be wasted.
And, quickly, in the time I have left, as you noticed, I read to Ambassador Friedman the Jordanian statement, which was implicitly critical of what Netanyahu was saying he was about to do.
But I also noted that the Egyptians and the Emiratis have come out and said, take this seriously.
Are you worried that some of the Arab neighbors will not be on your side right now?
Well, look, ultimately, a deal has to be struck between the parties of — to that deal.
The Egyptians can welcome it all they want. They're not ones who are going to be signing. The Emiratis can welcome it as much as they want. They are not the ones who have to sign. It's the Palestinians.
If the American administration doesn't reach a point where it can see the Palestinians as equals, equally worthy of prosperity and justice and freedom, then all of this is a wasted effort, and just one more step putting the United States on the wrong side of history and on the wrong side of international law.
Nour Odeh, former spokeswoman for the Palestinian Authority, joining us from Ramallah, thank you very much.
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