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After months of delay, President Trump is preparing to reveal his plan for peace in the Middle East. The development comes as Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu faces corruption charges and Trump an impeachment trial. Nick Schifrin joins Judy Woodruff to discuss the plan’s unusual level of detail, how Israelis are reacting to it and why Palestinians are almost universally opposed.
At the same time President Trump faces the impeachment trial in the Senate, he is turning to a problem that has plagued the United States and its leaders for decades.
Our Nick Schifrin is here to help preview the plan for peace in the Middle East, no less than peace in the Middle East, Nick.
So, what do we know at this point about this plan?
The plan's writers say it's about 60 pages, which is by far the most detailed plan that the U.S. has ever suggested on Middle East peace.
A couple of highlights, Judy, it may include the word Palestinian state, but it could be conditional, and also won't have the traditional rights that a state has, so control over defense, control over borders, control over airspace.
Point number two, Israeli officials expect it to at least implicitly endorse the idea of Israeli control over some of the occupied West Bank, so the Jordan Valley, for example, along the Jordan River, or some Israeli settlements.
And, number three, it's expected to significantly limit the rights of Palestinians who were born in what is today Israel from returning to their homes. Big question, of course, is, what is the status of Jerusalem?
And when you talk to the people who wrote this plan, they say that previous plans have failed, and so they're trying to do something different. They're trying to create something with a lot of details up front, rather than shuttle diplomacy, which, of course, has defined the previous plan.
That's very different from in the past.
And what's the reaction in Israel?
Bipartisan support, and an almost giddiness from the Israeli right, because they know that this is probably the best plan that they're ever going to get.
And that's what you heard from today both Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his political rival, Benny Gantz, both of whom met at — met the president at the White House today and had this to say this afternoon:
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu:
The deal of the century is the opportunity of a century. And we're not going to pass it by. And we will talk about that tomorrow.
Today, I repeat, I just want to say thank you for everything you have done for the state of Israel. You have been the greatest friend that Israel has had in the White House.
The president's peace plan is a significant and historic milestone, indeed. Immediately after the election, we will work towards implementing it from within a stable, functioning Israeli government.
So you — we will get to the Israeli election later.
But you heard from both of them today praising President Trump, because this has been the most pro-Israeli U.S. administration in decades. Over the last few years, President Trump has recognized Israel — recognized Jerusalem, rather, as Israel's capital, and moved the embassy there, recognized Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights, which the Israelis annexed in 1981, but which the international community has considered occupied since 1967.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo shifted U.S. policy on settlements, declaring that — quote — "settlements in the West Bank is not per se inconsistent with international law."
And the U.S. has ended all aid to Palestinians, including to the U.N., international organizations and security.
And, of course, Judy, U.S. policy overall has been in synch with Israel, especially on Iran.
Heavily favoring Israel, which raises the question what the Palestinian reaction to all of this…
Pretty much dead on arrival, unequivocally negative.
The prime minister, Mohammad Shtayyeh, said this would — quote — "liquidate the Palestinian cause."
Other Palestinian officials say it's just dead on arrival.
J Street, which is an Israeli — or a Jewish lobbying group here in D.C. that considers itself pro-Israeli and pro-peace said that this was a peace plan in name only, an illegitimate attempt, because there's no serious attempt to engage with Palestinian aspirations.
Palestinians are not part of this deal, and nobody in the U.S. especially is even pretending that they are.
And others, Judy, are even more cynical. They call it a political ploy by a president who's been impeached and a prime minister who's been indicted.
And if — you can't ignore the politics surrounding all of this, the president, President Trump, undergoing this impeachment trial right now, meanwhile, in Israel, Prime Minister Netanyahu facing reelection.
And he's been indicted.
So, let's talk about the Israeli elections first. March 2, Israel's — or Israelis will go to the polls for the third time in the last year. And Netanyahu is not only fighting for his political survival. He's actually fighting for his physical freedom, because he's indicted on corruption charges.
And if he's not prime minister, he could go to jail. And so analysts say that he wants, of course, to focus on security, and not on corruption.
For Benny Gantz, he cannot be seen criticizing this plan, for fear of alienating voters, although I will say, Judy, he did say that he would want to talk to the Palestinians about this plan if he were elected.
Now, that brings us to impeachment. This is not the first time that the impeachment of a U.S. president has been intertwined with Middle East peace. December 1998, the House impeaches Bill Clinton, and he is in Jerusalem having a press conference.
The very first question he is asked is about impeachment. That question, that reporter is interrupted by the Israeli prime minister, who just happens to have been Benjamin Netanyahu.
May I ask a favor? Just a question. You're free to ask any one of your questions.
But I think the president has come here on a very clear message, on a very clear voyage of peace. And I believe that it would be appropriate also to ask one or two questions on the peace process. I would like to know the answers too.
Judy, this is not the first time that the president of the United States or the prime minister of Israel has emphasized issues of state while there was political peril.
Nick Schifrin, thank you.
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