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Tuesday, 15 June 2021

Clashes in West Bank after Palestinians reject U.S. peace plan

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Clashes in West Bank after Palestinians reject U.S. peace plan
Clashes in West Bank after Palestinians reject U.S. peace plan

The release of a U.S. peace plan aimed at resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict was met with protests and clashes in the West Bank, as Palestinians rejected what they saw as a lopsided proposal heavily favoring Israel.

Zachary Goelman reports.

Masked Palestinians hurled stones and Israeli soldiers fired tear gas in the West Bank city of Bethlehem on Wednesday.

The clashes underscore the Palestinian reaction to an American proposal meant to end conflict here.

A day earlier U.S. President Donald Trump stood next to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to unveil what the two leaders billed as "the deal of the century" to establish peace in the tumultuous region.

(SOUNDBITE) (English) ISRAELI PRIME MINSTER BENJAMIN NETANYAHU, SAYING: "Mr. President, I've agreed to negotiate peace with the Palestinians on the basis of your peace plan." Trump and Netanyahu said that if Palestinians accepted the principles of the plan, talks could begin that could lead to the establishment of a Palestinian state.

But those principles included that the U.S. for the first time would recognize Israeli sovereignty over swaths of the occupied West Bank, lands claimed by Palestinians.

A map released by the White House showed the outlines of the potential Palestinian state: a patchwork of territory carved up by Israeli-controlled roads, Israeli civilian settlements, and areas deemed to be of strategic importance to Israel.

The plan would give Palestinians control of most of their major population centers, and some un-yet developed areas in the Negev desert.

Khalil Tafakji is the head of mapping at the Arab Studies Association in Jerusalem, and said the offer does not resemble a viable state.

(SOUNDBITE) (Arabic) KHALIL TAFAKJI, HEAD OF MAPPING AND GEOGRAPHIC INFORMATION SYSTEMS AT THE ARAB STUDIES ASSOCIATION, SAYING: "If we check what will be a Palestinian State it will be a group of sub-divisions surrounded by Israel and totally connected with Israel.

Crossing in and out of it will be controlled by Israel." Hawkish Israeli politicians, such as Defense Minister Naftali Bennett, saw the Trump plan as a green-light for Israeli to annex parts of the West Bank.

(SOUNDBITE) (Hebrew) ISRAELI DEFENCE MINISTER, NAFTALI BENNETT, SAYING: "This is about 30 percent of the entire territory of Judea and Samaria.

This is an opportunity to determine the Jordan Valley as the Western border of Israel, an opportunity to determine the territories of our country, an opportunity to anchor our security for generations and an opportunity to cherish forever the land of our fathers." And Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas quickly called the proposal a conspiracy, that would not pass.

Palestinian protesters took to the streets.

White House senior adviser and Donald Trump's son-in-law Jared Kushner led the U.S. effort on the proposal.

In an exclusive interview with Reuters, Kushner said the Palestinians needed to re-think their response.

(SOUNDBITE) (English) WHITE HOUSE SENIOR ADVISER JARED KUSHNER, SAYING: "They rejected the plan before they saw it.

They thought it wasn't going to be as good as it was, so I think they look quite foolish today." He suggested that the Palestinian leadership would come around.

(SOUNDBITE) (English) WHITE HOUSE SENIOR ADVISER JARED KUSHNER, SAYING: "If Abbas is always saying he wants the rights of his people, he wants a state, he wants to be recognized, but he'll be flexible on everything else, well, now he's got a real offer on the table.

So, if he rejects it I think that he'll lose whatever credibility he has left, and I don't think he can afford to do that." Responses across the Middle East were divided.

U.S. allies such as Saudi Arabia, Jordan, and Egypt said they supported peace talks facilitated by Washington and called the proposal an important starting point.

Turkey panned what it termed an "annexation plan," and Iran's foreign minister called it "the project of a bankruptcy-ridden real estate developer." The General Secretary of the Arab League described the proposal as lopsided, and deeply flawed.

(SOUNDBITE) (English) ARAB LEAGUE ASSISTANT SECRETARY GENERAL, HOSSAM ZAKI, SAYING:"The Palestinians are requested to make major concessions, while the Israelis are not required to make any concessions almost at all.

This is not fair, and this is not just, and it will not achieve lasting peace." Governments in the region may not want to cross Washington, but they also do not want to run afoul of popular opinion in support of the Palestinians.


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