If we summarize everything we know so far about U.S. President Donald Trump’s Mideast plan, it sounded last week to most people, both Jews and Arabs, something like this: This is a final offer whose details will be studied by a committee. This is the absolute final offer to the Palestinians before negotiations begin, and the status quo won’t change for four years. Meanwhile, Israel is already annexing territory.
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Confused? Reading the transcript of Trump’s speech at the White House on Tuesday will confuse you even more. Here are seven points from the speech that should be scrutinized, especially considering the many contradictions about annexation.
1. Trump said Benjamin Netanyahu and Benny Gantz told him in Washington that they are “willing to endorse the vision as the basis for direct negotiations.” That is, the plan could change during negotiations; it’s not really final.
This was also underscored by the head of the White House plan, Jared Kushner, who said a number of times that the Palestinians are still invited to discuss the details of the plan with the United States. This directly contradicts the declarations that Washington will immediately recognize Israeli sovereignty in the territories. What exactly will there be negotiations on with the Palestinians if not percentages of territory? After all, that’s the key issue.
2. The Americans’ position on immediate annexation was already known; all Netanyahu had to do was listen to Trump’s speech as he stood alongside him. The president said Tuesday: “We will form a joint committee with Israel to convert the conceptual map into a more detailed and calibrated rendering so that recognition can be immediately achieved.”
The joint committee was thus specifically mentioned in that speech; Netanyahu’s statements immediately thereafter at a press conference – that he would bring an annexation proposal to the cabinet Sunday or Tuesday – weren’t the result of confusion or a misunderstanding, as he tried to explain it later.
3. On the other hand, Trump did say that the United States “will recognize Israeli sovereignty over the territory that my vision provides to be part of the State of Israel,” adding dramatically that this is “very important.” That is, the United States is prepared to recognize Israeli sovereignty in the territories, but only subject to the work of the committee that would determine the final borders.
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Why only now? There were years for drawing up these maps, if that was the whole story. But it’s not the whole story, especially because of the desire to enlist Arab support. So the United States slammed the brakes on Netanyahu’s dash forward.
People on the right could also have listened a little more closely to the speech before the great disappointment. But Israeli officials expressed hope that the Arab League’s rejection Saturday of Trump’s plan could actually bring the green light to annexation closer.
4. As Israel is annexing territories, even if after a committee’s work, Trump explained to Netanyahu that the territory allotted for the new Palestinian state “will remain open and undeveloped for a period of four years. During this time, Palestinians can use all appropriate deliberation to study the deal, negotiate with Israel, achieve the criteria for statehood and become a truly independent and wonderful state.”
Netanyahu confirmed this when he said Israel would maintain the status quo “in areas that your plan does not designate as being part of Israel in the future.”
5. However, Netanyahu of course stressed that as the Palestinians wait “to negotiate with Israel,” he already intends to annex the settlements. “I like it,” he said, Trump style.
Another look makes clear how contradictory these statements are. Negotiations are meaningless when the territories have already been annexed. Netanyahu himself has held talks on returning the Golan Heights or parts of it after it was already annexed, as Haaretz has written in the past, but it’s hard to believe this is the intention.
6. In his speech, Trump said “your Ambassador David Friedman.” It’s not clear if this was a slip of the tongue. Maybe he was finally conceding that Friedman has much more been Israel’s ambassador?
7. What was certainly a slip of the tongue was the nickname he gave the Al-Aqsa Mosque, “Al-Aqua.” Turning the heart of the war between the religions into what sounds like a water park was amusing but also casts a long shadow over the president’s knowledge of the rest of the details.