White House unveils Middle East peace plan: Israel Update


January 31, 2020


In a joint news conference with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, US President Donald Trump unveiled his Middle East peace plan on Tuesday. The comprehensive and complex proposal lays out a vision for a “two-state solution” that calls for a demilitarized Palestinian state in Gaza and a majority of the West Bank. The proposed location for the capital of the Palestinian state is a section of East Jerusalem. Under the plan, Israel will control an “undivided Jerusalem” and obtain the right to annex all major West Bank settlements, while agreeing to a four-year freeze on further construction in all areas constituting the new Palestinian state. It remains unclear how the plan would be enacted and what the implications would be for each side. However, prior to its release, the proposal was emphatically rejected by Palestinian leaders. The somewhat controversial plan garnered divergent reviews from national Jewish groups. The Cincinnati Jewish Community Relations Council (JCRC) is committed to a secure, vibrant, democratic, and Jewish State of Israel. JCRC has long held a consensus in support of an end to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict that results in two states between the Mediterranean Sea and Jordan River living side-by-side in peace, one Jewish and democratic and the other Palestinian Arab and democratic. While others can assist, this must be directly negotiated by representatives of the two peoples. For additional analysis of the White House proposal, the JCRC has created a website to provide the community with the most important resources and information regarding the plan.


Following the unveiling of the US proposal, Prime Minister Netanyahu pledged to his bring annexation plans to a vote at the next cabinet meeting, and indicated that Israel would formally start extending sovereignty over large parts of the West Bank, within days. Following Netanyahu’s remarks, a series of statements made by US and Israeli officials created confusion between the two sides as to whether the US supported an immediate Israeli annexation. US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman made a series of seemingly contradictory remarks in the days following the proposal that ultimately led Jared Kushner to declare unequivocally that the Trump administration was opposed to immediate annexation. A handful of Israeli officials were later quoted as saying that Israel can ignore Kushner’s statement, though reports on Thursday evening suggested that the annexation plans have, in fact, been put on hold. In slight contrast with Netanyahu, Blue and White leader Benny Gantz said that, as Prime Minister, he would annex the West Bank, but only after the upcoming elections, and only in coordination with the international community. Critics of Netanyahu claim that his rush to annex the territories is motivated by his belief that such action would benefit him in the March 2 elections. The Prime Minister’s recent indictment raises further questions—not merely about his political future—but also regarding his legal authority to take such action. Polls indicate that nearly half of Israelis oppose annexation.


While Netanyahu was in Washington to mark the release of the peace deal, he became the first sitting Prime Minister to be indicted on criminal charges. According to the text of the indictment, Netanyahu is charged with fraud and breach of trust in Cases 1000 and 2000—and bribery, fraud and breach of trust in Case 4000. The charges were filed hours after Netanyahu announced he would withdraw a request for parliamentary immunity from the indictment. His announcement came mere hours before the Knesset was set to form a committee to debate—and likely reject—the immunity request. Israeli critics of Netanyahu have expressed concern that the timing of the US peace plan's release was an attempt to rescue Netanyahu from the immunity proceedings. Before traveling back to Israel to take part in the planned Knesset deliberation, Benny Gantz met with Trump on Monday. On Tuesday, Gantz asserted that Netanyahu could not run the country while standing trial. Netanyahu has been resolute in his defense, declaring his innocence, while simultaneously criticizing the legal procedures and processes.


Naama Issachar has finally returned home to Israel, following her release from a Russian prison. Issachar, 27, was sentenced last year to 7.5 years of prison time when roughly 10 grams of cannabis were found in her luggage during a flight layover in Moscow. After months of lobbying by Prime Minister Netanyahu, Issachar was pardoned by Russian President Vladimir Putin on Wednesday. Netanyahu was in Russia to personally greet Issachar upon her release, though he insisted that the main purpose for his trip was to update the Russian President on the US peace plan.


A series of balloon clusters carrying suspected explosive devices were launched from the Gaza Strip into Israel thoughout the day on Wednesday. Wednesday evening, a mortar shell—fired from Gaza—struck an open field in southern Israel. Israel responded to the attacks by striking several sites in the Gaza Strip. The army claimed it hit “Hamas targets, including a weapons manufacturing site and underground infrastructure.” On Thursday, a bundle of balloons connected to an explosive device was found in the Southern District of Israel, near the Ashkelon Coastal Regional Council. In response, the Israeli Air Force struck targets in southern Gaza. The Israel Defense Forces released a statement saying: “Earlier today, fire was identified from the Gaza Strip toward an observation antenna and explosive balloons were launched into Israeli territory." The exchange continued into Friday when three additional mortal shells were fired towards Israel, to which Israel retaliated with a strike on a Hamas outpost along the Gaza border. No injuries were reported in any of these attacks.


Shabbat Shalom,


Jackie Congedo, Director, JCRC


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The Jewish Community Relations Council (JCRC) is the non-partisan, public affairs arm of the Jewish Federation of Cincinnati.

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