Iran vows to oppose Trump Middle East plan that Gulf Arabs welcome

Opposition to scheme largely cuts across region's sectarian and political divides 

Borzou Daragahi,Bel Trew
Wednesday 29 January 2020 17:19 GMT
Trump says Jerusalem will be Israel's 'undivided capital' under Middle East peace plan

Iran and its allies have vowed to oppose a US plan to carve up Israel and the Palestinian territories. But the proposals, which were put together by Donald Trump’s son-in-law and lobbyists in Washington, were welcomed by White House allies in the Arabian Peninsula.

The Twitter account of Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, cited comments he made more than 18 months ago, when Ivanka Trump’s husband, real estate developer scion Jared Kushner, first began touting a Middle East peace initiative.

“Let the American leadership go blind, but by the will of God America’s satanic and evil policy for Palestine named the deal of the century will never succeed,” he was quoted as saying. “The Palestine issue will never be forgotten and definitely the Palestinian nation and all Muslim nations will stand against them and not stand for this.”

Iran – which along with Palestinians and many other Arab actors, was left out of the consultations on the Trump administration’s plan – has a history of using its proxies to sabotage attempts to implement American schemes in the region, including in Lebanon in the 1980s, Israel and the Palestinian territories in the 1990s, Iraq in the 2000s, and Syria and Yemen in the 2010s.

The so-called deal of the century was praised by Benjamin Netanyahu, the Israeli prime minister, who attended the Tuesday unveiling of the plan, saying it was a “great deal for Israel and a great deal for peace”.

During a press briefing on Wednesday, David Friedman, US Ambassador to Israel, insisted “it’s a little too early to gauge Palestinian reaction”.

But the negative response was swift and broad, equally rejected by numerous Palestinian factions in a rare show of unity.

Mahmoud ​Abbas – the Palestinian president – and the head of rival Hamas, the militant group which runs Gaza, vehemently rejected the deal as “nonsense” and held a rare joint meeting to discuss their response.

“I say to Trump and Netanyahu: Jerusalem is not for sale, all our rights are not for sale and are not for bargaining,” Mr Abbas said on Tuesday. “And your deal, the conspiracy, will not pass.”

Sami Abu Zuhri, a Hamas official added, “Trump’s statement is aggressive and it will spark a lot of anger.”

The deal gives Israel complete control over the contested city of Jerusalem, instead offering the Palestinians a capital in the eastern outskirts of the city, which are behind Israel’s controversial security wall.

It also allows Israel to annex the strategic Jordan Valley area along the border with Jordan as well as nearly all its settlements in the occupied West Bank, which are deemed illegal under international law.

According to Mr Trump’s maps, the Palestinian state meanwhile is comprised of parts of the West Bank connected by corridors as well as the blockaded Gaza enclave and territory south of the strip which would be handed over in a land swap.

The plan denies the right of return of Palestinian refugees into lands they fled or were forced from decades ago that are now inside Israel.

It says that Israel will maintain security responsibility for the future state of Palestine that had to be demilitarised.

Mr Friedman insisted to reporters that “the reaction from the region has been extraordinarily constructive”.

But immediate opposition to the deal cut across the sectarian and political divides that have rattled the Middle East for years.

The Arab states endorsing the plan are unlikely to think it has a chance of success 

HA Hellyer, analyst 

Both sides in Yemen’s years-long civil war, the Iranian-backed Houthis and the internationally recognised government backed by Saudi Arabia, denounced the plan.

The deal was predictably criticised by Iran’s allies such as the Lebanese Shia militia Hezbollah, but also by Iraq’s top Shia religious authority, Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani, considered a foe of Tehran, who demanded that Jerusalem “be returned to the sovereignty of its Palestinian owners no matter how long it takes”, and neighbouring Jordan, a staunch Sunni-dominated US ally which is host to millions of Palestinian refugees and signed a peace deal with Israel in 1994.

The foreign ministry of Qatar, which hosts a major US military base, said the agreement must include the right of return and the right to a sovereign state on the 1967 borders, otherwise “peace cannot be sustainable’.

Nato member Turkey, which has been accused by Israel of supporting Hamas, warned the deal would only stir conflict in the troubled region.

“This plan is an annexation plan that is aimed at killing the two-state solution and stealing Palestinian lands,” the Turkish foreign ministry said.

Few of the players in the Middle East detailed how they would oppose the Trump scheme, which Israel hopes to speed forward by annexing parts of the West Bank as early next week.

But Iran’s foreign minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif, said that he hoped the announcement would serve as “a wake-up call for all the Muslims who have been barking up the wrong tree”, suggesting Tehran may use the unpopular scheme to whip anti-American sentiment in the region.

Iran has demanded US troops leave the Middle East for years, intensifying those calls following the assassination of Revolutionary Guard commander Qassem Soleimani in an airstrike.

Some Western officials and Arab states urged the Palestinian leadership not to reject the agreement outright and instead consider the proposals

Dominic Raab, the British foreign secretary, called it a “serious proposal, reflecting extensive time and effort” and urged all sides to give it “genuine and fair consideration”.

This was echoed by Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Egypt, which said that the plan offered an “important starting point” for the return to negotiations.

All three countries have close ties to the Trump family, and have invested politically and financially in getting the White House to overlook human rights concerns, including the kidnapping, torture, murder, dismemberment and disappearance of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi at the hands of Saudi operatives from the court of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

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Egypt called for “open channels of dialogue” to enable further discussions on the plan.

“Egypt calls on the two relevant parties to undertake a careful and thorough consideration of the US vision to achieve peace and open channels of dialogue, under US auspices, for the resumption of negotiations,” said a statement from the foreign ministry.

Analysts described the endorsements by the Arab nations as a way to continue to game a Trump administration that has repeatedly demonstrated it is capable of being manipulated by foreign powers.

“The Arab states endorsing the plan are unlikely to think it has a chance of success,” HA Hellyer, a scholar at the Royal United Services Institute and the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, told The Independent.

“It’s more probable this is about positioning vis-a-vis future engagements with the United States.”

Meanwhile, The Elders, a coalition of world leaders founded by the late South African leader and anti-Apartheid pioneer Nelson Mandela, warned that the US proposals “would make a two-state solution impossible”.

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