President Donald Trump Tuesday unveiled long-awaited details of a US plan for solving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, warning it may represent the last chance at statehood for the Palestinians.
"Today, Israel takes a big step towards peace," Trump told a White House news conference, standing alongside visiting Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as he revealed key points of a plan already resoundingly rejected by Palestinian leaders.
"My vision presents a win-win opportunity for both sides, a realistic two state solution that resolves the risk of Palestinian statehood to Israel's security," Trump said.
The US plan was warmly welcomed by Israel's prime minister, who called it a "historic day" for the Jewish state.
Trump's proposal, Netanyahu said, would involve the United States recognizing Jewish settlements as part of Israel -- something later confirmed by the US administration -- some of which jut deep into occupied Palestinian territory.
The White House later released -- and Trump tweeted out -- a map of the proposed borders of what was described as a "demilitarized" Palestinian state.
"We will also work to create a contiguous territory within the future Palestinian state, for when the conditions for statehood are met, including the firm rejection of terrorism," Trump said as he called on the Palestinians to turn their back on the radical Hamas movement -- which immediately rejected the peace proposal.
The map shows the West Bank area containing some 15 Israeli settlements, connected to the Gaza Strip area by only a tunnel. This would technically fulfil Trump's promise of a contiguous Palestinian state.
The plan, Trump said, proposes a four-year freeze of Israeli development in the area eyed for a future Palestinian state.
"Jerusalem will remain Israel's undivided, very important, undivided capital," Trump stressed.
But it would also provide the Palestinians with a capital in occupied East Jerusalem, he said, while indicating that the West Bank would not be cut in half.
- 'The last opportunity' -
Calling it a "historic opportunity" for the Palestinians to achieve an independent state, Trump said he had written Tuesday to Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas to enlist his support for the plan.
No Palestinian official was present at the launch although the ambassadors from three Arab nations -- Oman, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain -- were at the White House.
"I explained to (Abbas) that the territory allocated for his new state will remain open and undeveloped for a period of four years," Trump said.
"This could be the last opportunity they will ever have."
"Palestinians are in poverty and violence, exploited by those seeking to use them as pawns to advance terrorism and extremism," the president added.
"They deserve a far better life."
Speaking at Trump's side, Netanyahu hailed Trump's plan as offering a "realistic path to a durable peace" that assures Israeli sovereignty over the Jordan Valley.
"This is a historic day," Netanyahu said.
"Too many plans tried to pressure Israel to withdraw from vital territory like the Jordan Valley. But you, Mr President, you recognized that Israel must have sovereignty in the Jordan Valley and other strategic areas of Judea and Samaria."
A White House statement issued after the briefing confirmed that the plan ruled out a right of return to Israel for Palestinian refugees, saying they "will be given a choice to live within the future State of Palestine, integrate into the countries where they currently live, or resettle in a third country."
Netanyahu declared himself open to negotiating with Palestinians on a "pathway to a future state."
"If the Palestinians are genuinely prepared to take that path, if they are genuinely prepared to make peace with the Jewish state, and if they agree to abide by all the conditions you have put forward in your plan, Israel will be there," he said.
Photo: AFP / MANDEL NGAN