Trump: Middle East peace plan likely rolled out in days

Trump made the comments to reporters on Air Force One. (AP)
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Updated 27 January 2020

Trump: Middle East peace plan likely rolled out in days

  • Said his administration talked briefly to the Palestinians
  • Plan is expected to strongly favor Israel

JERUSALEM: President Donald Trump said Thursday that he’ll likely release the long-awaited White House Mideast peace plan before his meeting early next week with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his main political rival Benny Gantz.
“It’s a great plan. It’s a plan that really would work,” Trump told reporters on Air Force One en route to a Republican Party meeting in Florida.
He said he was surprised that both Netanyahu and Gantz were willing to take a break from campaigning for the March 2 elections to join him Tuesday in Washington.
“They both would like to do the deal. They want to see peace,” Trump said. “Look, Israel wants peace, Palestinians want peace. They all want peace. Not everyone wants to say it.”
He said his administration has talked briefly to the Palestinians, who have rejected the administration’s peace plan before it even comes out.
“We’ve spoken to them briefly. But we will speak to them in a period of time,” Trump said. “And they have a lot of incentive to do it. I’m sure they maybe will react negatively at first, but it’s actually very positive to them.”
Vice President Mike Pence announced the invitation for Netanyahu and Gantz to visit during at a meeting with the prime minister in Jerusalem after addressing an international forum Thursday on the Holocaust. He said that at Netanyahu’s request, the invitation was also issued to Gantz, a former army chief.
The plan is expected to strongly favor Israel, and is unlikely to garner any international support if it is seen as undermining the prospect of a two-state solution.
“We have had no better friend than President Trump,” Netanyahu said. “With this invitation, I think that the president is seeking to give Israel the peace and security that it deserves.”
The Palestinians rejected Trump’s peace efforts after he recognized disputed Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and moved the US Embassy there in May 2018. The Palestinians want east Jerusalem, which Israel occupied in the 1967 war and annexed, to be their capital.
“If this deal is announced with these rejected formulas, the leadership will announce a series of measures in which we safeguard our legitimate rights, and we will demand Israel assume its full responsibilities as an occupying power,” said Nabil Abu Rdeneh, a spokesman for Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.
He appeared to be referring to oft-repeated threats to dissolve the Palestinian Authority, which has limited autonomy in parts of the Israeli-occupied West Bank. That would force Israel to resume responsibility for providing basic services to millions of Palestinians.
“We warn Israel and the US administration from crossing the red lines,” Abu Rdeneh said.
Israel’s Channel 12 TV, citing Israeli officials, said the plan is expected to be extremely favorable toward Israel and offer it control over large parts of the occupied West Bank. The Palestinians seek the entire territory, which was also captured by Israel in 1967, as the heartland of a future independent state. Most of the international community supports the Palestinian position.
Netanyahu has said he plans to annex the Jordan Valley as well as Jewish settlements across the West Bank, which would all but extinguish any possibility of creating a viable Palestinian state.
Netanyahu has tried to make that the cornerstone of his campaign for reelection following unprecedented back-to-back elections last year that left him in a virtual tie with Gantz, with neither able to cobble together a ruling coalition.
The deadlock was deepened by Netanyahu’s indictment last year on serious charges of bribery, fraud and breach of trust stemming from three long-running corruption investigations. Netanyahu has asked Israel’s parliament to grant him immunity.
Next week’s meeting could produce an awkward scene. Gantz has made Netanyahu’s indictment the focus of his campaign to oust the prime minister. And his Blue and White party is leading an effort in parliament to block Netanyahu’s immunity request before the election. At the same time, they will be joined by an impeached president who is being tried in the Senate.
The US was believed to be holding back on releasing the peace plan until Israel had a permanent government. Those calculations may have changed as the deadlock in Israeli politics looks to be further prolonged.
Trump may also be looking for a boost from evangelical and pro-Israel supporters as the Senate weighs whether to remove him from office after he was impeached last month, and as he gears up for a reelection battle this year.
Pence was among dozens of world leaders in Jerusalem on Thursday for the World Holocaust Forum. Many of the participants, including Russian President Vladimir Putin and French President Emmanuel Macron, also paid visits to the Palestinians in the West Bank.
A Palestinian official said Abbas asked the visiting French and Russian presidents to support the Palestinian position when the plan is published.
“He asked them to refuse and act against any Israeli annexation of Palestinian lands,” said the official, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was discussing closed meetings.
While the plan is expected to be friendly to Israel, it could still face opposition from Netanyahu’s hard-line partners.
Defense Minister Naftali Bennett, leader of the ultranationalist Yamina party, called Trump a “true friend” of Israel and said the country likely stands before a “historic opportunity.” But he said his party would not allow the transfer of any land to Palestinian control or for a Palestinian state to be established.

UK resumes flights to Sharm El-Sheikh

Updated 18 February 2020

UK resumes flights to Sharm El-Sheikh

  • Experts say return of British tourists ‘very significant’

CAIRO: The Egyptian resort city of Sharm El-Sheikh on Sunday received the first British passenger flight since 2015 when a Russian airliner was bombed, killing all 224 passengers and crew on board.

The British Foreign Office announced last November it had lifted the suspension.  Flights will resume from Gatwick, Edinburgh and Birmingham airports, with five flights weekly from this month to May 2020.

A statement from the Egyptian Ministry of Civil Aviation said that Sharm El-Sheikh Airport received two TUI European-operated flights, the first British charter flights to the Egyptian Red Sea in five years. The first flight arrived from Gatwick with 184 passengers on board, while the second arrived from Manchester with 190 passengers.

Tourism experts predicted that the return of British flights would increase hotel occupancy in Sharm El-Sheikh since the resort destination had a large hotel room capacity and was ready to receive British tourists as well as tourists from around the world.

Before the travel ban, 906,000 British tourists spent 9.5 million nights in Egypt, with more than 600,000 British tourists spending their holiday in Sharm El-Sheikh. Experts expected that number to go up after the return of flights. They expect more than one million British tourists to visit Egypt in 2020.

"We are all thrilled with the return of British tourism to Egypt,” Hossam El-Shaer, head of the Tourism Companies Federation, said. “The total number of British tourists who arrived in Egypt in 2010 was more than one million. Hence, their return means they will return in the same numbers and they very much have an impact on tourism in Egypt.”

El-Shaer added that while British tourists stopped going to Sharm El-Sheikh they continued to visit another Egyptian resort city, Hurghada. 

“However, Sharm El-Sheikh is very significant to them since it is their prime destination. With the resumption of flights, around one million British tourists are expected to arrive in Sharm in El-Sheikh and other destinations in Egypt by 2021. This is a good percentage of the total number of tourists who come to Egypt, around 13 million annually.”

British tourism had previously focused on cultural tourism but it was following the global trend toward beach and leisure tourism. “Therefore, their return to Sharm El-Sheikh is very significant,” he said.

Tamer Makram, head of the South Sinai Investors Committee, said that Sharm El-Sheikh had been ready “for a long time” to receive British tourists, from resorts to infrastructure and security. He expressed hope that Russian tourists would also return soon.

He said the Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities had formed special committees and that the ministry would follow up on the committee’s observations.

“There are no longer any observations in terms of security, health and food safety as a result of the huge efforts exerted in this regard,” Makram added.

Egypt’s parliament hailed the return of British tourism. MP Yasser Omar, secretary of the Planning and Budgetary Committee, said the British flights showed that Britain had started to “correct misconceptions” about safety and security in Egypt which would encourage other countries to resume their flights to Sharm El-Sheikh. 

He added that Britain took the decision only after it was sure that high-level airport safety and security measures were taken in Egypt which conformed to international standards.

Omar said more tourists would come to Egypt, especially Russians as they represented the majority of tourists to the country.

MP Amin Massoud called for flights between Sharm El-Sheikh and Liverpool as a way of capitalizing on the popularity of footballer Mohamed Salah to promote Egyptian tourism, following the same approach with Egyptian players Mahmoud Trezeget and Ahmed El-Mohamady who play for Aston Villa.

Massoud said Britons made up the largest contingent of European tourists to Sharm El-Sheikh and Hurghada. Therefore, he added, the ministries of aviation and tourism should make use of Egyptian players who were popular in the UK to promote tourism in Egypt.