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Trump to welcome Netanyahu as Palestinians fear U.S. shift

February 16, 2017 Leave a comment

Luke Baker | WASHINGTON

President Donald Trump prepared to host Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Wednesday for talks that could shape the contours of future Middle East policy, as Palestinians warned the White House not to abandon their goal of an independent state.

For decades, the idea of creating a Palestine living peacefully alongside Israel has been a bedrock U.S. position, though the last negotiations broke down in 2014.

But in a potential shift, a senior White House official said on Tuesday that peace did not necessarily have to entail Palestinian statehood, and Trump would not try to “dictate” a solution.

As Trump and Netanyahu prepared to meet, a senior Palestinian official disclosed that on Tuesday, CIA director Mike Pompeo held talks with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in Ramallah, the seat of the Palestinian government in the occupied West Bank.

“(It was) the first official meeting with a high-profile member of the American administration since Trump took office,” said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity and declined to disclose details of the discussion.

Netanyahu committed, with conditions, to the two-state goal in a speech in 2009 and has broadly reiterated the aim since. But he has also spoken of a “state minus” option, suggesting he could offer the Palestinians deep-seated autonomy and the trappings of statehood without full sovereignty.

Palestinians reacted with alarm to the possibility that Washington might ditch its support for an independent Palestinian nation.

“If the Trump Administration rejects this policy it would be destroying the chances for peace and undermining American interests, standing and credibility abroad,” Hanan Ashrawi, a senior member of the Palestine Liberation Organization, said in response to the U.S. official’s remarks.

“Accommodating the most extreme and irresponsible elements in Israel and in the White House is no way to make responsible foreign policy,” she said in a statement.

Husam Zomlot, strategic adviser to Abbas, said the Palestinians had not received any official indication of a change in the U.S. stance.

“NO GAPS”

For Netanyahu, the talks with Trump will be an opportunity to reset ties after a frequently combative relationship with Democrat Barack Obama.

The prime minister, under investigation at home over allegations of abuse of office, spent much of Tuesday huddled with advisers in Washington preparing for the talks. Officials said they wanted no gaps to emerge between U.S. and Israeli thinking during the scheduled two-hour Oval Office meeting.

Trump, who has been in office less than four weeks and has already been immersed in problems including the forced resignation of his national security adviser, brings with him an unpredictability that Netanyahu’s staff hope will not impinge on the discussions.

During last year’s election campaign, Republican candidate Trump was relentlessly pro-Israel in his rhetoric, promising to move the U.S. embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, backing David Friedman, an ardent supporter of Jewish settlements, as his Israeli envoy and saying that he would not put pressure on Israel to negotiate with the Palestinians.

That tune, which was music to Netanyahu’s ears and to the increasingly restive right-wing within his coalition, has since changed, making Wednesday’s talks critical for clarity.

Trump appears to have put the embassy move on the backburner, at least for now, after warnings about the potential for regional unrest, including from Jordan’s King Abdullah.

And rather than giving Israel free rein on settlements, the White House has said building new ones or expanding existing ones beyond their current borders would not be helpful to peace.

That would appear to leave Israel room to build within existing settlements without drawing U.S. condemnation, in what is the sort of gray area the talks are expected to touch on.

For the Palestinians, and much of the rest of the world, settlements built on occupied land are illegal under international law. Israel disputes that, but faces increasing criticism over the policy from allies, especially after Netanyahu’s announcement in the past three weeks of plans to build 6,000 new settler homes in the West Bank and East Jerusalem.

(Additional reporting by Matt Spetalnick and Steve Holland in Washington and Maayan Lubell and Jeffrey Heller in Jerusalem; Editing by Mark Trevelyan)

 

White House Puts Palestinians, United Nations in Crosshairs

February 14, 2017 Leave a comment

Trump admin no longer willing to swallow anti-Israel agenda

Donald Trump

The White House is sending a strong signal that it will no longer tolerate Palestinian intransigence at the United Nations or the international body’s long record of anti-Israel action, according to White House officials and sources in Congress who told the Washington Free Beacon that the Trump administration will “unabashedly support Israel” in the months and years ahead.

The Trump administration sent shockwaves through the U.N. late last week when it took a stance against the appointment of a senior Palestinian official to serve in a top post overseeing Libya.

Senior officials at Turtle Bay expressed outrage over the Trump administration’s move to block the appointment of former Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad as a special U.N. representative for Libya. The move was widely supported by U.N. members, and, for a time, the Trump administration.

Sources inside the White House told the Free Beacon that the move was meant to send a signal to the Palestinians that they can no longer manipulate the U.N. system in order to bolster their international clout. This type of action, the sources said, undermines Israel and the ongoing peace process.

White House officials, as well as senior sources in Congress, told the Free Beacon that the move is part of a larger effort to solidify U.S. support for Israel and counter a range of last-minute moves by the former Obama administration aimed at severing U.S.-Israel ties.

The Free Beacon first reported earlier this year that the Trump administration and Congress had already been working on a range of measures meant to boost U.S. support for Israel at the U.N.

“The United States was disappointed to see a letter indicating the intention to appoint the former Palestinian Authority Prime Minister to lead the U.N. Mission in Libya,” Nikki Haley, the U.S. ambassador to the U.N., said in a statement opposing the selection of Fayyad. “For too long the U.N. has been unfairly biased in favor of the Palestinian Authority to the detriment of our allies in Israel.”

“The United States does not currently recognize a Palestinian state or support the signal this appointment would send within the United Nations, however, we encourage the two sides to come together directly on a solution,” Haley said in a vast departure from Obama administration rhetoric. “Going forward the United States will act, not just talk, in support of our allies.”

A senior White House official familiar with the move told the Free Beacon that the Palestinians will no longer get a free pass to push their anti-Israel agenda and win statehood outside the parameters of the peace process.

“It is so refreshing to have an American ambassador to the United Nations who will unabashedly support our ally Israel,” one senior member of the White House’s National Security Council told the Free Beacon. “The appointment of Salam Fayyad as the official U.N. envoy to Libya would be an incremental step towards unilateral recognition of Palestinian statehood by the U.N. absent an agreement with Israel.”

“Ambassador Haley took the only appropriate action and we are looking to supporting her actions any way we can,” the source said.

One senior congressional aide who works on Middle East issues told the Free Beacon that Trump’s approach to the U.N. is centered on backing Israel from any action that could harm its interests.

“The U.N. is not a friend of Israel. After the Obama administration’s eleventh-hour attack on the Jewish state, President Trump is attempting to turn the page,”  the source said. “Our new administration is already pushing back against the U.N.’s rampant bias and reasserting America’s strong support for Israel. This is a good step in the right direction.”

Fayyad, who is widely viewed as a reformer in Palestinian society, appears to have been caught up in a larger battle between the White House and U.N. over the international body’s efforts to delegitimize Israel.

While Fayyad was seen as an acceptable pick for the Libya post, his ties to the Palestinian Authority and its rogue efforts to achieve statehood via the U.N. provoked ire in the White House, sources said.

The White House is determined to keep what it views as the U.N.’s anti-Israel bias in check, particularly after the Obama administration’s last-minute efforts to secure a resolution condemning Israel.

One senior official at a national pro-Israel organization said the Trump administration’s moves would help preserve international agreements barring the Palestinians from seeking statehood outside of the peace process.

“Pro-Palestinian officials at the U.N. thought they had found a clever way to mainstream the Palestinians as legitimate state actors, which is contrary to American policy and violates two decades of signed agreements between the Palestinians and Israel,” said the source, who was not authorized to speak on record. “They figured that the Trump White House would be too worried about optics to take a stand on behalf of our Israeli allies. The White House refused to be intimidated.”

Regional experts tracking the issue think Fayyad could become a lighting rod in a larger matter surrounding U.S. opposition to any U.N. action meant to elevate the Palestinians on the international stage.

Jonathan Schanzer, vice president of research at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, told the Free Beacon that the controversy surrounding Fayyad actually benefits Palestinian leaders such as Mahmoud Abbas, who fought against Fayyad’s efforts to eradicate corruption.

“The thing people are not asking is why Fayyad was even considering working the Libya file instead of trying to reform the Palestinian Authority at home,” Schanzer said. “The answer is, Fayyad was pushed out by Mahmoud Abbas in 2013. He and Abbas were in an epic battle over corruption and clean governance and reform. Fayyad lost that battle, as Abbas went full dictator.”

The Obama administration is responsible for allowing Fayyad to be pushed out of the Palestinian Authority, Schanzer said.

“The U.S. refused to come to Fayyad’s defense. I lay this at the feet of the Obama administration,” he said. “Fayyad’s reform and clean governance program was gutted, and when Fayyad created an NGO it was raided by Abbas’ forces—and still the Obama admin refused to lift a finger to help him.”

Netanyahu pledges to promote ‘responsible policies’ at Trump meeting

February 13, 2017 Leave a comment

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu chairs the weekly cabinet meeting in Jerusalem February 12, 2017. REUTERS/Gali Tibbon/Pool

Jeffrey Heller | JERUSALEM

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Sunday he would present “responsible policies” in talks with U.S. President Donald Trump, signaling to the Israeli far-right to curb its territorial demands in the occupied West Bank.

Netanyahu leaves for Washington on Monday and will see Trump at the White House on Wednesday for their first meeting since the Republican’s inauguration last month, with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and policy toward Iran on the agenda.

During his 2016 election campaign, Trump indicated his presidency would be a boon for Israel and tough on Palestinians, after an acrimonious relationship between his predecessor Barack Obama and Netanyahu that included clashes over settlement building and Iran’s nuclear program.

Trump talked of moving the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem, naming an ambassador who backs Israeli settlement on occupied land which Palestinians seek for a state and exerting no pressure on Israel for peace negotiations, which collapsed in 2014.

But he has since toned down his pro-Israel bravado ahead of Netanyahu’s visit, a change that could help the prime minister keep in check ultra-nationalist coalition partners calling on him to push a more militant agenda.

“To believe there are no restrictions now would be a mistake,” Israel Radio quoted Netanyahu as telling members of his Likud party with respect to settlement expansion now that Trump is in office.

On the eve of Netanyahu’s departure for Washington, Education Minister Naftali Bennett, leader of the ultra-nationalist Jewish Home party, publicly cautioned him not to mention the words “two-state solution” in talks with Trump.

Bennett’s party is also promoting the annexation of parts of the West Bank.

Netanyahu has stopped short of endorsing those positions – steps that would put Israel at odds with long-standing U.S. and European policies – while speaking of building in major settlement blocs Israel intends to keep in any future peace deal.

In public remarks to his cabinet on Sunday, he seemed to urge the far-right to tone down its expectations.

“I understand there’s great excitement about this meeting (with Trump),” he said. “But … my primary concern is Israel’s security (and) strengthening our solid alliance with the United States.”

That, Netanyahu said, “requires responsible policies, policies that are given careful consideration – and that’s how I intend to act.” He did not elaborate.

His comments appeared to echo remarks Trump made in an interview published on Friday in the pro-Netanyahu Israeli daily Israel Hayom. Calling on Israel “to be reasonable with respect to peace”, he said settlements “don’t help the process”.

In recent weeks, Netanyahu approved the construction of some 6,000 settler homes in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, drawing Palestinian and international condemnation which the Trump administration did not join.

However, Trump’s remarks in the Israeli newspaper interview appeared to take a tougher line toward Israeli settlement policy.

(Editing by Stephen Powell)

 

Friday Morning Briefing: Trump unsettled on Israel settlements

February 4, 2017 Leave a comment

Pro-settlement activists lay on the floor inside a synagogue during the second day of an operation by Israeli forces to evict settlers from the illegal outpost of Amona in the occupied West Bank February 2, 2017. REUTERS/Amir Cohen

Derek Caney

The White House statement could disappoint Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his far-right support, which had hoped that Trump would give an unqualified green light on settlement construction in the West Bank and east Jerusalem. Netanyahu visits the United States in two weeks.

Meanwhile top Trump adviser Kellyanne Conway justified the ban on travelers from seven Muslim-majority countries using what she called the “Bowling Green Massacre,” which never actually happened. There were, in fact, two Iraqi citizens living in Bowling Green, Kentucky, who were trying to send weapons and money to al Qaeda. But no attack by any Iraqis occurred there. There was bloodshed in Bowling Green, but it was in 1862 during the Civil War.

GE, Boeing and a host of other exporters formed a coalition to back a House Republican plan to tax all imports in an effort to “support American jobs and American-made products.” They will find themselves pitted against the likes of Target and Best Buy, who are heavy importers.

Bought and sold

Ayman, a boy from a minority Yazidi community, who was sold by Islamic State militants to a Muslim couple in Mosul, hugs his grandmother after he was returned to his family, in Duhok, Iraq, Jan. 31, 2017. REUTERS/Muhammad Hamed

Ayman, a boy from a minority Yazidi community, who was sold by Islamic State militants to a Muslim couple in Mosul, hugs his grandmother after he was returned to his family, in Duhok, Iraq, Jan. 31, 2017. REUTERS/Muhammad Hamed

 

Trump, Netanyahu To Consult Closely On ‘Iranian Threat’

January 24, 2017 Leave a comment

Trump, Netanyahu To Consult Closely On 'Iranian Threat'

The US President and the Israeli Prime Minister have agreed to consult closely on Middle East issues, including tackling the ‘Iranian threat’.

According to a White House statement Donald Trump and Benjamin Netanyahu held a telephone conversation in which they “agreed to continue to closely consult on a range of regional issues, including addressing the threats posed by Iran.

President Trump announced shortly after he was sworn into office that his administration would be developing a “state of the art” missile defense system to protect Americans against attacks from Iran as well as North Korea.

Trump has been highly critical of the Iran-nuclear deal (which Iran should never have had to sign to begin with) and suggested that he would “re-negotiate” a better deal.

According to Activist Post, Trumps close connections with Israel are highly concerning, especially when the issue involves foreign policy in the Middle East.

Press TV reports:

Trump underlined the importance of the close relationship between Washington and Tel Aviv, promised to work toward Israeli-Palestinian peace, and stressed that countering Daesh (ISIL) and other terrorist groups will be a priority of his administration, the statement said.

The statement also said that the US president “affirmed his unprecedented commitment to Israel’s security.”

Meanwhile, the Israeli prime minister’s office also released as statement, reporting that Trump invited Netanyahu to visit Washington next month.

During a cabinet meeting held earlier on Sunday, Netanyahu once again opposed the nuclear agreement between Iran and the P5+1 group of countries.

Iran and the five permanent members of the UN Security Council – the United States, France, Britain, China and Russia – plus Germany reached the nuclear agreement, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), in July 2015 and started to implement it on January 16, 2016.

Netanyahu said that stopping what he described as the “Iranian threat” and overturning the nuclear deal continues to be a key objective of Israel.

During his presidential campaign, Trump had promised to repeal the nuclear accord which he referred to as a “disaster” and “the worst deal ever negotiated.” He also said that the agreement could lead to a “nuclear holocaust.”

In a speech addressed to the main Israeli lobbying group in the US, AIPAC, Trump declared that his “No. 1 priority is to dismantle the disastrous deal” and argued that Iran had outmaneuvered the US in winning concessions.

Israel has repeatedly accused Iran of pursuing non-civilian objectives in its nuclear energy program with the regime repeatedly threatening to attack Iran’s nuclear facilities based on the unsubstantiated allegations.

Iran rejects the allegations, arguing that as a committed signatory to the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) and a member of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), it has the right to use nuclear technology for peaceful purposes.

In addition, the IAEA has conducted numerous inspections of Iran’s nuclear facilities but has never found any evidence showing that Iran’s civilian nuclear program has been diverted to nuclear weapons production.

Unlike Iran, Israel, which is widely believed to possess between 200 and 400 nuclear warheads, is a non-signatory to the NPT and continues to defy international calls to join the treaty.

Many observers note that it is Israel’s growing nuclear arsenal rather than Iran which presents a serious threat to peace in the Middle East.

Jerusalem Mayor: Trump is ‘Serious’ About U.S. Embassy Move

January 24, 2017 Leave a comment

nir barkat

JERUSALEM (AP) — The mayor of Jerusalem says the Trump administration is “serious” and committed to moving the American Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.

Nir Barkat says that from conversations he’s had with those in the new U.S. administration, he knows “they are serious about their intentions.”

He also told Army Radio on Monday that “an embassy cannot be moved in one day” – indicating that if and when it goes ahead, the move will take time.

Washington maintains its embassy in Tel Aviv as do other countries, insisting that conflicting claims to Jerusalem must be worked out in negotiations.

The Palestinians have warned against moving the embassy – a highly symbolic and politically charged act.

The White House on Sunday said relocation discussions are only at the “very beginning” stages.

Netanyahu wants to discuss Iran ‘threat’ with Trump

January 23, 2017 Leave a comment

Jerusalem (AFP) – Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Saturday he planned to discuss soon with US President Donald Trump how to “counter the threat” from Iran.

“I plan to speak soon with President Trump about how to counter the threat of Iranian regime which calls for Israel’s destruction,” Netanyahu said in a video message posted on his Facebook page.

Before his inauguration on Friday, Trump had repeatedly denounced the nuclear deal between Iran and six world powers, including the United States, which Israel has also staunchly criticised.

On January 16, Trump said in an interview with the Times of London and Bild newspaper of Germany: “I’m not happy with the Iran deal, I think it’s one of the worst deals ever made. I think it’s one of the dumbest deals I’ve ever seen, one of the dumbest.”

But he declined to say whether he intended to “renegotiate” the deal, as he asserted regularly during the presidential campaign.

Netanyahu has been an ardent opponent of the 2015 pact signed by Iran, the United States, China, Russia, Britain, France and Germany.

The deal placed curbs on Tehran’s nuclear programme in exchange for the lifting of international sanctions.

In December, Netanyahu said there were many ways of “undoing” the Iran nuclear deal and that he would discuss that with Trump. “I have about five things in mind,” he said.

But before he left office, former president Barack Obama warned against rowing back the pact, emphasising its “significant and concrete results”.

EU foreign affairs chief Federica Mogherini has also said that the bloc would stand by the accord — which she helped negotiate — because it showed that diplomacy worked and served Europe’s security needs.

And on Monday, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani that the nuclear deal was approved by the UN Security Council and therefore “is not a bilateral deal” with the US that Trump can renegotiate.

In the video message posted online, Netanyahu also addressed the Iranian people saying “we are your friend, not your enemy”.

Meanwhile, Israeli President Reuven Rivlin, whose role is largely ceremonial, said in a statement that he had invited Trump to visit Israel.

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