Posts Tagged ‘Israeli-Palestinian conflict’

US envoy urges world to join America in ‘being direct, frank with Palestinians’

September 28, 2018

Defending aid cuts, Jason Greenblatt cites need for ‘sustainable’ path to peace, says Washington provided support to Palestinians ‘year after year’ while they squandered it

US President's peace process envoy Jason Greenblatt, left, meets with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas at the President's office in the West Bank city of Ramallah, March 14, 2017. (AP Photo/Majdi Mohammed)

US President’s peace process envoy Jason Greenblatt, left, meets with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas at the President’s office in the West Bank city of Ramallah, March 14, 2017. (AP Photo/Majdi Mohammed)

NEW YORK — US peace envoy Jason Greenblatt on Thursday defended the US administration’s drastic funding cuts to the Palestinians, arguing that billions given to this cause over decades have failed to significantly advance the matter.

Rather, he said in a speech to a conference of international donors, it was time to “realistically evaluate what works and what does not,” and to embark on “a new, sustainable path.” While he declined to provide any details of the peace proposal he and other White House officials have been working on for months, he asked members of the international community to study it carefully and be open for new ideas.

“It is time to look at the situation realistically. We could continue the same pattern for years to come, but that would be folly,” Greenblatt told participants of the Ad Hoc Liaison Committee’s annual meeting at the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly.

“Clearly, none of our financial assistance is getting Israelis and Palestinians closer to a solution.”

The US recently decided to divert all its foreign aid to the Palestinians to other “regional priorities,” a move that has caused alarm among the international community, which has struggled to come up with alternative sources of funding for agencies such as UNRWA, which provides health and educational services to Palestinian refugees.

On Thursday, several countries raised nearly $120 million for UNRWA. The European Union, which together with the US cosponsors the Ad Hoc Liaison Committee, alone pledged an additional 40 million euros for the agency. Over the last three years, the EU and its members states have give 1.2 billion to UNRWA.

“Supporting the agency means supporting peace and security in the Middle East. And this is in our strategic interest,” the union’s foreign policy chief, Federica Mogherini said at a ministerial meeting focused on UNRWA.

A Palestinian man transports bags of flour outside an aid distribution center run by the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), in Khan Younis in the southern Gaza Strip ,on September 4, 2018. (Said Khatib/AFP)

Greenblatt, in his speech to the Ad Hoc Liaison Committee, hailed the international community’s “noble effort,” but at the same time implied that money given to UNRWA and other Palestinian causes was wasted if things don’t change dramatically.

For instance, he accused Hamas but also the Palestinian Authority of Mahmoud Abbas of not using other countries’ taxpayers money responsibly.

“We must all ask ourselves why we should keep struggling to raise money when everyone can plainly see the Hamas regime and the PA are squandering the opportunities our money provides for a better future for Palestinians,” he said.

“We cannot continue to provide aid year after year to areas whose leadership, for political purposes, thwarts our efforts to improve the economic well-being of Palestinians.”

Turning to the political dimension of the peace process, Greenblatt dismissed the “the standard talking points about the solutions to this conflict,” noting that they have failed to advance a peace agreement.

“Another hundred resolutions in the UN General Assembly won’t make the lives of Palestinians in Gaza more bearable,” he said.

“Another hundred resolutions will be ignored by Hamas, which continues to hold the missing Israeli soldiers and civilians, who must be returned, and which indiscriminately launches rockets and flaming kites displaying Swastikas into Israel.”

Members of the Hamas terror group’s military wing attend the funeral of six of its fighters at a cemetery in the Deir al-Balah refugee camp in the central Gaza Strip on May 6, 2018. (Rahim Khatib/Flash90)

The status quo is “unsustainable for both sides,” Greenblatt said. “We must focus on realistic ways forward. If Palestinian lives are going to be changed for the better, their leaders need to change their behavior. It needs to start with Hamas in Gaza. I will say it clearly: We will not fund a situation that empowers Hamas, an unrepentant terrorist organization. It’s that simple.”

Americans are a generous people and continue to be inclined to provide humanitarian aid, Greenblatt went on. However, the administration “will not reward provocations and violence.”

Since President Donald Trump recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and move the US Embassy there, Palestinian officials have declared Trump unfit to mediate between them and Israel.

“Insults and attacks directed at President Trump and members of the Administration will not help the Palestinian people,” Greenblatt said. “While some may be uncomfortable with our direct, frank message, the United States will continue speaking directly and frankly because we must tell the truth. We do this because we care about the Palestinian people and their future.”

Returning to the issue of financial aid to the Palestinians, Greenblatt said that the administration will no longer pay for “temporary solutions that only prolong the cycle of suffering and violence.”

Many countries are or will soon be unable to contribute large sums for foreign aid, Greenblatt said, citing private conversations with representatives from donor countries.

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas addresses the 73rd session of the General Assembly at the United Nations in New York September 27, 2018. (TIMOTHY A. CLARY/AFP)

“We have had enough of the status quo. We have had enough of Hamas diverting funds donated by the generous, well-meaning countries sitting around this table, and using those funds for illicit activity,” he said. “We have had enough of Hamas taking all of our and your generous donations to the Palestinians and then failing to provide even the most basic services – safe water, electricity and hospitals to those who they purport to govern.”

Greenblatt then urged the Ad Hoc Liaison Committee donor countries to join the US in “being direct and frank with the Palestinian Authority about charting a new, sustainable path – one that improves all Palestinian lives.”

The US peace proposal aims at improving the lives of Israelis and Palestinians, he said.

“We are working on a plan that both sides will gain more from than they give; a plan that is realistic, fair, and implementable. Neither side will like everything in the plan, but we are confident both sides will understand why we came to the conclusions that we did — if they are willing to engage.”

PA President Mahmoud Abbas refuses to engage with the US, citing Trump’s alleged bias in favor of Israel.

But, Greenblatt said, “leaders must have the courage to guide their people to a better future.”

It was time to “stop focusing on tired talking points and throwing more money at the same things we have been doing since 1993,” he continued. “It is time to realistically evaluate what works and what does not.”

https://www.timesofisrael.com/us-envoy-urges-world-to-join-us-in-being-direct-and-frank-with-palestinians/

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A child works at a shop across from a poster of the late Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat
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U.S. envoy Kushner calls UNRWA corrupt, inefficient, unhelpful for peace

A Palestinian woman takes part in a protest against possible reductions of the services and aid offered by United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), in front of UNRWA headquarters in Gaza City August 16, 2015. (photo credit: REUTERS/MOHAMMED SALEM)

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Palestinian leader Abbas tells UN ‘Jerusalem is not for sale’ — Rejects U.S. as Middle East Peace Broker

September 28, 2018

The Palestinians will no longer accept the US as the sole mediator in the Middle East peace process, Abbas said.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas declared on Thursday that his people’s rights “are not up for bargaining” and he accused the US of undermining the two-state solution, a day after President Donald Trump suggested for the first time in office that he “liked” the long-discussed idea as the most effective way to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas addresses the United Nations General Assembly on September 27, 2018 in New York City. (AFP)

Abbas said Trump’s promise of a peace agreement contradicted decisions made by his administration since taking office.

“With all of these decisions, this administration has reneged on all previous US commitments, and has undermined the two-state solution,” Abbas said in his address to the annual gathering of world leaders at the United Nations.

He said Palestinians welcomed the US president’s launch of a peace initiative, but said they were “shocked” by decisions and actions that clearly contradicted his commitment to the process.

Abbas halted ties with Trump’s administration in December after the US recognized contested Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, and Palestinians have said a pending US peace plan will be dead on arrival because of that and other recent US moves that Palestinians see as favoring Israel.

“Jerusalem is not for sale,” Abbas said to applause as he began his speech at the annual UN General Assembly. “The Palestinian people’s rights are not up for bargaining.”

He said Palestinians would never reject negotiation, but that “it’s really ironic that the American administration still talks about what they talk call the ‘deal of the century.’”

“What is left for this administration to give to the Palestinian people?” he asked. “What is left as a political solution?”

Palestinian schoolchildren a protest Gaza city on February 4, 2018, against the difficult economic situation and the US decision to withhold funds earmarked for the UN relief agency for Palestinian refugees. (AFP).The report was released ahead of a high-level meeting of the bank’s Ad Hoc Liaison Committee, responsible for coordinating development assistance to the Palestinians, on September 27.

Added Abbas: “We are not redundant. Why are we treated as redundant people who should be gotten rid of?”

The Palestinians will no longer accept the US as the sole mediator in the Middle East peace process, Abbas said.

“We will also not accept sole American mediation in the peace process,” Abbas added, saying the US president had shown that he was “biased” toward Israel since coming to power.

“This administration has reneged on all previous US commitments, and has undermined the two-state solution, and has revealed its false claims of concern about the humanitarian conditions of the Palestinian people,” President Abbas said.

Trump made his comment about the two-state solution while meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Wednesday. The US president told reporters he believes that two states — Israel and one for the Palestinians — “works best.”

He has been vague on the topic, suggesting he would support whatever the parties might agree to, a message he also recapped Wednesday.

“If the Israelis and Palestinians want one state, that’s OK with me. If they want two states, that’s OK with me. I’m happy if they’re happy,” he said.

Israeli Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman expressed indifference to Trump’s remarks, saying that the Israeli interest is “a safe Jewish state.”

A Palestinian state “simply doesn’t interest me,” Lieberman said.

Netanyahu has reluctantly accepted the concept of Palestinian statehood but has since backtracked. A top coalition partner is threatening to topple his government if it returns to the agenda.

The two sides in one of the world’s most high-profile and volatile conflicts are always forceful voices at the UN and its annual General Assembly, but their leaders are speaking after a particularly eventful year in their relations.

 

Gaza economy in “free fall”

Hamas that rules Gaza has led protests for months along the border with Israel, aiming partly to draw attention to the Israeli-Egyptian blockade imposed after Hamas took control of Gaza in 2007.

At least 137 Palestinians, mostly unarmed, have been killed by Israeli fire since the border protests began on March 30. During that time, a Gaza sniper killed an Israeli soldier.

Hamas and Israel came close to serious conflict earlier this summer as violence soared along the border. Gaza militants bombarded southern Israel with mortars and rockets, and Israel struck Hamas targets in Gaza.

Israel says it is defending its border against attempts by Hamas, a militant group that sworn to its destruction, to infiltrate and carry out attacks. But Israel has faced heavy international criticism over the large number of unarmed protesters who have been killed or wounded.

Israel has also been struggling to deal with near-daily fires caused by kites and balloons rigged with incendiary devices launched by Palestinians in Gaza. The blazes have destroyed forests, burned crops and killed wildlife.

Egyptian mediated cease-fire talks have hit a deadlock, and Hamas is now intensifying its campaign with more protests. Palestinians were infuriated, and many Israelis were thrilled, by a series of decisions Trump has made within the last year, starting with his recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.

The Palestinians also claim the holy city as the capital of an eventual state. Earlier this year, Trump followed up on the recognition by moving the US Embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, a step that was widely protested by Palestinians and others in the Arab world.

His administration has also slashed aid to the Palestinians by hundreds of millions of dollars and ended US support for the UN agency that helps Palestinian refugees.

Trump and his national security team have defended their position, saying that decades of attempts to forge Israeli-Palestinian peace have failed.

The World Bank warned Tuesday that Gaza’s economy is in “free fall,” with a 6 percent contraction in the first quarter of this year and unemployment standing at over 50 percent. A report from the bank urged Israel and the international community to take action to avoid “immediate collapse.”

A Palestinian protestor covers his nose with a piece of cloth on the beach near the maritime border with Israel (background), in the northern Gaza Strip, during a demonstration calling for the lift of the Israeli blockade on the coastal Palestinian enclave, on September 10, 2018. (AFP)

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It attributed the downturn to a combination of factors, including Israel’s decade-long blockade of the Hamas-controlled territory, budget cuts by the rival Palestinian Authority and a reduction in international aid, particularly from the US.

Laughter and headshakes

Other leaders who spoke at the General Assembly Thursday included Haiti’s President Jovenel Moise, who told the gathered leaders he had “spared no effort to ensure that institutions are stable and to make sure we are creating a safe and stable enviro conducive to investment and to relaunching growth” in his country since the UN peacekeeping mission there wrapped up in October 2017.

The mission had helped the most impoverished country in the Western Hemisphere through 13 years of political turmoil and natural catastrophe. It has been followed by a new “stabilization” mission made up of about 1,300 international civilian police officers, along with 350 civilians tasked with helping Haiti reform its justice system.

The Caribbean island country continues to face economic and environmental challenges, including its vulnerability to natural disasters. It suffered heavy blows from a devastating 2010 earthquake and Hurricane Matthew in 2016. Earlier, Lithuania’s president assailed world leaders for being “too quiet, too passive, too ignorant” in the face of abuses, corruption and inequality, and took a dig at Trump’s America-first vision.

“We cannot let the voice of nationalism and division win over dialogue and cooperation,” said Lithuanian President Dalia Grybauskaite.

Much of the attention at the international community’s most prominent gathering has been focused on Trump, whose brash behavior and boastful address on Tuesday provoked laughter and headshakes from other leaders. On Wednesday, he chaired a Security Council meeting on nonproliferation of nuclear, chemical and biological weapons and fired off more tough words at Iran.

(With AP & AFP)

Arab News

http://www.arabnews.com/node/1378876/middle-east

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A child works at a shop across from a poster of the late Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat
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U.S. envoy Kushner calls UNRWA corrupt, inefficient, unhelpful for peace

A Palestinian woman takes part in a protest against possible reductions of the services and aid offered by United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), in front of UNRWA headquarters in Gaza City August 16, 2015. (photo credit: REUTERS/MOHAMMED SALEM)

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Netanyahu: If You Stand With Trump on North Korea, Oppose a Nuclear Iran

June 12, 2018

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“I think the entire world, as we do, prays for the success of this effort.”

BY TOVAH LAZAROFF

Netanyahu relates Trump’s efforts to denuclearize North Korea to his efforts to denuclearize Iran at the AJC Global Forum, June 10, 2018 (GPO)

Netanyahu relates Trump’s efforts to denuclearize North Korea to his efforts to denuclearize Iran at the AJC Global Forum, June 10, 2018 (GPO)

Those who support US President Donald Trump’s effort to denuclearize North Korea should stand behind his quest to halt a nuclear Iran, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Sunday.

“Dangerous regimes should denuclearize,” Netanyahu told the AJC Global Forum, whose members gathered in Jerusalem before Tuesday’s meeting between US President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.

“I think the entire world, as we do, prays for the success of this effort,” Netanyahu said.

“Now, imagine, imagine: Imagine that President Trump would come back with some deal, and Britain, France and Germany would applaud it and South Korea and Japan would say that it endangers their existence,” Netanyahu said.

With regard to the Iran deal, one can see that same global division between those in missile range and those who are not, Netanyahu said.

“This deal was applauded by many in the international community who are not in the missile range of Iran, but Israel and Saudi Arabia and others said this deal will ultimately give Iran a nuclear arsenal,” Netanyahu said.

Israel fears it will be Tehran’s first target after it becomes nuclear, Netanyahu said.

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Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks at the AJC Global Forum in Jerusalem, June 10, 2018. Photo – YouTube screenshot

“They will use [nuclear weapons] first against us, and then with the long-range missiles that they’re building and that the deal doesn’t prevent them from building, against everyone else,” Netanyahu said.

Turning to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, he blamed the frozen Israeli-Palestinian peace process on the Palestinian failure to recognize Israel as a Jewish state.

“The reason we don’t have peace is not because of the absence of a Palestinian state. It has been offered many, many times, and it has been rejected many, many times because it always had a condition: No Jewish state,” Netanyahu said.

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani on Sunday criticized US “unilateralism” in withdrawing from the Iran nuclear deal and said he appreciated efforts by China and Russia to maintain the agreement.

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A file photo of a missile launch from Houthi Rebels (Reuters/Houthi Military Media Unit)
File photo — Iranian built ballistic missile is fired from yemen by Houthi rebels into Saudi Arabia. Credit Reuters

“The US efforts to impose its policies on others are expanding as a threat to all,” Rouhani told the summit of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), a regional security grouping led by China and Russia where Iran has observer status.

“The recent example of such unilateralism and the defiance of the decisions of the international community by the US government is its withdrawal from the JCPOA,” he said, referring to the nuclear agreement by its official name, the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action.

Reuters contributed to this report.

https://www.jpost.com/Israel-News/Benjamin-Netanyahu/Netanyahu-If-you-stand-with-Trump-on-North-Korea-oppose-a-nuclear-Iran-559652

Is Trump Following a Grand Mideast Strategy?

June 6, 2018

His approach to Israel, Arab allies and Iran makes it look that way. Syria will pose a major challenge.

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In this Saturday, May 20, 2017 file photo, President Donald Trump shakes hands with Saudi Deputy Crown Prince and Defense Minister Mohammed bin Salman during a bilateral meeting, in Riyadh.

AP Photo/Evan Vucci

What if President Trump’s foreign policy isn’t as impulsive as it may seem? Put aside Korea and trade and consider the Middle East. Mr. Trump’s disregard of orthodoxy could turn out to be exactly what’s needed to sequence a comprehensive strategy for stabilizing the region—and to stanch the flow of Islamist terror to Europe and the U.S.

The first step has been to forge a working consensus among Israel and its Arab neighbors, aligned to contain Iran and frustrate its dreams of a Shiite crescent through Iraq, Syria and Lebanon to the Mediterranean. Mr. Trump visited Saudi Arabia on his first foreign trip, in May 2017, and has cultivated the new crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman, a putative reformer of Wahhabism.

He has collaborated with the United Arab Emirates and Egypt’s Abdel Fattah Al Sisi, another advocate for reform of Islam, and respected the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan, while calling out Qatar for its support of Hamas in Gaza. While none of these nations—except Israel—exemplify American ideals of liberty and the rule of law, they share an interest in fighting Islamist terror and ultimately enlisting U.S. support for better governance and economic opportunities for their young populations.

The new alliance faces three main challenges: containing Iran’s imperial ambitions and support for terrorist groups such as Hezbollah; stabilizing Syria to finish off Islamic State and foreclose the next iteration of caliphate-seeking terror, while also ending Bashar Assad’s devastation of Syrian Sunni Arabs; and resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The last has become a low priority in the Arab world, but its resolution would liberate Israel to assume a deserved mantle of regional leadership.

The president was still right to start with the Palestinian file, while consolidating the alliance and working toward consensus goals and strategies for the other two challenges. His recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital codified a truth that must be accepted before Israel and the Palestinians can move forward together. The December announcement was brilliantly timed to confirm, validate and stress-test the new regional alliances.

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All the partners stayed quiet or offered pro forma objections, thereby passing the test—except the Palestinians. This was an opportunity for them to express disappointment and to resume negotiations for their own state, with its capital also in Jerusalem. Instead, President Mahmoud Abbas cursed President Trump: “Yekhreb Beitak,”:“May your house come to ruin.” Then, as the embassy was moving last month, Hamas incited border riots in Gaza that killed scores of Palestinians.

There’s nobody home right now to engage in peace negotiations on behalf of the Palestinians. On the West Bank they are led by the affable but unreliable Mr. Abbas, who is 82 and in the 14th year of his four-year term, continues to propagate base anti-Semitism. He is routinely bullied by subordinates—I’ve seen it privately in person—and is trying to govern from a hospital bed. He has no apparent viable successor. Gaza is controlled by Hamas, a terrorist organization whose charter calls for the destruction of Israel.

Ordinary Palestinians are desperate for the peace that would integrate them into Israel’s economic miracle, but their illegitimate leadership is worsening their people’s misery to curry sympathy from naive Westerners. Still, Mr. Trump deserves credit for crystallizing the regional alignment that lays a foundation for progress once someone emerges with legitimacy to speak for the Palestinians.

Next, the president delivered on his promise to withdraw from the Iran nuclear deal, the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, a move that repudiated his predecessor’s supposed crowning foreign-policy achievement, defied Washington’s foreign-policy establishment, and frustrated America’s European allies. The JCPOA might have delayed Iran’s nuclear program, but it didn’t even pretend to eliminate it. Withdrawing from the deal could be a very good decision—provided it’s eventually replaced with a real nonproliferation regime and an arrangement that contains Iran and its proxies’ terror and mischief in the region.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s May 21 Iran strategy speech articulated the challenge well, but making it happen will require exceptionally smart diplomacy. North Atlantic Treaty Organization allies need to be brought on board lest Iran drive a wedge between them and the U.S.—which could otherwise yield even more serious mutually destructive retaliatory trade wars than seem likely now with China, Mexico, Canada and Europe.

Then comes the ultimate prize, stabilizing Syria by stopping Mr. Assad’s domestic bloodletting, containing the spread of Sunni extremism, and ideally opening the door for Syrian migrants to return home. The Trump administration is still behind the curve here. Besides launching airstrikes to punish Mr. Assad’s grotesque and illegal chemical drops on his own people, the president has talked about pulling out of Syria “soon,” which would widen the vacuum Vladimir Putin’s Russia is aggressively filling—and for good reason: Syria is the door that must be closed to block Islamist radicalism from reaching Russia from the Middle East.

A serious approach to stopping the spread of Islamist terror, which should be the highest priority in the region for U.S. homeland security, necessitates that the U.S. stay engaged and develop a real Syria strategy. This could be a huge accomplishment, with the not-incidental bonus of getting the failed “reset” with Russia back on track. Cold War talk is the rage in Washington these days, and Mr. Putin’s thuggish behavior doesn’t help. But Russia, the U.S. and Israel have critical common interests in redressing the spread of Islamism much closer to Russia than America. So far, Israel is alone in cultivating the Russians, with the U.S. out of the picture as Mr. Putin earns credit for constructively rolling back Iranian influence on Israel’s northern border.

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U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton smiles with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov after she gave him a device with red knob during a meeting on March 6, 2009 in Geneva.  FABRICE COFFRINI/AFP/Getty Images)

Russia has little affinity for the Iranian ayatollahs, especially with their competing nuclear and energy ambitions—imagine an oil-rich Cuba with nukes. Mr. Putin is in bed with Mr. Assad and Iran for lack of a better alternative. Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s Islamist-leaning Turkey can’t be trusted to help insulate Russia, and the U.S. and Europe are understandably hostile to Mr. Putin’s moves in Ukraine and Syria.

Yet Russia needs American partnership, and it’s clearly in everyone’s interest to collaborate toward an alternative to Mr. Assad and Iran for shoring up Syria. The U.S. will certainly have a better chance of restraining Mr. Putin’s misbehavior at home and abroad if it seizes the initiative to stabilize the Middle East with Russia and Israel. This should be high on the agenda for the next Trump-Putin meeting.

Successfully dealing with Russia and Middle Eastern and European allies could produce a long-overdue realignment of international alliances set in the 20th century’s bipolar rivalry of economic systems, to address rogue nations like Iran and the decentralized, multipolar threats of nonstate terrorists afflicting East and West. Given the initial chaos around the administration’s other international negotiations, this may be a lot to expect. After decades of Middle East failure, though, bold disruption seems exactly what is necessary. Last century’s “experts” have had their turn.

Mr. Arbess is CEO of Xerion Investments and co-founder of No Labels.

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Obama and Putin at a June G8 summit meeting in Northern Ireland. (EPA/ALEXEI NIKOLSKY/RIA NOVOSTI/KREM)

Obama and Putin at a June G-8 summit meeting in Northern Ireland. (EPA/ALEXEI NIKOLSKY/RIA NOVOSTI/KREM)

Former Obama aide blames Netanyahu for failure of Israeli-U.S. relations

June 6, 2018

Ben Rhodes’ book ‘The World As It Is’ dishes on 8 acrimonious years of US-Israel ties, when the PM, he says, proved adept at turning Jewish leaders against the president

June 6, 2018
Times of Israel

US President Barack Obama (left) walks with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu after their meeting at the White House in Washington, DC, on May 20, 2011. (Avi Ohayon/Government Press Office/Flash90)

US President Barack Obama (left) walks with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu after their meeting at the White House in Washington, DC, on May 20, 2011. (Avi Ohayon/Government Press Office/Flash90)

WASHINGTON — At no point was former president Barack Obama more “annoyed” in his eight years in office than before his address to AIPAC’s annual policy conference in 2012, right in the middle of his re-election campaign.

The event came one year after Obama had given his speech calling for a return to the 1967 lines with mutually agreed upon land swaps, a position that was met with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s derision, and an insulting Oval Office lecture, in front of the cameras, about the history of the intractable Israeli-Palestinian conflict. “These lines are indefensible,” Netanyahu told Obama.

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According to a new memoir released Tuesday by Obama’s former deputy national security adviser and one of his closest aides, Ben Rhodes, the Israeli premier had used that moment, skillfully, to turn the American Jewish establishment against the American president.

“It was the perfect way to mobilize opposition to Obama among the leadership of the American Jewish community, which had internalized the vision of Israel constantly under attack,” Rhodes writes in his 422-page book.

Ben Rhodes in a 2015 file photo. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)

“I was familiar with the emotions,” adds the once aspiring novelist, who grew up with a Jewish mother and a non-Jewish father. “As secular Jews in postwar New York City, my mother’s family maintained its sense of Jewishness in part through support for Israel. Some of this was rooted in guilt — they’d emigrated to Brooklyn, not Tel Aviv; and some was rooted in the heroic Israel of the 1960s and ’70s, Jews building a nation in the desert, fighting off the Arab armies, led by towering figures like Golda Meir, who seemed both indefatigable and profoundly just.”

Yet later in life, Rhodes writes, “the Israel that my mother’s generation idealized was increasingly eclipsed by an Israel driven by the settler movement and ultra-Orthodox emigres. That was Netanyahu’s political base, and he knew how to play in American politics on their behalf.”

In the book, titled “The World as It Is: A Memoir of the Obama White House,” Rhodes argues that Netanyahu assiduously blocked Obama’s efforts to resolve the conflict. That was in part due to Netanyahu’s continual approval to build settlement projects and his reluctance to embrace Obama’s vision of a two-state outcome.

But Netanyahu, Rhodes explains, was remarkably shrewd at galvanizing the kind of pressure on Obama that made it politically unfeasible for the president to push forward on his peace plan.

Ben Rhodes’ The World As It Is.

After Netanyahu’s Oval Office lecture to Obama in 2011, Rhodes writes that he was then “given a list of leading Jewish donors to call, to reassure them of Obama’s pro-Israel bona fides.”

“It was far too painful to wade into these waters with no prospect of success,” he goes on, explaining the administration’s reluctance to make the Israeli-Palestinian conflict even more of a central focus. “Netanyahu had mastered a certain kind of leverage: Using political pressure within the United States to demoralize any meaningful push for peace, just as he used settlements as a means of demoralizing Palestinians.”

Just before the 2012 AIPAC speech, as Obama was preparing to go up in the general election against former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, who had charged the president had “thrown Israel under the bus,” Obama asked Rhodes to edit the draft of his remarks, which was written by another speech writer on staff.

US President Barack Obama (right) and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (left) prepare for a press session in the White House in Washington, DC, September 30, 2013. (AP/Charles Dharapak)

But Obama, Rhodes recalls, also wanted to vent. “This is as annoyed as I’ve been as president,” the president told him, perturbed by his inability to make his private positions public on four final-status issues in peace negations — borders, security, Jerusalem and refugees — and his need to placate the mostly right-wing crowd.

Based on the recommendation of his Middle East advisers Dennis Ross and Tom Donilon, Obama had decided to not take a public stance on the status of Jerusalem or how to resolve the refugee issue — to avoid any political fallout.

“It’s not on the level,” Rhodes said to the president of Netanyahu and AIPAC’s machinations, evoking a phrase he writes that the two used to describe “the dishonesty” they often felt they were surrounded by in Washington.

“It’s not on the level,” Obama repeated back to him. “Dealing with Bibi is like dealing with the Republicans.”

Rhodes writes that he told the president it was frustrating for him on a personal level, based on his Jewish background, to watch AIPAC and Netanyahu inflict political constraints on Obama that made it difficult for him to advocate positions he felt were actually in Israel’s long-term interests. Obama told him he felt the same way.

Deputy National Security Adviser for strategic communications Ben Rhodes stands at right as President Barack Obama and Polish PM Donald Tusk leave the stage after making statements to reporters in Warsaw, Poland, June 3, 2014. (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak)

“Me too,” Obama said. “I came out of the Jewish community in Chicago. I’m basically a liberal Jew.”

Obama notedly skipped Israel in his first trip to the Middle East, in 2009, when he gave his Cairo speech addressing the Muslim world. Rhodes writes that they waited to schedule his visit to the Jewish state for when “there was an opening in the peace process.” Yet four years into the presidency, Rhodes writes, it was clear “that an opening might never come.” Obama eventually went to Israel on the first foreign trip of his second term, in March 2013.

In a noteworthy dig at a vociferous Obama critic, Rhodes describes coordinating the trip with Israel’s former ambassador to the United States, Michael Oren.

President Barack Obama welcomes Ambassador Michael B. Oren of the State of Israel to the White House Monday, July 20, 2009, during the credentials ceremony for newly appointed ambassadors to the United States. (White House photo)

“In multiple conversations, he encouraged me to have Obama visit a village of Ethiopian Jews,” Rhodes writes of Oren. “I demurred, a little put off by this persistent suggestion that Obama would want to see black Jews more than others.”

Rhodes also describes the trip as being filled with conflicting emotions for him personally.

“Working on Obama’s speech, I felt a bit like a bystander, aware of my own half heritage, neither full Jew nor non-Jew,” he recalls. “Israel’s history is in no way normal, and its security concerns are rooted in a history of anti-Semitism that continues to the current day. At the same time, I had to confront the intractability of the Palestinian predicament as I wrote the last appeal for peace, knowing it would likely fall on deaf ears.”

In one harrowing passage in his book, Rhodes describes a meeting Obama had with young Palestinians the morning before his speech in Jerusalem on that trip.

US President Barack Obama and PA President Mahmoud Abbas wave to the crowd during Obama’s visit to Ramallah, March 21, 2013 (photo credit: Issam Rimawi/Flash90)

Flying to Ramallah, Rhodes writes that he felt a sense that the settlements were corroding the possibility of an eventual Palestinian state’s emergence, as well as noticing the inequality of resources that were plainly visible between those settlements and West Bank villages.

“I looked out at rolling hills and could see where Israeli settlements were splitting the West Bank in two,” he writes. “We were in the air for less than ten minutes, but the contrast could not have been starker: Israel from the air resembles southern Europe; the settlements looked like subdivisions in the Nevada desert; the Palestinian towns looked shabby and choked off.”

A picture taken from the Israeli settlement of Kedar shows the West Bank Israeli settlement of Maale Adumim (foreground-R), a few kilometers from East Jerusalem (background) on October 26, 2017. (AFP PHOTO / THOMAS COEX)

In that meeting, young Palestinians went around in a circle to describe their experiences living under Israel’s rule over the West Bank.

The last student was visibly tense the whole way through, Rhodes recalls. And then, when his turn came, he said with force, “Mr. President, we are treated the same way the black people were treated in your country. Here, in this century.” He then paused, allowing a moment of silence to add some affect. “Funded by your government, Mr. President.”

Shortly thereafter, Obama told Rhodes, “It took a lot of guts for him to do that.”

“Well,” Rhodes said, “that makes our theory more necessary: Show Israelis you love them but also challenge them.”

Obama’s guiding principle to Israel was often characterized as that of a friend who won’t let another drive drunk: that he believed settlements and the prospect of Israel perpetually occupying the West Bank would abrogate Israel’s status as a Jewish-democracy. Yet Rhodes less than subtly suggests that he himself may have been the architect of that approach.

“That’s your theory,” Rhodes said Obama replied. “The Ben Rhodes theory.”

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Houthi rebels in Yemen launch an Iranian ballistic missille into Saudi Arabia in 2018

https://www.timesofisrael.com/in-new-memoir-ex-obama-aide-bemoans-a-manipulative-netanyahu-not-on-the-level/

Barack Obama (right) speaking to advisers Tony Blinken (foreground), and Ben Rhodes (background), regarding the Iran nuclear deal, on Sunday, November 24, 2013. (Pete Souza/White House)
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Pompeo After Meeting Netanyahu: If Iran Nuclear Deal Can’t Be Fixed, It Will Be Nixed

April 29, 2018

Secretary of state: U.S. still committed to Israeli-Palestinian peace deal ■ Netanyahu: Greatest global threat is Islamic radicals with nukes

.U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is greeted by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the Ministry of Defense in Tel Aviv, April 29, 2018.
U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is greeted by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the Ministry of Defense in Tel Aviv, April 29, 2018.THOMAS COEX/AFP

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said following a meeting with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu Sunday that the United States will cancel the Iran nuclear deal if it is not fixed.

Speaking to reporters following the meeting, which took place at the Israeli military’s headquarters in Tel Aviv, Pompeo said the U.S. stands with Israel against Iran. “We remain deeply concerned about Iran’s dangerous escalation of threats toward Israel and the region,” Pompeo said, adding that the U.S. supports Israel’s right to defend itself.

>> Explained: What happens if Trump pulls out of the Iran nuclear deal? ■ Trump’s resolve to withdraw from Iran nuclear deal hands Tehran a key diplomatic win >>

Pompeo called the deal signed between Iran and world powers to curb Tehran’s nuclear program “very flawed” and said U.S. President Donald Trump has “directed the administration to try and fix it, and if we can’t fix it, he’s going to withdraw from the deal.”

skip – Pompeo

According to Pompeo, strong ties with allies like Israel are “critical to our efforts to counter Iran’s destabilizing and malign activity throughout the Middle East, and indeed throughout the world.” Pompeo said Washington is also focusing on “non-nuclear threats” posed by the Islamic Republic, such as its missile systems, support for Hezbollah, its fighters in Syria and its assistance to Houthi rebels in Yemen.

Regarding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Pompeo said “the boundaries of Israeli sovereignty in Jerusalem remain subject to negotiations between the parties.” He added that Washington remains “committed to achieving a lasting and comprehensive peace that offers a brighter future for both Israel and the Palestinians.”

Washington is “incredibly proud” to open the new U.S. embassy in Jerusalem on May 14th, Pompeo said, noting that “by recognizing Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and the seat of its government, we’re recognizing reality.”

He also raised the question of Syria, saying that America’s main goals are to defeat ISIS, prevent the use of chemical weapons and obtain a diplomatic agreement to end the country’s years-long civil war.

Pompeo kicked off his statement by saying that “it is a great honor to be here on my first trip as Secretary of State…. I haven’t been to my office yet.” Pompeo was sworn in as secretary of state on April 26, nearly a month after Trump announced he had nominated the former CIA director to replace Rex Tillerson.

Speaking before Pompeo, Netanyahu told reporters that the greatest global threat is “the marriage of militant Islam with nuclear weapons, and specifically the attempt of Iran to acquire nuclear weapons.” Netanyahu said Iran’s “aggression has grown many-fold since the signing of the nuclear deal” and expressed his appreciation for Washington’s position on the topic.

“If people thought that Iran’s aggression would be moderated as a result of signing the deal, the opposite has happened, and Iran is trying to gobble up one country after the other. Iran must be stopped,” Netanyahu said.

Describing Trump’s decision to transfer the embassy to Jerusalem as “bold,” Netanyahu said the move “has prompted other countries, quite a few now, who are planning to move their embassy to Jerusalem as well.” Netanyahu called Pompeo “a true friend of Israel, a true friend of the Jewish people” and said Washington’s decision to include Israel on Pompeo’s first trip as secretary of state is “symbolic of our friendship, which is getting even deeper and stronger.”

The meeting was held less than two weeks before the May 12 deadline for Trump to decide whether to re-impose sanctions against Iran that were removed as part of the deal on its nuclear program. The audience included, among others, U.S. State Department Spokeswoman Heather Nauert and U.S. Ambassador to Israel David Friedman.

According to a Palestinian official, Pompeo did not seek meetings with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas or any Palestinian officials during his visit to Israel. Nabil Shaath, an Abbas aide, told Haaretz no one in Pomeo’s bureau petitioned a meeting with the Palestinian president, and added that “even if there was such a petition, the official Palestinian stance remains unchanged, and it is not to meet.”

Pompeo, a former CIA director, is thought to be a key supporter of the Netanyahu government’s politics, and he holds hawkish views on Iran. His appointment was seen as a step toward a tougher American policy regarding Tehran, with U.S. President Donald Trump recently vowing to cancel the Iran nuclear deal if significant changes are not made.

Earlier Sunday, ahead of the government cabinet meeting in Jerusalem, Netanyahu brought up his meeting with Pomepo, saying: “Today we will welcome U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, a true friend of Israel. I think that it is important that he is coming to Israel as part of his first visit outside the U.S. as Secretary of State.”

The premier added that relations between Israel and the U.S. “are stronger than ever and I would like to take this opportunity to again to thank President Trump for the decision to move the American Embassy to Jerusalem, which will take place in a few days. At the time, I said there would be other countries to join this move and I can tell you these things are indeed happening.”

Prior to landing in Israel, Pompeo met with Saudi Arabia‘s King Salman and other officials in Riyadh. Pompeo reassured the kingdom that the U.S. would abandon the nuclear deal unless there is an agreement in talks with European partners to improve it to make sure the Islamic Republic never possesses a nuclear weapons.

“Iran destabilizes this entire region,” Pompeo said in a joint press conference with Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir. “It supports proxy militias and terrorist groups. It is an arms dealer to the Houthi rebels in Yemen. It supports the murderous Assad regime (in Syria) as well.”

Pompeo also addressed the rift between some Gulf countries and Qatar: “Gulf unity is necessary and we need to achieve it.”

Saudi Arabia, along with the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Egypt, cut off travel and trade ties with Qatar last June, accusing it of supporting terrorism and arch-rival Iran on the other side of the Gulf.

Doha has denied the accusations and has said its three fellow Gulf countries aim to curtail its sovereignty. For its part, Iran denies supporting terrorism or having sought to develop nuclear weapons.

On Friday at a NATO foreign ministers meeting in Brussels, the first stop on his trip, Pompeo repeated Trump’s pledge to withdraw from the Iran deal unless it is significantly strengthened. He said the U.S. was “unlikely” to stay in if that was not done.

“Absent a substantial fix, absent overcoming the shortcomings, the flaws of the deal, he is unlikely to stay in that deal past this May,” Pompeo said.

AP contributed to this report. 

Middle East Peace: Envisioning a Better Future — Trump Must Stop Iran. Israel and the Palestinians Must Make a Lasting Deal.

April 5, 2018

It is possible that if Iran withdraws and begins enriching uranium to military grade levels, the “fire and fury” Trump once threatened North Korea with, will be diverted to Iran.

BY YAAKOV KATZ
 APRIL 5, 2018 11:13

The Jerusalem Post

 Imagine a world in which Syria still had its nuclear reactor today

 Netanyahu’s public demonstration of indecisiveness, bad policy

Calm, poised and a steady hand

U.S. President Donald Trump meets with Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, U.S., March 5, 2018. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque. (photo credit: REUTERS/KEVIN LAMARQUE)

May is going to be quite the month for US President Donald Trump. At some point in the coming weeks, he is expected to sit down for a historic tête-à-tête with North Korea’s leader Kim Jong-un. Around the same time, on May 12, he will come up against the deadline for the Iran nuclear deal.

And then there is the planned transfer of the US Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem on May 15 as well as a proposal to end the Israeli-Palestinian conflict the White House has been working on for the past year. While the Palestinians’ recent anti-American rhetoric made it seem like the proposal had been shelved, the administration is claiming that the plan is still in the works. When will it be presented? That remains to be seen.

At Press conference with Mogherini, Netanyahu predicts Europeans following Trump on Jerusalem embassy move (Reuters)

Even for Trump – a man who prides himself on being a brilliant deal-maker – this is a lot to handle.

Most presidents would choose one or two massive foreign policy challenges of similar scale to tackle throughout their entire presidency, let alone in the span of just a few weeks.

For Israel, the issue of utmost concern right now is Iran. On the one hand, there is complete agreement within Israel’s defense and political echelons that the 2015 nuclear deal with Iran is bad. It gave the Iranians astounding financial breaks and left them with almost all of their nuclear infrastructure in place. Once the deal’s sunset clauses kick in, Iran’s breakout time to a bomb will be just a few weeks.

On the other hand, there is no arguing the fact that the deal has given Israel a respite. Just a few years ago, the government appeared on the verge of ordering an attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities. With that threat postponed, the IDF has been able to spend the last few years honing its capabilities ahead of an eventual confrontation while investing in other fronts and needs.

While Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is a vocal proponent of seeing America pull out of the nuclear deal, the question is whether he – or anyone for that matter – knows what will happen the day after. Trump is trying to use the threat of America’s pending withdrawal from the accord as leverage to negotiate a newer and better agreement that will, for example, place restrictions on Iran’s ballistic missile program, its regional aspirations and the problematic sunset clauses.

The Europeans warn that the chances of that happening are slim.

The French and German foreign ministers came to Jerusalem recently to explain to Netanyahu that Iran will not agree to a new deal and that if America pulls out, so will Iran.

If that happens, they warned, the only way left to stop Iran will be with military force, and who has the appetite for that? What Europe might not be taking into account though is the possibility that Netanyahu has received assurances from Trump that he will attack Iran if it leaves the deal and begins racing toward a bomb. It is possible that if Iran withdraws and begins enriching uranium to military grade levels, the “fire and fury” Trump once threatened North Korea with, will be diverted to Iran.

But what if that doesn’t happen? What if Trump decides to nix the deal but then fails to follow through with tough negotiations or the threat of military force? Is Israel better off with the deal gone and Iran an even greater threat, or not? What if Trump connects the peace process to the nuclear deal and tells Netanyahu that he will happily take care of Iran, but only if Israel ensures progress on the Palestinian track? This would be the revival of the famous “Bushehr-for-Yitzhar” deal – Bushehr is the site of some of Iran’s nuclear reactors, and Yitzhar is a settlement in Samaria – that Barack Obama reportedly offered Netanyahu in late 2009. Under that deal, Obama was supposed to ensure that Iran’s nuclear program would be stopped, and Israel would, in exchange, facilitate the establishment of a Palestinian state.

The deal, of course, never materialized.

A Palestinian state was never established and the 2015 nuclear deal failed to completely stop Iran’s race to the bomb.

Is Trump planning such linkage between Iran and the Palestinians? It remains to be seen, although the timing of how this all plays out could be a sign of what is coming.

Just days after making a decision on Iran, the US will hold a ceremony marking the moving of its embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. Some security cabinet members are nervous of what will come next. As one member told me recently: “Even between friends, there never really is a free lunch.”

Whatever happens, Trump is going to have his hands full in the coming weeks. For any of these efforts to work – North Korea, Iran or the Israel-Palestinian peace process – the president will need to be personally involved, become intimately familiar with all of the details, and be prepared to use the full weight of his office when necessary.

Israel is just one piece on the presidential chessboard. It might seem that Israel and the US are aligned as never before, but Netanyahu will need to be careful to ensure Israel’s interests are not disregarded. As demonstrated by Trump’s surprising and off-the-cuff announcement last week that he plans to withdraw US forces from Syria, Netanyahu already knows that, with this president, anything is possible.

Migrants, activists in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv protest Netanyahu’s scrapping of relocation deal, April 3, 2018 (Reuters/Tamara Zieve)

ALL OF THESE scenarios are worth contemplating in light of Netanyahu’s public display of indecisiveness this week vis-à-vis the deportation of Israel’s African migrants.

Calling what Netanyahu did a zigzag doesn’t do justice. It was a political fiasco of national proportions, one that will one day be taught in university-level political science courses.

Up until Monday, the declared government policy was to forcibly deport the vast majority of African migrants, most of whom had come to Israel in search of work. The Interior Ministry hired and trained special inspectors, and while the planned deportations were contentious and divisive, the government seemed determined to move forward.

But then in mid-March, the High Court of Justice froze the plan.

Netanyahu had a few options. He could have convened the cabinet, the attorney-general, and the top minds at the Interior Ministry and thought of a new, refined plan that would have met the court’s requirements.

Instead, he secretly brokered a deal with the United Nations, under which half of the migrants would be moved to Western countries and the other half would be allowed to remain in Israel.

News of the plan – kept secret from his cabinet and party – was revealed at 4 p.m. on Monday in a press conference Netanyahu convened in Jerusalem. It didn’t take long for all hell to break loose.

Bayit Yehudi chairman Naftali Bennett, Netanyahu’s primary rival on the Right, slammed the deal and warned that Israel would become a migrant haven if so many migrants were allowed to stay. Even Minister Miri Regev, who until Monday seemed to be Netanyahu’s staunchest ally in the Likud, joined the chorus of criticism.

Even for a seasoned politician like Netanyahu, the pressure was too much to bear. Six hours and 45 minutes later, at 10:45 p.m., the prime minister posted on Facebook that he had decided to temporarily freeze the new plan. By Tuesday he had completely nixed it, leaving Israel, once again, in the lurch and without a real policy.

What didn’t make sense is why Netanyahu didn’t try to garner support for the UN plan before going public. In the past, when contentious issues were scheduled to come up in the cabinet – such as the release of Palestinian prisoners in 2014 – he knew to meet with Bennett and reach understandings before going public. The fact that he didn’t do that this time might say something about his state of mind.

This is concerning because, as pointed out above, Israel has serious challenges ahead that will need to be confronted with calm, poise and a steady hand. If Netanyahu zigzags and flip-flops so many times on an issue like deporting migrants, what will happen on issues of graver consequence – such as the Iran deal and the conflict with the Palestinians – that strike at the core of Israel’s national security? Will he repeatedly change his mind then, too, or will he be more focused and stable? After this week, it is difficult to know.

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Trump, Saudi Arabia in Lockstep: Give Syria Up to Assad, Ignore Gaza

April 2, 2018
Haaretz

Trump’s talk with the Saudi crown prince made him conclude that there’s nothing Washington can do in Syria; they also see eye to eye on the weekend’s events in Gaza and the question of Hamas’ status

.FILE PHOTO: President Donald Trump shakes hands with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in the Oval Office of the White House, March 20, 2018, in Washington.
FILE PHOTO: President Donald Trump shakes hands with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in the Oval Office of the White House, March 20, 2018, in Washington.Evan Vucci/AP

An old cliché holds that “anything can happen in the Middle East,” because everyone knows Arab leaders aren’t familiar with the Western concept of “rationality”; they make decisions from the gut or, even worse, obey God’s dictates. But the Mideast now seems to have an unbeatable rival in the White House, one who is constantly trying to demolish rationality even more thoroughly.

To really understand Trump in the Mideast – subscribe to Haaretz

Last week U.S. President Donald Trump left his aides and cabinet secretaries agape when he said America was “coming out of Syriavery soon.” Just a few days earlier, Defense Secretary James Mattis said the exact opposite, declaring that America would be in Syria indefinitely. Senior American officials made similar statements last month, explaining that America’s presence was necessary until a diplomatic solution to Syria’s civil war was found.

Smoke rises from buildings following a reported regime surface-to-surface missile strike on a rebel-held area on the southern Syrian city of Daraa, March 23, 2018.

Smoke rises from buildings following a reported regime surface-to-surface missile strike on a rebel-held area on the southern Syrian city of Daraa, March 23, 2018.MOHAMAD ABAZEED/AFP

>> WATCH // Trump: U.S. leaving Syria ‘very soon, let other people take care of it’ ■ A Syrian town counts on Americans to stick by it against Turkey’s threat ■ Saudi-backed Syrian rebels face a stark choice: Surrender to Assad or die

What pushed Trump, who also used the occasion to freeze $200 million in aid for Syria’s reconstruction, to make this announcement? Apparently, his conversation with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman made him conclude that there’s nothing Washington can do in Syria.

Granted, Mohammed said in an interview with Time magazine that it’s important for American forces – some 2,000 combat soldiers and trainers – to remain in Syria to block the spread of Iranian influence there. But in the same interview he said of Syrian President Bashar Assad, “Bashar is staying. But I believe that Bashar’s interest is not to let the Iranians do whatever they want to do.”

If Trump’s announcement was a U-turn in America’s Mideast policy, the prince broke the rules of the game entirely. Saudi Arabia, the last Arab state to stand firm against the possibility of Assad remaining in power, is now coming down from the ramparts and effectively admitting the failure of its Syria policy, a direct continuation of the failure of its efforts to reshape Lebanon’s government.

The American president and the Saudi prince evidently have only one card left to play in the region, and it isn’t a terribly impressive one – the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. They still agree that Trump’s “ultimate deal” is a treasure. But this treasure is so secret that nobody knows what it includes, aside from leaked crumbs of information and unrealistic ideas like establishing a Palestinian state in which Israeli settlements would remain comfortably, and with its capital in Abu Dis, outside Jerusalem.

Hamas found a more effective way to agitate Israel ■ With riots and live fire, Gaza just went 25 years back in time ■ Palestinian generation of hope now plagued by fury

.

Youth react after deaf Palestinian Tahreer Abu Sabala, 17, was shot and wounded in the head during clashes with Israeli troops, at Israel-Gaza border, in the southern Gaza Strip, April 1, 2018.

Youth react after deaf Palestinian Tahreer Abu Sabala, 17, was shot and wounded in the head during clashes with Israeli troops, at Israel-Gaza border, in the southern Gaza Strip, April 1, 2018. \ IBRAHEEM ABU MUSTAFA/ REUTERS

They also see eye to eye on the weekend’s events in the Gaza Strip and the question of Hamas’ status. Last Friday, the United Statesopposed a Kuwaiti motion in the UN Security Council to condemn Israel for the violence. Riyadh did its part by refusing Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’ request that it convene an emergency Arab summit to discuss the killing of Palestinians in Gaza. The kingdom gave Abbas the cold shoulder, saying the regular Arab League summit would take place in a few weeks anyway, so no additional summit was needed.

The disinterest Mohammed and Trump both showed in the events in Gaza, combined with their capitulation to reality in Syria, reveals a clear American-Saudi strategy by which regional conflicts will be dealt with by the parties to those conflicts, and only those with the potential to spark an international war will merit attention and perhaps intervention.

>> Gaza carnage is a victory for Hamas – and a propaganda nightmare for Israel ■ With riots and live fire, Gaza just went 25 years back in time  >>

An example of the latter is the battle against Iran, which will continue to interest both Washington and Riyadh because they consider it of supreme international importance, not just a local threat to Israel and Saudi Arabia.

Syria, in contrast, doesn’t interest the world, and to the degree that it poses a threat to Israel, Israel’s 2007 attack on Syria’s nuclear reactor and its ongoing military intervention in Syria show that it neither needs nor even wants other powers involved.

>> Ten years of silence on Syria strike. Why now? ■ A turning point in Israel’s history ■ Before successful strike, Israel’s most resounding intel failure

The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is also no longer seen as a global threat, or even a regional one. Therefore, it’s unnecessary to “waste” international or pan-Arab effort on it. If Egypt can and wants to handle the conflict from the Arab side, fine. But for now, that will be it.

Russia and Iran, which in any case have managed the Syrian conflict between them for some time now without American or Saudi involvement, will derive practical conclusions from this policy. The competition between Tehran and Moscow over control of Syria’s meager resources has waned since Russia took over Syria’s main oil fields and most future contracts to exploit them. Iran will make do with the status of Assad’s strategic guest, and will apparently retain permanent military and political access to Lebanon.

The Kurds realized weeks ago that Washington won’t stretch out its neck for them, after it let Turkey invade and conquer the Syrian town of Afrin. Now they won’t receive the full amount of American aid they were promised, either.

Once again, Ankara has proven more important to Trump than the Kurds, who, as far as Washington is concerned, had finished their job once the Islamic State was defeated. So, like the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the “local” conflict in Syria, the Kurdish-Turkish conflict will take place between the parties, without U.S. involvement.

In the absence of American and Saudi backing and involvement, Syria’s rebel militias are also likely to recalculate their path, understanding that they can no longer recruit either the superpower rivalry or the Saudi-Syrian one to obtain diplomatic gains. Russian dictates will be the only game in town.

And this last, perhaps, nevertheless provides some good news for Syrian civilians, who are still being slaughtered by the dozen every day.

Gaza Carnage Is a Victory for Hamas – and a Propaganda Nightmare for Israel — Hamas Outsmarts Israel this time…

March 31, 2018

Haaretz

Trump’s unqualified support bolsters Netanyahu but could also spark international backlash from critics of both

.
Medical staff help an injured Palestinian man during clashes with Israeli security forces following a demonstration near the border with Israel,March 31, 2018.
Medical staff help an injured Palestinian man during clashes with Israeli security forces following a demonstration near the border with Israel,March 31, 2018.SAID KHATIB/AFP

For the first time in a long while, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict took a central place over the weekend in international media news reports. Israeli spokespersons did supply evidence of Hamas militants trying to breach the border fence in Gaza under the guise of a supposedly popular protest, but Western opinion makers preferred the viral video of a Palestinian teen getting shot in the back and an overarching narrative of despondent Gazans protesting their oppression and blockade. Fifteen Palestinians were killed, hundreds were injured and the fence remained intact, but in the battlefield of propaganda, Hamas scored a victory.

Future developments are also in the hands of the Islamic organization. The more Hamas persists with the “March of the Million,” as it has been dubbed, and the more it succeeds in separating the protests from acts of violence and terror, the more it will succeed in defying and embarrassing Israel as well as Mahmoud Abbas and the Palestinian Authority. If commanders of the Israel Defense Forces don’t find a way to repel efforts to breach the fence without causing so many casualties, Israel’s predicament will grow exponentially. Friday’s day of bloodshed may be quickly forgotten if it remains a solitary event, but if the bloodshed recurs over and over during the six-week campaign that is slated to culminate on the Palestinian Nakba Day in mid-May, the international community will be forced to refocus its attentions on the conflict. Criticism of, and pressure on, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, which has virtually evaporated in recent months, could return with a vengeance.

The working assumption on the Israeli side is that terror and violence are an inherent part of Hamas’ self-identity; the Islamist group is supposedly incapable of suspending its “armed struggle,” even temporarily. If this is the case, Israel’s distress will soon pass and Hamas will squander the advantages it gained in the mass skirmishes near the fence. If the Israeli conception turns out to be wrong, however, and Hamas proves itself capable of tactical discipline and restraint, it could manufacture what has always been Israel’s hasbara nightmare: Mass, nonviolent Palestinian protests that compel the IDF to kill and maim unarmed civilians. Analogies to Mahatma Gandhi, apartheid South Africa and even the struggle for civil rights in America, superficial and preposterous as they may be, will frame the next stage of the Palestinian struggle.

>> Forget rockets and tunnels – Hamas found a more effective way to agitate Israel | Analysis ■ Gaza’s refugees have always haunted Israel. Now they’re on the march | Opinion >>

The immediate support of the Trump administration, expressed in a Passover-eve tweet by special envoy Jason Greenblatt, who lambasted Hamas incitement and its “hostile march,” is ostensibly a positive development from Israel’s point of view. Contrary to Trump, Barack Obama would have been quick to criticize what is being widely described as Israel’s excessive use of force, and might have conferred with Western European countries on a proper diplomatic response. Israel welcomes and Netanyahu often extols its unparalleled coordination with the Trump administration, but it could also turn out to be a double-edged sword, which will only make things worse.

.Hamas chief Ismail Haniyeh at a protest along the Israeli border with Gaza, March 30, 2018.

Hamas chief Ismail Haniyeh at a protest along the Israeli border with Gaza, March 30, 2018.\ MOHAMMED SALEM/ REUTERS

Trump, after all, is one of the most despised U.S. presidents in modern history, in Western public opinion in general and among American liberals in particular. Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and his decision to move the U.S. Embassy there are widely perceived as contributing to Palestinians frustration and sense of isolation. As long as Israel maintains a low profile and doesn’t star in negative news headlines, its intimate relations with Trump cause only marginal damage; in times of crisis, however, the damage can be substantial. The criticism that would have been leveled at Israel in the wake of “Bloody Friday” in any case is fueled by widespread resentment of Trump and his policies – and by a wish to punish his favorites. The more the U.S. administration defends Israel’s unpopular actions, the more its critics, including American liberals, will treat Trump and Netanyahu as one unsavory package.

The unqualified U.S. support strengthens the resolve of Netanyahu and his ministers to stick with their do-nothing polices toward both Gaza and the peace process. Most Israelis view Hamas purely as a terror organization, and their gut reaction is that Israel can’t and shouldn’t be perceived as caving in to terror and violence. At a time when early elections seem just beyond the horizon, the last thing Netanyahu’s right-wing coalition wants to do is deviate from its established policies, which would be tantamount to admitting the error of its ways. Calls from the left to review the IDF’s conduct in Gaza and reassess Netanyahu’s policies toward the Palestinians overall could bring the Israeli-Palestinian conflict back to the center of public discourse after an extended absence, but will also provide the prime minister with an excuse – as if he needs one – to divert attention away from the crisis in Gaza to backstabbing internal enemies from within.

The Book of Hosea, however, taught us “He who sows the wind shall reap the whirlwind.” Israel’s ongoing diplomatic paralysis on the Palestinian issue and its misguided belief that the status quo can be maintained indefinitely provided the opening for Hamas’ propaganda coup: The Islamist group can suddenly see light at the end of the tunnels that the IDF is systematically destroying. Hamas may shed crocodile tears over the dead and injured, but even if their numbers are doubled and tripled over the next few days, it is a small price to pay for resuscitating its prominence and for pushing both Netanyahu and Abbas into a corner. The fact that Jerusalem maneuvered itself into a position in which a proven terrorist group that still dreams of destroying “the Zionist entity” can outmaneuver Israel in the court of public opinion and cast it as malevolent occupier with an itchy trigger finger is a monumental failure, one that can only get worse as long as Netanyahu and his government prefer to entrench themselves in their obtuse self-righteousness.

Palestinians slam Trump security advisor pick Bolton — Pakistan and Iran also likely angry…

March 23, 2018

AFP

© AFP | John Bolton addresses the United Nations Security Council on 14 October 2006, when he was United States Ambassador to the UN

RAMALLAH (PALESTINIAN TERRITORIES) (AFP) –  A senior Palestinian official on Friday slammed US President Donald Trump’s choice of hardliner John Bolton as his new national security advisor.Trump on Thursday announced that Bolton, an arch-hawk and former United Nations ambassador, would replace army general HR McMaster.

Bolton is known for his strong support for Israel and hostility to Iran. He has previously said the idea of a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is dead.

“This man has a long history of hostility to Palestinians, dating to when he was at the United Nations, where he was protecting Israeli immunity,” senior Palestinian official Hanan Ashrawi told AFP, referring to US vetoes of UN resolutions targeting Israel.

With Bolton’s appointment, she said, the Trump administration “has joined with extremist Zionists, fundamentalist Christians and white racists”.

“All this will lead to a devastating reality for Palestine and the region.”

In contrast, members of Israel’s government, considered the most rightwing in the country’s history, hailed the appointment.

“President Trump is continuing to appoint true friends of Israel to senior positions. John Bolton stands out among them,” said Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked, of the far-right Jewish Home party.

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