The many casualties of Trump’s Jerusalem move

Ishaan Tharoor writes: Nearly a week after President Trump’s unilateral decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, there are plenty of reasons to be confused by the move.

Despite no real pressure from the Israeli government nor unanimous clamoring in Washington for the move, Trump threw decades of long-standing U.S. policy up in the air. He embraced Jerusalem as Israel’s capital without making any nod to Palestinian claims to the eastern part of the city, prompting analysts and former diplomats to write obituaries for the two-state solution. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson then told reporters that the U.S. embassy’s relocation from Tel Aviv would probably not happen next year, raising even more questions about the timing of Trump’s statement.

And while Trump insists the move is critical to “advance the peace process and to work towards a lasting agreement,” it appears to have had exactly the opposite result.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas is expected to skip a meeting with Vice President Pence, who will be journeying to the Holy Land before Christmas. Pence will also be snubbed in Cairo by the head of Egypt’s Coptic Church as a result of Trump’s decision. French President Emmanuel Macron and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan have said they are jointly working to persuade the White House to reconsider.

Meanwhile, protests continued in Palestinian areas and a number of Middle Eastern and Muslim-world capitals over the weekend. At least four people have been killed following Israeli military strikes in the Gaza Strip. On Sunday, demonstrators in Beirut clashed with police outside the U.S. Embassy; at least eight people were hospitalized in the aftermath. [Continue reading…]

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Despite furor over Jerusalem move, Saudis seen on board with U.S. peace efforts

Reuters reports: Saudi Arabia pulled no punches when it condemned President Donald Trump’s move to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. But Palestinian officials say Riyadh has also been working for weeks behind the scenes to press them to support a nascent U.S. peace plan.

Trump reversed decades of U.S. policy on Wednesday with his announcement and instructions to begin the process of moving the embassy in Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, despite warnings that it would drive the wedge between Israel and the Palestinians deeper.

The Saudi royal court described the decision as “unjustified and irresponsible” and “a big step back in efforts to advance the peace process.”

But Arab officials privately say that Riyadh appears to be on board with a broader U.S. strategy for an Israeli-Palestinian peace plan still in its early phases of development.

Four Palestinian officials, who spoke on condition they not be named, said Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas discussed in detail a grand bargain that Trump and Jared Kushner, the president’s son-in-law and adviser, are expected to unveil in the first half of 2018.

One official said Prince Mohammed asked Abbas to show support for the U.S. administration’s peace efforts when the two met in Riyadh in November.

Another Palestinian official said Prince Mohammed told Abbas: “Be patient, you will hear good news. This peace process will go ahead.”

The U.S.-Saudi relationship has improved dramatically under Trump, partly because the leaders share a vision of confronting Riyadh’s arch-rival Iran more aggressively in the region.

Kushner, 36, whose father knew Israeli leader Benjamin Netanyahu, has also nurtured strong personal ties with the 32-year-old crown prince as he asserts Saudi influence internationally and amasses power for himself at home. [Continue reading…]

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Some Jews in East Jerusalem view Trump as ‘a messiah’

Times of Israel reports: In recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, US President Donald Trump calculatedly avoided detailing how broadly he thinks the holy city’s Israeli borders should extend. But residents of a Jewish enclave in the municipality’s eastern half said Thursday they trust that the president kept them in mind while making his decision.

“He was being intentionally vague, and I’m totally fine with that,” said Ma’ale Hazeitim resident Mordechai Taub. “Recognizing the entire borders of the city [as Israeli] will be a process, but I’m sure it will happen at some point.”

Taub is one of roughly 500 residents in the religious neighborhood established adjacent to the Mount of Olives in 1997. Located southeast of the Old City, Ma’ale Hazeitim was constructed alongside the Arab neighborhood of Ras Al-Amoud, and has drawn protests from those opposing Israeli presence in East Jerusalem.

The Palestinians see East Jerusalem as the capital of their future state and fiercely oppose any changes that could be regarded as legitimizing Israel’s control over East Jerusalem, which it captured in the 1967 Six Day War. Israel annexed East Jerusalem and claims sovereignty in all of Jerusalem as its undivided eternal capital.

While all seven Ma’ale Hezeitim residents who spoke with The Times of Israel on Thursday applauded Trump’s declaration, some tempered their praise. “I congratulate him on being the one who merited the opportunity to make the announcement, but I do not thank him for doing so,” insisted Eyal Yechezkel. “God is the one that decided that Jerusalem is ours. It is not something that starts or ends with him.”

At the same time, however, Yechezkel also compared Trump to Persia’s King Cyrus, who allowed the exiled Jews to return to Israel from Babylon and Persia and rebuild the second Temple. “Even though he was a goy (a gentile), he’s called a messiah. This is how we refer to those who join our fight and aid in of our redemption.” [Continue reading…]

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There was no peace process for Trump to destroy

Roger Cohen writes: My colleagues Anne Barnard, Ben Hubbard and Declan Walsh captured well the Palestinian and Arab reaction to President Trump’s official recognition this week of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel: “An explosion of violence could still come,” they wrote, “but so far there is something more like an explosion of sighs.”

Jerusalem, city of passions, has long been a tinderbox. The Second Intifada, or uprising, began in 2000 with Ariel Sharon’s provocative visit to the Temple Mount, known to Muslims as the Noble Sanctuary. But that was 17 years ago, when the Israeli-Palestinian conflict still stood at the core of Middle Eastern conflict, and Arab backing for the Palestinian cause was more than rhetorical.

Ismail Haniya, the leader of Hamas, is now calling for a third intifada. But he’s up against exhaustion, cynicism and shifting priorities in the Arab world. Trump’s announcement did not destroy the “peace process.” There is no peace process to destroy.

The Arab Spring has come and gone, and the Syrian state has gone, since the Second Intifada. Iran, the Shia enemy, looms much larger than the Palestinian cause for most Sunni Arab states. Everyone knows how much democratic legitimacy Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian Authority president, has — none — and what purported reconciliation between his Fatah faction and Hamas is worth — very little.

The Palestinian cause, undermined by disunity and the cultivation of victimhood, is weak and growing weaker. International indignation does not change that. Israeli force has been implacable.

I confess to a more-in-sorrow-than-in-anger reaction to Trump’s announcement. It did have the merit, as the president noted, of recognizing a reality, and that reality reflects perhaps the deepest of Jewish sentiments. It was, at least, not more of the same peace-process blather.

Real frustration would require belief that maintaining the unresolved status of Jerusalem as a final-status bargaining chip in the “peace process” would make a decisive difference in that process. But, as noted above, there is none. If anything the “process” has been ideal camouflage for the steady growth in the number of Israeli settlers (now more than 600,000), favored by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s right-wing government. It has given steady Israeli expansionism the international benediction of mythical reversibility. I am not convinced Trump gave a lot away. [Continue reading…]

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Palestinians clash with Israeli troops ahead of ‘day of rage’ at Trump’s Jerusalem move

The Washington Post reports: Palestinian protesters and Israeli soldiers clashed Thursday in Jerusalem, Ramallah and other places in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, with some demonstrators burning American flags and posters of President Trump a day after he sided with Israel by announcing U.S. recognition of Jerusalem as its capital.

But at nightfall, after the skirmishes died down, the region was bracing for worse.

More than 100 people were injured Thursday, according to the Palestinian Red Crescent, despite the deployment of several extra battalions of Israeli troops. The critical test comes Friday, when larger demonstrations are expected as crowds leave mosques after the weekly noon prayers.

In Gaza, the Islamist Hamas movement urged its followers to ignite a third intifada, or uprising, against Israel. The Palestinian Authority called for a general strike. Shops were shuttered in Jerusalem’s Old City. [Continue reading…]

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Why Trump’s Jerusalem gambit will only hurt Israel

Peter Beinart writes: On its face, Donald Trump’s speech on Wednesday announcing that America would recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital seemed entirely reasonable. “Today,” he declared, “We finally acknowledge the obvious. That Jerusalem is Israel’s capital. This is nothing more or less than a recognition of reality.”

Yes, Jerusalem is Israel’s capital. That is obvious. But something else is obvious too: Israel and the Palestinians are radically unequal negotiating partners. Israel is a modern state. The Palestinians are a people who, in various ways, live under Israeli control without equal rights. As the vastly more powerful side, it’s clear what Israel can give the Palestinians: a state on the territory that Israel now occupies. What the Palestinians can give Israel is less clear. After all, no Jews live without basic rights under Palestinian control. Palestinians want the Israeli army to withdraw from Hebron, Nablus and Jenin. There is no Palestinian army occupying Beersheba, Haifa and Ashdod.

As Noam Sheizaf recently detailed in 972mag, the most valuable thing the Palestinians can give Israel is international legitimacy. When Palestinian leaders say their struggle with Israel is over, Israel’s days as a semi-pariah will end. By blessing the Saudi Peace Initiative, the Arab League and the Organization of Islamic Cooperation –with its 57 members—have both made it clear that when the Palestinians make peace with Israel, they will too. When that happens, global anti-Zionism will collapse.

To many Zionists, the idea that Jews need the Palestinians’ blessing to make Israel legitimate is offensive. What legitimizes Israel, they say, is a Jewish connection to the land that dates back thousands of years. Fine, but Palestinians have a connection to the land too. They constituted the vast majority of people living on it when Zionists began showing up in the late nineteenth century. If the bonds of memory and the requirements of self-protection justify a Jewish state, they justify a Palestinian state too. Israel has the right to exist, but it doesn’t have the right to hold millions of Palestinians as colonial subjects. So, in this way, the international legitimacy that Palestinians can bestow when they gain a state is bound up with the moral legitimacy Israel can only gain when it becomes a country that offers the right of citizenship to everyone living under its control.

What does this have to do with moving America’s embassy to Jerusalem? Everything. Previous presidents didn’t keep the US embassy in Tel Aviv because “they lacked courage,” as Trump suggested. They did so because blessing Israel’s control of West Jerusalem before Israel permitted a Palestinian capital in East Jerusalem would diminish Israel’s incentive to do so. For an Israeli prime minister, accepting a Palestinian state based in East Jerusalem means risking your government, if not your life. Why take those risks if you can gain international recognition without them? Why pay for something you can get for free? [Continue reading…]

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Trump’s Jerusalem speech won’t kill the Mideast peace process: It’s already dead

Christopher Dickey writes: In 1995 [when the Jerusalem Embassy Act was passed], the Palestine issue and the future of Israel were at the very center of the Mideast miasma. The occupation of Palestinian territory was the festering wound from which much of the regional stink seemed to emanate. But 9/11 sidelined the Palestinians, their problems—and their aspirations—making their complaint just one element in the epochal battle being pushed by Osama bin Laden and his jihadist acolytes. The Palestinians were fighting for a homeland. Bin Laden was pushing for Armageddon.

After the Bush administration was foolish enough to occupy Afghanistan and Iraq, the latter with massive cheerleading from neocons who thought the Iraq invasion would help the cause of Israel, the injustice that attached to Israel’s own occupation of the West Bank was attenuated once again. It came to seem a limited problem, not an all-consuming one like, say, the disintegration and carnage that has swept the Fertile Crescent since 2003.

Meanwhile, Netanyahu has been able to take Israel into a holding pattern on the bet he could build walls and special access roads, maintain security, and wear down the Palestinians to the point where they would have no ability to affect the lives of most Israelis, even those living in the territories. His old enemy Syria has self-destructed. Egypt and Jordan are willing to play along with him. Only Iran presents a real threat to Israel’s security, but Trump—and the Saudis—are likely to back Bibi’s play should he decide be has to make a move against Teheran.

Again, the Palestinians lose out.

So, after three decades covering “the peace process”—and having learned early on that it was all about process, and only very rarely even remotely about peace—my sense is that Trump’s Jerusalem speech is more nuanced than one might have expected, but also naïve. It is, yes, a milestone, but not a game changer. In fact, the game changed long ago. [Continue reading…]

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Major donor Sheldon Adelson advised Trump to move U.S. embassy to Jerusalem

The Washington Post reports: Within the administration, key voices of support came from Pence, Kushner and Nikki Haley, Trump’s ambassador at the United Nations.

Kushner, the president’s son-in-law, had supported the move from early in Trump’s candidacy, and Pence, who is to visit Israel this month, told Trump that his base would love the decision, something the president liked to hear.

An important outside voice advising Trump to make the leap was Adelson’s, according to several people familiar with the two men’s conversations. At a White House dinner in the spring, Adelson made the issue a main topic, one person said. In the months that followed, Adelson periodically asked others close to Trump what was causing the delay and expressed frustration, these people said.

At the same time, other Trump advisers were making their case against the move. Most prominent among them were Tillerson and Defense Secretary Jim Mattis.

Tillerson, mindful of the death of four Americans in militant attacks in Benghazi, Libya, in 2012, “pushed back vocally,” one White House official said. Already at odds with Trump over other aspects of the president’s approach to the Middle East, Tillerson argued that the move could unleash a dangerous chain reaction across the region.

R.C. Hammond, a Tillerson adviser, said Tillerson and Mattis requested time to evaluate U.S. outposts and fortify them if necessary.

Some outside confidants, including billionaire Tom Barrack, urged Trump to hold off, worried that the move would deepen regional tensions caused by Saudi Arabia’s political shake-up and Iran’s growing reach.

“It’s insane. We’re all resistant,” said one Trump confidant who spoke to president recently about it. “He doesn’t realize what all he could trigger by doing this.” [Continue reading…]

The New York Times reports: Ten days before Donald J. Trump took office, Sheldon G. Adelson went to Trump Tower for a private meeting. Afterward, Mr. Adelson, the casino billionaire and Republican donor, called an old friend, Morton A. Klein, to report that Mr. Trump told him that moving the American Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem would be a major priority.

“He was very excited, as was I,” said Mr. Klein, the president of the Zionist Organization of America, a hard-line pro-Israel group. “This is something that’s in his heart and soul.”

The two men had to wait nearly a year, but on Wednesday, Mr. Trump stood beneath a portrait of George Washington to announce that he was formally recognizing Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and setting in motion a plan to move the embassy to the fiercely contested Holy City.

“While previous presidents have made this a major campaign promise,” he said, “they failed to deliver. Today, I am delivering.”

For Mr. Trump, the status of Jerusalem was always more a political imperative than a diplomatic dilemma. Faced with disappointing evangelical and pro-Israel backers like Mr. Adelson, or alarming allies and Arab leaders while jeopardizing his own peace initiative, the president sided with his key supporters. [Continue reading…]

The Los Angeles Times reports: John Hagee, a prominent evangelical pastor and leader of Christians United for Israel, said in an email Wednesday that he has met with Pence and Trump several times, bringing up Jerusalem on each occasion. In July, Pence delivered the keynote at the Christians United for Israel’s annual summit, drawing his most sustained ovation when he vowed that moving the embassy “is not a question of if, it is only when.”

“The Christian Zionist community will not forget the president’s bold actions,” Hagee said. “President Trump will be honored and memorialized by Jews and Christians for all time.” [Continue reading…]

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On Jerusalem, Trump is proving that the Israeli right was right all along

Noam Sheizaf writes: Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Dayan is said to have hesitated before ordering the IDF to conquer the Temple Mount and Jerusalem’s Old City in 1967. “What do I need this Vatican for,” he said at one meeting. But even the secular Dayan was swept by the wave of religious euphoria that took Israel after the war. A few weeks later, the government decided to annex the eastern part of the city, along with a sizable territory around it, including over 20 Palestinian towns and villages that had never been part of the city. The size of the annexed land was 10 times bigger than what the Jordanians defined as East Jerusalem during the 19 years they ruled over it.

No country has recognized Israel’s unilateral annexation of the territory (and people) of Jerusalem; and since the Oslo process in the 1990s, it was commonly understood that the fate of the city would be decided in negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians. To complicate things further, Israel didn’t grant East Jerusalemites citizenship; it has kept them as “permanent residents” – a legal status usually meant for immigrants, which deprives them of many rights (most notably, the purchase of state land and the participation in the general elections), and which can be revoked at any moment by the Interior Ministry.

Today, Palestinians make up over one-third of Jerusalem’s population. Jewish neighborhoods have spread mostly east, beyond the Green Line. In the Israeli political discourse this is simply “Jerusalem”; the rest of the world sees it as occupied land, and calls those neighborhoods settlements. Trump’s announcement will completely align U.S. policy with Israel’s positions. [Continue reading…]

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The Jerusalem Embassy Act was only meant to be a piece of political theater

Yoav Fromer writes: In light of the Clinton administration’s firm objection and threats to veto the law, an unusual compromise was born [in 1995]: Congress would pass the law, but would include a provision under which the president may suspend the law’s implementation according to his own discretion. In other words, Congress passed the law assuming it would never see the light of day. That way, everyone stood to gain: The lawmakers raked in voters and donations for supporting Israel; and the administration, on the one hand, didn’t prevent pro-Israel legislation, and the other hand, alleviated Arab states’ fears by indicating that it had no intention of allowing its implementation.

In a perfect reflection of a political theater, the Jerusalem Embassy Act was a symbolic, empty and superficial move, which wasn’t actually aimed at changing reality on the ground. And that is essentially what President Trump is likely about to do: Instead of providing the “historic deal” between Israel and the Palestinians, as he promised to do, he has apparently given up the hard and challenging work involved in diplomatic negotiations for the sake of empty declarations. And instead of using the momentum he gained following his successful visit to the Middle East and advancing a creative and bold solution to the conflict, Trump is once against settling for words at the expense of action.

We must not forget there is a good reason why the Jerusalem Embassy Act, which was enacted 22 years ago, was never implemented: Because it harms the US, and it harms Israel too indirectly. Trump’s predecessors—and quite a few Israeli leaders—objected to the embassy’s relocation because they understood the cost would be greater than the benefit: Not only would the US give up its status as a decent mediator in the conflict, which would only hurt Israel, but the president would waste the little sympathy he had left in Arab capitals, inflame the Arab street and divert the attention from the real regional threat—Iran’s growing power.

So before opening champagne bottles and celebrating the declaration, it’s important to remember that the Jerusalem Embassy Act was born by mistake. The attempt to execute it or change Jerusalem’s diplomatic status quo could end in a disaster. [Continue reading…]

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Senior Palestinian figure Dahlan urges exit from peace talks over Trump’s Jerusalem move

Reuters reports: Influential exiled Palestinian politician Mohammed Dahlan said on Wednesday Palestinians should reject any future peace talks and halt security coordination with Israel over U.S. plans to move its embassy in Israel to Jerusalem.

Dahlan was speaking via his Twitter account shortly before Trump confirmed in a speech that Washington was breaking with longstanding U.S. policy by recognizing Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and moving the U.S. Embassy to the city from Tel Aviv.

Palestinian leaders have denounced the planned move and said it could have dangerous consequences, while Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said immediately after Trump’s speech that the president’s announcement was a “historic landmark” and urged other countries to follow suit.

“I call for withdrawal from the absurd and endless negotiations with Israel after the principle of inviolability of the status of Jerusalem has been breached,” said Dahlan, an elected member of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’s Fatah party central committee.

“I call for ending all forms of coordination, especially security coordination, with Israel and USA,” he added from the United Arab Emirates, where he had lived since a quarrel with Abbas drove him out of the Palestinian territories in 2011. [Continue reading…]

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Trump to plunge Middle East into ‘fire with no end’ with Jerusalem speech

The Guardian reports: A cacophony of angry and despairing voices across the Middle East and the world have urged Donald Trump not to recognise Jerusalem as the capital of Israel at a planned speech on Wednesday, warning him that any such announcement would destroy the peace process, strengthen the extremists and weaken the US’s standing in the world.

The pope issued an unusually heartfelt plea to the president to respect the status quo on the city, and to conform with UN resolutions. He told thousands of people at his general audience: “I cannot keep quiet about my deep worry about the situation that has been created in the last few days.”

Pope Francis said he hoped “wisdom and prudence prevail, in order to avoid adding new elements of tension to a global panorama that is already convulsed and marked by so many cruel conflicts”.

The spokesman for the Turkish president, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, said the US was “plunging the region and the world into a fire with no end in sight”. He added that the Organisation for Islamic Co-operation would meet in Istanbul on 13 December in a special session to co-ordinate a response. [Continue reading…]

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Donald Trump’s Jerusalem statement is an act of diplomatic arson

Jonathan Freedland writes: Not content with taking the US to the brink of nuclear conflict with North Korea, Donald Trump is now set to apply his strategy of international vandalism to perhaps the most sensitive geopolitical hotspot in the world. With a speech scheduled for later today that’s expected to recognise Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and reaffirm a pledge to move the US embassy to the city, he is walking into a bone-dry forest with a naked flame.

For the status of Jerusalem is the most intractable issue in what is often described as the world’s most intractable conflict. It is the issue that has foiled multiple efforts at peacemaking over several decades. Both Israelis and Palestinians insist that Jerusalem must be the capital of their states, present and future, and that that status is non-negotiable.

But it’s not just important to them. The Old City of Jerusalem contains the holiest site in Judaism and the third holiest mosque in Islam, to say nothing of its enormous significance to Christians, meaning that even the slightest move there is felt by billions. It is a place where diplomats have learned to tread with extreme care. There is a reason why no US administration, no matter how pro-Israel, has changed its policy toward the city in the nearly 70 years since Israel’s founding.

But here comes Trump, oblivious to precedent and indeed history – even in a place where history is a matter of life and death – stomping through this delicate thicket, trampling over every sensitivity. The risk is obvious, with every Arab government – including those loyal to Washington – now issuing sharp warnings on the perils of this move, almost all of them using the same word: “dangerous”.

Let us be clear. Most advocates of an eventual two-state solution believe the only way to resolve the Jerusalem issue is for it to serve as the capital of both states: East Jerusalem as the capital of Palestine, West Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. Then, and only then, would be the right moment to start moving embassies and issuing statements of recognition. Until that day, any act that pre-empts an agreement between the two parties on the city’s future is reckless and needlessly incendiary. [Continue reading…]

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Why is Trump undoing decades of U.S. policy on Jerusalem?

Shibley Telhami writes: From the outset, most experts understood that the “deal of the century” [to end the Israeli-Palestinian conflict] was most likely beyond reach and that its collapse may lead to President Trump lashing out with such moves as moving the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem and giving the green light to expand Israeli settlement in the West Bank. The fact that the White House may take a controversial step on Jerusalem now, before he even has a chance to unveil his plan, means one of two things.

The first is that his advisers live in their own bubble, reinforced by unprecedented inexperience. In fact, this is already a public fear. Despite deep partisanship on almost every issue, Americans come together on this issue: 81 percent of all Americans, including 71 percent of Republicans, prefer Trump relying on experts in his Middle East diplomacy, not on inexperienced family members and personal lawyers.

But there is a second possibility: That the Trump administration has already given up on its “deal of the century” and is looking for ways to pin the blame on someone else. [Continue reading…]

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Palestinians burn pictures of Trump as Israel braces for violent protests

Times of Israel reports: Palestinians burned pictures of US President Donald Trump in the West Bank city of Bethlehem on Tuesday night, as anger ramped up over an expected announcement by Trump Wednesday of US recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.

Israeli troops girded for the possibility of violence.

The picture-burning protest came hours after Trump told the leaders of the Palestinian Authority and Jordan in phone calls that he intends to move the US Embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, despite intense Arab and Muslim opposition to a move that would alter decades of US policy and risk potentially violent protests.

Trump is to publicly address the question of Jerusalem on Wednesday and US officials familiar with his planning said he would declare Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, though he would not order the embassy move immediately.

Palestinian factions have called for protests against the moves, which would de facto recognize Israeli sovereignty over the city despite Palestinian claims to part of it. [Continue reading…]

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Talk of a peace plan that snubs Palestinians roils Middle East

The New York Times reports: In a mysterious trip last month, Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian president, traveled to Saudi Arabia’s capital for consultations with the hard-charging crown prince about President Trump’s plans for Middle East peace. What was said when the doors were closed, however, has since roiled the region.

According to Palestinian, Arab and European officials who have heard Mr. Abbas’s version of the conversation, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman presented a plan that would be more tilted toward the Israelis than any ever embraced by the American government, one that presumably no Palestinian leader could ever accept.

The Palestinians would get a state of their own but only noncontiguous parts of the West Bank and only limited sovereignty over their own territory. The vast majority of Israeli settlements in the West Bank, which most of the world considers illegal, would remain. The Palestinians would not be given East Jerusalem as their capital and there would be no right of return for Palestinian refugees and their descendants.

The White House on Sunday denied that was its plan, saying it was still months away from finalizing a blueprint for peace, and the Saudi government denied that it supports those positions.

That left many in Washington and the Middle East wondering whether the Saudi crown prince was quietly doing the bidding of Mr. Trump, trying to curry favor with the Americans, or freelancing in order to put pressure on the Palestinians or to make any eventual offer sound generous by comparison. Or perhaps Mr. Abbas, weakened politically at home, was sending out signals for his own purposes that he was under pressure from Riyadh.

Even if the account proves incomplete, it has gained currency with enough players in the Middle East to deeply alarm Palestinians and raise suspicions about Mr. Trump’s efforts. On top of that, advisers have said the president plans to give a speech on Wednesday in which he would recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, even though both sides claim it, a declaration that analysts and regional officials say could undermine America’s role as a theoretically neutral broker. [Continue reading…]

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Kushner is leaving Tillerson in the dark on Middle East talks, sources say

Bloomberg reports: Secretary of State Rex Tillerson is increasingly alarmed by what he sees as secret talks between Jared Kushner, President Donald Trump’s son-in-law and senior adviser, and Saudi Arabian Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman — fearful that the discussions could backfire and tip the region into chaos, according to three people familiar with Tillerson’s concerns.

The central goal of the Kushner-Prince Mohammed negotiations, as described by two people with knowledge of the talks, is for an historic agreement featuring the creation of a Palestinian state or territory backed financially by a number of countries including Saudi Arabia, which could put tens of billions of dollars toward the effort.

A lasting Middle East peace treaty has been a U.S. goal for decades, and at the start of his administration Trump assigned the 36-year-old Kushner to head up the effort to make it happen.

Tillerson believes Kushner hasn’t done enough to share details of the talks with the State Department, according to the people, leaving senior U.S. diplomats in the dark on the full extent of the highly sensitive negotiations. [Continue reading…]

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Israel and U.S. race to prevent publication of UN settlement ‘blacklist’

The Associated Press reports: Weeks ahead of the expected completion of a U.N. database of companies that operate in Israel’s West Bank settlements, Israel and the Trump Administration are working feverishly to prevent its publication.

While Israel is usually quick to brush off U.N. criticism, officials say they are taking the so-called “blacklist” seriously, fearing its publication could have devastating consequences by driving companies away, deterring others from coming and prompting investors to dump shares of Israeli firms. Dozens of major Israeli companies, as well as multinationals that do business in Israel, are expected to appear on the list.

“We will do everything we can to ensure that this list does not see the light of day,” Israel’s U.N. ambassador, Danny Danon, told The Associated Press. [Continue reading…]

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