Analysis: Jerusalem likely disappointed by Trump’s secretary of state pick
Nobody will admit it, but it is safe to assume Jerusalem was disappointed Tuesday when US President-elect Donald Trump announced the winner of his secretary of state sweepstakes.
It’s not because Jerusalem dislikes or does not trust Trump’s nominee, ExxonMobil CEO Rex Tillerson – policy makers in Israel, like those in most other non-oil producing countries, don’t know that much about him. It’s just that the Netanyahu government really liked some of the other candidates that were bandied about over the last five weeks: Rudy Giuliani, Mitt Romney and John Bolton.
Giuliani, Romney, Bolton – these are men that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has known for years and with whom he shares a similar world view. Tillerson, however, is a largely unknown quantity.
Jerusalem knows that Tillerson is close to Russian President Vladimir Putin, and that he has worked intensively in Arab countries with which ExxonMobil does business. But no one seems to have any idea about where he stands on issues such as the settlements, Jerusalem and the two-state solution.
Some are making assumptions, however, that because he was highly recommended for the position by former secretaries of state James Baker and Condoleezza Rice, and because he is reportedly close to former national security adviser Brent Scowcroft, that he doesn’t have a warm spot in his heart for either the settlement enterprise or Israel. But Tillerson has left no public record of comments on these issues to support that assumption. In short, his positions on the Mideast conflict are, at this point, anyone’s guess.
One thing it is important to keep in mind, said Danny Ayalon, a former Israeli ambassador to the US and deputy foreign minister, is that US secretaries of state “serve at the pleasure of the president, and we know that Trump is closer to Israel on issues like the settlements.”
Politicians on the Right have been regularly underplaying the threat of the International Criminal Court and slamming Israel’s internal lawyer take-over revolution as well as the Supreme Court for interfering in the Amona debate by telling them what is or is not legal.
Apparently some of this is for show and on Monday at the Knesset’s joint committee closed-to the media meeting on the Settlements Bill, some of the same politicians took the threat far more seriously, which will likely impact their votes.
The question is whether passing the Settlements Bill would change an ICC full criminal war crimes investigation into the settlement enterprise from a neutral or remote possibility to a much higher likelihood.
If the ICC went after the settlement enterprise for war crimes, Israeli defense ministers, housing ministers, local settlement councils and possibly others could be on the hook.
The assumption of those promoting a two-state solution is that the Arab neighborhoods of Jerusalem would serve as the capital of the Palestinian state that would be created as part of a peace settlement. We don’t know whether the Palestinians will ever take yes for an answer and accept a peace that would recognize the legitimacy of a Jewish state no matter where its borders are drawn. But no reasonable person can dispute that Israel will always keep Western Jerusalem and those Jewish neighborhoods that were built after 1967. The city is the country’s capital, and always will be.
To a Middle East novice like Trump, recognizing this is just common sense. But for the foreign policy establishment, doing so would be a grave mistake. It would prejudge the outcome of peace negotiations, their thinking goes, and would result in violent riots throughout the Arab and Muslim world with unforeseen consequences. Yet Trump, with his outsider’s viewpoint, may get that these dire predictions are self-fulfilling prophecies, and trap the U.S. in a policy that perpetuates the conflict rather than moving towards a solution. If peace is to be achieved, the Palestinians and their supporters must accept that the Jewish presence in Jerusalem will never be reversed or its history erased (as the Palestinians have sought to do in various United Nations resolutions that designate the Temple Mount and the Western Wall as exclusively Muslim shrines).
It would be foolish to pretend that an embassy move would not cause problems or lead to riots ginned up by Islamists who hate the U.S. as much as they do Israel. But the world will not come to an end if the U.S. sends a signal to the world Washington has finally understood that the conventional wisdom about Jerusalem has done more to encourage Palestinian intransigence than it has to promote a solution. The new embassy would also not preclude a two-state solution or make it harder to achieve assuming the Palestinians wanted peace since all it would do is to make it easier for U.S. diplomats to travel between their new offices (at an empty site owned by the U.S. that has been designated for that purpose for decades) and Israeli government institutions they deal with.
On Jerusalem and One China, Trump may not be playing by the existing diplomatic rules. But it’s time for even those who doubted his fitness for the presidency to admit that those rules don’t always make sense and changing them might do more good than harm.
Two-thirds of Palestinian Arabs believe a two-state solution to their conflict with Israel is no longer possible, a new poll released Tuesday finds, according to The Associated Press.
The number of those who have lost faith in the idea rose from 56 percent in September to 65 percent now, according to the poll by the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey research.
The poll was conducted last week among 1,270 Palestinian Arabs and had an error margin of three percentage points.
The survey also found that 54 percent have no faith in the newly elected leadership of Mahmoud Abbas’s Fatah movement. The vote at a last week’s Fatah congress affirmed aging party representatives in top jobs and was seen as a move to sideline Abbas’s exiled arch-enemy and rival, Mohammed Dahlan.
The poll comes a day after Abbas decided to strip four Palestinian Arab legislators seen as close to Dahlan of their parliamentary immunity, taking yet another step to prevent a Dahlan political comeback.
The Palestinian Authority (PA) government on Tuesday called for Israel to be prosecuted for alleged “war crimes” against Palestinian Arabs.
In a statement released following a meeting led by PA Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah, the government accused Israel of opposing the French peace initiative for an international peace conference, and acting to prevent it from taking place.
Israel indeed opposes the French initiative, but this is due to the fact that it says the only way to reach a peace agreement is through direct talks with the PA, which the PA refuses, choosing instead to impose preconditions on talks.
Tuesday’s statement by the PA government also claimed that Israel is seeking to thwart any international effort that would require it to comply with the decisions of international institutions, and is trying to gain time to further establish the “occupation”, expand “settlements” and continue the “Judaization” of Jerusalem.
The government also expressed its displeasure over the fact that the UN Security Council is failing to work to prosecute Israel for “war crimes” and “crimes against humanity”, and does not force an Israeli withdrawal to the pre-1967 borders.
France postponed the international peace conference which was supposed to take place on December 21 in Paris until the beginning of January, a top Palestinian official said.
“The conference was surprisingly postponed because they [France] said it had not completed all preparations…and some parties requested its postponement in order to participate in it,” the Palestinian Ambassador to France Salman Harfi told the Voice of Palestine, official PA radio, on Wednesday morning.
Harfi added that French officials informed him that the conference will now take place at the beginning of January.
The Palestinian leadership has vigorously lobbied for an international peace conference that includes multiple international parties, since the conclusion of the Iran nuclear deal in July 2015.
Harfi also said he is not certain if the Israeli and Palestinian sides will attend the conference.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Wednesday said he had asked the president of Kazakhstan to support Israel’s application for a non-permanent seat at the United Nations Security Council in 2019-2020.
During his visit, the first-ever to the Central Asian country by a sitting Israeli prime minister, Netanyahu also hailed Kazakhstan for being “the first Muslim country to embrace Israel” and said he hoped that Israel’s Arab neighbors would follow suit.
“My hope is, and I say this to all our friends, that the great partnership that we are building here will also be reflected in international forums like the UN. That’s beginning to happen. The ship doesn’t move overnight; we understand that, it’s a big ship. But it’s going to change, it’s changing already,” Netanyahu told President Nursultan Nazarbayev in Astana’s Akorda presidential palace during a joint appearance before the press.
It was in that context that he asked Azarbayev to support Israel’s bid for a seat in the Security Council, Netanyahu said, adding that Jerusalem backed Kazakhstan’s successful application to the Security Council. The former Soviet republic will take up its non-permanent seat on January 1, 2017. Kazakhstan — territoriality, the ninth-largest state in the world — traditionally follows the lead of its top ally, Russia, in supporting pro-Palestinian resolutions, a stance Netanyahu is keen to alter.
A police officer was stabbed in the head and lightly wounded in an attack in the Old City of Jerusalem on Wednesday, police said.
Another officer was also very lightly wounded in the attack. A 12-year-old resident of East Jerusalem who had a light head wound claimed he had also been attacked by the assailant. Police said they were still investigating the claim.
The assailant was shot and mortally wounded.
The attacker had approached a group of officers near the Austrian Hospice in the Muslim Quarter of the Old City. As he got close to them, he pulled out a screwdriver and attacked the officers, stabbing one in the head and the other in the upper body, police said.
In response, the officers opened fire, shooting the assailant.
According to police, he was a 21-year-old Palestinian man from the Palestinian village of Bayt Surik, northwest of Jerusalem, who entered Israel without a permit.
He was taken to Hadassah Hospital Mount Scopus in critical condition. After extensive CPR attempts, doctors pronounced him dead, a hospital spokesperson said.
An order outlawing a Turkish aid group accused of funneling money to Hamas and the Muslim Brotherhood was signed by Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman Wednesday.
The Istanbul-based International Kanadil Institute for Humanitarian Aid and Development is accused by Israeli authorities of sending money to organizations listed as terror groups by Jerusalem.
“The Kanadil foundation is identified with Hamas and with the Muslim Brotherhood and in recent years had been used as a main pipeline for funding projects by Hamas in Jerusalem,” Liberman’s spokesperson said in a statement.
The spokesman said the organization’s director and numerous employees are closely associated with Hamas and the Muslim Brotherhood.
The move comes days after Israel and Turkey re-established full diplomatic ties after a several-year freeze. Israel has criticized Turkey and its ruling AKP party for its continued support of Hamas, though the detente between the countries has moved forward despite Ankara’s backing of the group.
There was no immediate reaction from Kanadil or Turkey to the move.
Israeli security forces this week arrested four Palestinian minors from the West Bank suspected of throwing firebombs and making homemade weapons, police said Wednesday.
On Monday, IDF forces and police arrested two minors in the West Bank town of Beit Fajjar suspected of recently launching multiple rock and firebomb attacks at the nearby settlement of Migdal Oz, police spokeswoman Luba Samri said in a statement.
During their interrogation, police said, the pair confessed to belonging to an illegal weapons-making cell in their village.
Security forces returned to Beit Fajjar overnight Tuesday and arrested two more minors in connection to the operation.
Ammunition and various gun parts were seized during the arrest raid.
Police said the investigation into the four minors was ongoing. Their identities were not released.
Since a nearly year-long wave of terrorist attacks began in October 2015, Israeli security forces have carried out nightly arrests of Palestinians in the West Bank possessing weapons and involved in gun running.
The ISIS-affiliate terrorist group in Egypt has announced that its liaison to Hamas in the neighbouring Gaza Strip has been killed.
ISIS’s Sinai Province released a statement confirming the death of Hashem Abdel Aileh Kishtah, although it did not specify how he had died. It is thought that Kishtah, who is originally from Rafah in the Gaza Strip, was smuggled into Sinai via tunnels from Gaza to train operatives of Sinai Province on how to use sophisticated anti-tank missiles and explosives.
Although Hamas has not confirmed Kishtah’s membership, he is thought to have been a high-ranking official in the group’s Izz ad-din al-Qassam wing and was referred to as such in previous reports on Sky News Arabic and the German publication Der Spiegel. He has also been highlighted as a crucial go-between for Hamas and ISIS in Sinai by Israel’s Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories Maj. Gen. Yoav Mordechai.
The Israeli Air Force conducted three strikes in Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula this week, the ISIS-linked Amaq news agency reported on Tuesday, according to the Hebrew media outlet nrg.
The report said the strikes took place in the northern Sinai municipalities of El Arish and Sheikh Zuweid.
It was also reported that Abed Al-Aila Kishta — Hamas’ official liaison with ISIS in Sinai — was killed in recent days, but the cause of his death was not announced.
On Tuesday morning, air raid sirens sounded in a number of southern Israeli communities near the border with Egypt. According to media reports, a projectile launched from Sinai fell inside Egyptian territory. It was unclear whether it was aimed at Israel or was fired as part of fighting between ISIS fighters and Egyptian military forces in Sinai.
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani has declared that Iran will seek nuclear-powered ships. This comes after he alleged that the U.S. has violated the Iran nuclear deal. Let’s put aside the fact that if Rouhani believes the United States to be in violation of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, there is a procedure Iran must go through to walk away; Rouhani was never truly committed to the deal. He had
He had bragged about his deception during previous rounds of negotiation and once outlined a strategy by which he would lull Americans into complacency with dialogue before delivering a knock-out blow.
Nor is Iranian military bluster anything new. In September 2011, for example, Mansour Maghsoudlou, Iran’s head of naval research, said Iran would build aircraft carriers. That same month, Admiral Habibollah Sayyari said Iran would deploy into the Atlantic Ocean. In June 2012, Admiral Abbas Zamini, the technical affairs chief for the Iranian navy, said Iran would also construct nuclear submarines.
The latter statement, of course, predated Secretary of State John Kerry’s nuclear talks with Iran, but it also is potentially the most dangerous. The problem isn’t that Iran can actually build nuclear submarines—they can hardly manage their diesel submarines—but rather moral equivalency: Some U.S. nuclear submarines operate on highly-enriched uranium and so any nuclear-powered ship work might provide Iran with an excuse to enrich uranium to bomb-grade even without admitting that its goal is a nuclear weapon.
The problem here goes deeper than just the fact that Boeing is joining European companies in a Tehran gold rush whose ultimate impact will be to further empower a rogue Islamist state. It’s that the Iranian entities that will be doing business with the U.S. plane builder are terrorist-run companies. Iran’s aviation industry is largely under the control of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps, the regime’s terrorist arm. Doing business with the IRGC or anything or anyone connected with it is a blatant violation of U.S. law and nothing in the Iran deal supersedes that fact.
But Boeing, mindful of Trump’s emphasis on policies that will help U.S. workers, is seeking to sell its own Iran deal as a jobs program rather than a profit-making venture that will strengthen the world’s leading state sponsor of terrorism. Will Trump take the bait and give them a pass?
The next president has chosen as two of his top defense aides men who were fired from their positions by the Obama administration because of their refusal to go along with a policy of appeasement of Iran. Having generals James Mattis and Mike Flynn at the Department of Defense and the National Security Council ought to ensure that the new administration will be mindful of the threat from Tehran and ready to halt any efforts to revive Obama’s naïve effort to ignore the ayatollah’s quest for regional hegemony on their way to a nuclear weapon. This means the message to Boeing from Trump on Iran ought to be at least as tough as it was on Air Force One.
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said on Tuesday that because the “Zionist regime and its supporters” have paved the way for terrorism throughout the Middle East — causing Muslim states to be preoccupied with their own internal woes — the only recourse for the Palestinians was jihad against Tel Aviv, the semi-official state news agency Fars reported.
According to the report, Rouhani made this statement during a meeting in Tehran with the leader of the Gaza-based, Tehran-backed terrorist organization Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ), Ramadan Shalah. Refusing to refer to the Jewish state by name, Rouhani also said that, because world public opinion understands the “usurper regime” has never sought peace, the Palestinians can make a good case and have a strong argument for engaging in armed “resistance.”
Shalah, named by the US as a “Specially Designated Terrorist” — and placed on the FBI’s “most-wanted” list for conducting the affairs of the PIJ through bombings, murders, extortion and money-laundering — told Rouhani that he appreciated Iran’s support for the Palestinian people and “resistance groups,” a term used by radical Islamists to portray themselves as fighters for a cause, rather than terrorists.
As if to prove that he never “thinks twice” before engaging in hypocrisy and brutality, Erdogan launched a full-fledged military operation in the town of Jarablus, along the Turkey-Syria border, three days later. The purpose of the operation, code-named “Euphrates Shield,” was to wrest the area from Islamic State terrorists and Syria-based Kurdish militias affiliated with insurgents in Turkey. That the Kurds were also fighting Islamic State, and receiving U.S. aid to do so, was of no interest to Erdogan, who views them as a danger to his reign.
This is why his first reaction to Saturday night’s carnage was to blame the Kurds and their “Western” backers. His second was to impose a ban on news coverage of the event, and arrest a number of people who posted comments about it on social media. This is but one tiny example of Erdogan’s lack of genuine desire to stomp out terrorism.
Another was apparent at the end of last month. A week before Israel’s new ambassador to Turkey, Eitan Na’eh, presented his credentials in Ankara, Istanbul hosted the first annual conference of the association of “Parliamentarians for Al-Quds.” During the two-day gathering, Erdogan said, “Policies of oppression, deportation and discrimination have been increasingly continuing against our Palestinian brothers since 1948. Actually, I am of the belief that the Palestinian issue serves as a litmus test for the UN Security Council.”
Erdogan’s statement was a milder version of what he had said several days earlier, in an interview with Israel’s Channel 2: “I don’t agree with what Hitler did and I also don’t agree with what Israel did in Gaza,” he told interviewer Ilana Dayan. “Therefore there’s no place for comparison in order to say what’s more barbaric.”
Erdogan’s open assertion that the establishment of the Jewish state is responsible for its “Nazi-like” response to decades of Palestinian-Arab terrorism tells us all we need to know about his true attitude towards the slaughter of innocent people. It is he who is Turkey’s greatest tragedy.
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