Senior member of Trump team said to tell Israelis: Western Wall is not your territory
In a bitter diplomatic incident, a senior member of the US delegation making preparations for Donald Trump’s visit to Israel next week angrily rejected a request that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu accompany the president when he visits the Western Wall, and then sniped at his Israeli counterparts that the Western Wall is “not your territory. It’s part of the West Bank,” Israeli television reported on Monday night.
An official at the Prime Minister’s Office confirmed the report, telling the Times of Israel that Israeli officials were “shocked” by the comments and have asked the Trump administration about the incident.
The official said that Netanyahu is certain that the comment does not reflect President Trump’s policy.
The Western Wall, part of the retaining walls of the ancient Temple compound, is the closest point of prayer for Jews to the site of the Temple itself and thus the Jewish people’s holiest place of prayer. It was captured along with the rest of the Old City and East Jerusalem in the 1967 war, and annexed by Israel as part of its united capital — a move not recognized internationally.
According to the Channel 2 report, the angry exchanges began when the Israeli team working with the American delegation asked whether Netanyahu could accompany Trump when he visits the Western Wall, a key expected stop on his May 22-23 visit to Israel and the West Bank. No serving US president has ever visited the Western Wall, because US policy has been that the final status of Jerusalem has yet to be resolved in Israeli-Palestinian negotiations.
The US delegation reportedly rejected the request for Netanyahu to join the visit, saying it would be “a private visit” by the president and that he would go on his own. The Israelis then asked whether a TV crew providing live coverage of the Trump visit could at least continue to film here there.
At this point, the TV report said, a senior American official rudely responded: “What are you talking about? It’s none of your business. It’s not even part of your responsibility. It’s not your territory. It’s part of the West Bank.”
These comments led to vociferous protests by the Israelis, with the discussion descending into shouting, and the Israelis reminding the US team that the Western Wall and adjacent area “is territory holy to Israel.”
In a statement reported by Channel 2, an official at the Prime Minister’s Office said that “the comment that the Western Wall is part of the West Bank was received with astonishment” but that “Israel is certain that the comment contradicts President Trump’s policy as expressed in his fierce opposition to the latest UN Security Council resolution” — a reference to UNSC Resolution 2334 from last December, which rejected Israeli rights in Jerusalem and which Trump publicly opposed. “Israel has asked the US about this,” the PMO official said.
Ironically, the angry exchanges were reported soon after Trump’s ambassador to Israel, David Friedman, arrived in the country and went immediately to the Western Wall, where he said he prayed for the president and for the success of next week’s visit. “We’re a bit tired, but we wanted to come straight to the holiest place in the entire Jewish world, the ‘Kotel Hama’aravi,’ the Western Wall, so we straight came here,” Friedman said in a filmed statement provided by the US Embassy, flanked by his wife Tammy and his daughter Talia.
“I had the opportunity to say some prayers,” Friedman said, for the health of his family — and for Donald Trump. “I prayed for the president, and I wished him success, especially on his upcoming trip. I hope we all wish him success. We hope it’s going to be an amazing trip.”
Friedman is scheduled to hand his letter of credence to President Reuven Rivlin Tuesday morning in Jerusalem, officially taking up the post of US ambassador to Israel.
The TV report quoted Israeli officials involved in the discussions with the Trump preparatory team describing them as “boorish” and “arrogant.” One was quoted saying of the presidential visit, “It’s the Trump. Everybody else is a mere extra, including Netanyahu.”
The unnamed Israeli officials were further quoted saying that the Trump team apparently considers “protocol to be merely a recommendation.” This was exemplified, they reportedly said, when the Trump team, at one stage of the preparations, told the Israelis that Trump could call on President Rivlin or visit the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial, but not both. In the event, the TV report said, Trump will go to the Holocaust museum for just 15 minutes.
The specifics of the visit have not yet been confirmed, but the White House has made clear that Trump will hold talks with both Netanyahu and Rivlin.
Earlier Monday, a senior official in Jerusalem said Netanyahu is looking to deliver a speech at Masada together with Trump during the president’s visit, but that the American delegation organizing Trump’s visit has expressed reservations about the idea.
The Monday night TV report said the Trump team had yet to respond definitively to the Masada request.
The Walla news site reported that the Prime Minister’s Office requested that Netanyahu give a speech of five to seven minutes alongside the US president. The prime minister is currently set give a few short remarks introducing Trump at the Judean Desert fortress, according to Walla.
While the speech at Masada will likely be the public centerpiece of his stay, the planned visit to the Western Wall would be unprecedented. Several US presidents have gone to the holy site, but only before or after holding their terms in office.
Trump’s visit comes amid efforts by the US president to renew long-dormant peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians.
The president, who has referred to an Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement as “the ultimate deal,” said earlier this month, when hosting Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, that he would be willing to play whatever role was needed to strike an accord.
It is not clear if Trump will use his trip to the region to unveil specific plans concerning peace talks, but the timing of the visit — coinciding with Jerusalem Day, when Israel will celebrate 50 years since capturing the east of the city during the 1967 Six Day War — has sparked speculation that he might use the trip make a major announcement regarding the city.
Over the course of his campaign, Trump repeatedly promised he would move the embassy, but since assuming office, he has seemingly stepped away from that pledge.
On Sunday, US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said that Trump is assessing whether moving the US Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem would help or hurt prospects for clinching an Israeli-Palestinian peace deal
“The president is being very careful to understand how such a decision would impact a peace process,” Tillerson said in an interview broadcast Sunday on NBC’s “Meet the Press.” He said Trump’s decision would be informed by feedback from all sides, “most certainly” including “whether Israel views it as helpful to a peace initiative or perhaps a distraction.”
Following Tillerson’s remarks, Netanyahu responded that the move would advance peace efforts.
“Israel’s position has been stated many times to the US government and to the world,” Netanyahu said. “Moving the US embassy to Jerusalem will not only not harm the peace process, it will advance it by correcting a historical wrong and by shattering the Palestinian fantasy that Jerusalem is not the capital of Israel.” (the Times of Israel)
Netanyahu: Israel unharmed by cyber attack but ‘everything could change’
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, at Sunday’s weekly cabinet meeting, addressed the global cyber attack that has affected nearly 100 countries across the world. Netanyahu stated that Israeli “critical infrastructure” remained entirely unharmed but warned that “everything could change”.
The prime minister highlighted recent Israeli efforts to combat the “new threat” of cyber attacks, including the establishment of Israel’s National Cyber Security Authority, and stressed the importance of investing “further resources in order to protect the State of Israel” from this new form of attack.
In order to ensure Israel’s preparedness against the ongoing threat, National Infrastructure, Energy and Water Minister Yuval Steinitz declared an increased state of cyber alert for the country’s energy and water infrastructure on Saturday afternoon.
Throughout the day Saturday, the Energy Ministry and the Israel Electric Corporation took preventative measures to protect and increase the readiness of the country’s infrastructure, in accordance with the pattern of attacks currently taking place around the world.
These activities were coordinated by the Energy Ministry’s cyber center, which was established a year ago in order to protect Israel’s energy networks from such types of attacks, the ministry said. The National Cyber Security Authority in the Prime Minister’s Office warned on Saturday night that over the past day, the WannaCry ransomware has been spreading to computers around the world through system loopholes.
However, it is possible to ward off these attacks by “immunizing” both organizational and private computers, a statement from the authority stressed. “The National Cyber Security Authority maintains constant contact with its global counterparts and security companies in Israel and around the world, in order to receive full information about the attack,” the statement said.
Capitalizing on spying tools believed to have been developed by the US National Security Agency, the cyber assault launched on Friday has infected tens of thousands of computers and systems. The most disruptive attacks were reported in Britain, where hospitals and clinics were forced to turn away patients after losing access to computers on Friday.
Finance ministers and central bank governors of seven leading world economies meeting for a G7 conference in Italy on Saturday were to pledge stronger cooperation against cyber crime, a draft communique showed. (Jerusalem Post)
PM: Embassy move will help peace by ‘shattering Palestinian fantasy’
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Sunday said moving the US Embassy to Jerusalem would boost peace efforts by impressing on the Palestinians the city is the capital of the Jewish state.
After US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said earlier Sunday that the Trump administration was evaluating whether relocating the US mission to Jerusalem would help or harm the peace process, Netanyahu released a statement arguing the move would advance peace efforts.
“Israel’s position has been stated many times to the US government and to the world,” Netanyahu said. “Moving the US embassy to Jerusalem will not only not harm the peace process, it will advance it by correcting a historical wrong and by shattering the Palestinian fantasy that Jerusalem is not the capital of Israel.”
On Thursday, Netanyahu said that all foreign embassies in Israel should be located in Jerusalem, chief among them the American embassy.
Since taking office, US President Donald Trump has backed away from his campaign pledge to move the embassy in a gesture to Israel, saying he’s still studying the issue. But Tillerson linked Trump’s deliberations directly to his aspirations for brokering Mideast peace.
“The president is being very careful to understand how such a decision would impact the peace process,” Tillerson said in an interview broadcast Sunday on NBC’s “Meet the Press.” He said Trump’s decision would be informed by feedback from all sides, including “whether Israel views it as helpful to a peace initiative or perhaps a distraction.”
Trump’s decision is being closely watched as the US president prepares to depart Friday on his first foreign trip. After stopping in Saudi Arabia, Trump will visit both Israel and the West Bank, in a nod to his nascent bid to strike the Israeli-Palestinian deal that has eluded his predecessors.
Jerusalem’s status is one of the most emotionally charged issues in the conflict, with both sides laying claims. Israel captured East Jerusalem — claimed by Palestinians for the capital of a future independent state — from Jordan in the 1967 war and annexed it, a move not internationally recognized.
US presidents of both parties have repeatedly waived a US law requiring the embassy be moved to Jerusalem. The most recent waiver — signed by former president Barack Obama — expires on June 1. Trump is seen as increasingly likely to sign a six-month renewal of the waiver before it expires, as he continues deliberating.
In another sign the White House is proceeding cautiously, Trump’s ambassador to Israel, David Friedman, plans to work out of the current embassy in Tel Aviv rather than out of the US Consulate in Jerusalem, as some had urged him to do. Friedman, who owns an apartment in Jerusalem, is expected to live in the US ambassador’s official residence in the Tel Aviv suburb of Herziliya.
Palestinians argue that moving the embassy would prejudge one of the most sensitive issues in the conflict, undermining America’s status as an effective mediator. There have been some signs that the Israeli government, while publicly supportive of moving the embassy, has quietly raised concerns that doing so could inflame the political and security situation.
Earlier on Sunday, Education Minister Naftali Bennett urged Netanyahu to push Trump about transferring the embassy to Jerusalem. Bennett, who leads the nationalist Jewish Home party, also stated the move would help peace, saying it would help cement the unity of the city under Israeli control, whereas “any agreement based on dividing Jerusalem is doomed to fail.” (the Times of Israel)
Convicted murderer of six Israelis elected as Palestinian mayor of Hebron
Tayseer Abu Sneineh, the convicted murderer of six Israelis, was reportedly elected mayor of the West Bank city of Hebron on Saturday as head of the Fatah Party list.
Abu Sneineh was one of four Palestinians behind the murder of six Israeli yeshiva students in 1980.
The students, included two American citizens and a Canadian national, were part of a group that had danced from the Cave of the Patriarchs to Beit Hadassah in Hebron when Abu Sneineh and his terror cell opened fire. The six students were killed and 16 others were wounded.
The Palestinians were convicted of murder and sentenced to life in prison but were later released in various prisoner exchanges Israel carried out throughout the 1980s. Tayseer Abu Sneineh was released in a prisoner swap in 1983.
In response to the election, deputy head of the Shomron Regional Council Davidi Ben Sion called on President Donald Trump to cancel his planned meeting with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.
“No one is surprised that the Palestinian Authority educates for murder, encourages terrorism and that the murderers are their cultural heroes and the leaders of their younger generation,” Ben Sion said. “So what’s new? In a week and two days Donald Trump Will be landing in Israel and according to media reports he is likely to push for some kind of diplomatic process between Israel and the Arabs, the same Arabs who today elected a mayor and a murderer. Mr. President if I were you, I would not be humiliated. if you have self-respect, reconsider your visit to Abbas who denies the Holocaust and encourages murder.” (Jerusalem Post)
Netanyahu blasts ‘despicable’ burning of IDF soldier in effigy
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Sunday condemned the burning in effigy of an Israeli soldier in the ultra-Orthodox Jerusalem neighborhood of Mea She’arim, calling it a “despicable act.”
Netanyahu, speaking at a cabinet meeting, said that it was incumbent upon all lawmakers to denounce Saturday’s incident.
“I expect, request and demand from all public leaders to denounce this despicable act and I also request that the police find those responsible,” he said.
Netanyahu added that the incident was an attempt by an “extremist faction” to harm ultra-Orthodox soldiers.
“An extremist faction of the ultra-Orthodox community, albeit a marginal [one], a faction identified with Neturei Karta, burned effigies of IDF soldiers with IDF uniforms with Israeli flags in order to harm ultra-Orthodox soldiers,” he said, referring to a radical anti-Zionist ultra-Orthodox group.
“IDF soldiers protect all of us, including the ultra-Orthodox and including these people” behind the burning, he added.
Video and photos of the incident from Saturday evening showed a masked man holding a life-sized puppet-like effigy of a soldier over a bonfire with a long stick.
It was dressed in an army shirt emblazoned with the name of the Sayaret Matkal elite commando unit on the back. A beard had been drawn on the face of the doll in an apparent attempt to make it look like an ultra-Orthodox soldier.
The crowd, including a number of children, cheered and clapped as the effigy caught fire.
The incident took place as part of celebrations for Lag B’Omer, the traditional date of the death of Rabbi Shimon Bar Yohai, a first-century CE sage, which is marked with celebrations and bonfires.
Ultra-Orthodox Jews burn an Israeli flag during Lag B’Omer celebrations in the ultra-orthodox neighborhood of Mea She’arim in Jerusalem on May 13, 2017.
Echoing Netanyahu, Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman called on the police to take action against the perpetrators.
“The burning of effigies of IDF soldiers was an embarrassing and grave incident that calls for a firm and uncompromising police action and clear condemnation by the heads of the ultra-Orthodox community,” he said on Twitter.
Interior Minister Aryeh Deri, whose Shas party represents many in the ultra-Orthodox community, called the incident “condemnable and outrageous.”
“We need to fight this difficult phenomenon and demand the police catch those involved,” he wrote on Twitter.
Yesh Atid chair Yair Lapid criticized the government for a weak response to the recent provocations. The government “can no longer remain silent in the face of this craziness,” he said in a statement released before Sunday’s cabinet meeting.
“This is not a battle between the ultra-Orthodox and the secular. A vast majority of ultra-Orthodox Jews are shocked and disgusted, as are all Israeli citizens, at these acts,” he said.
Lapid is viewed with antagonism by many in the ultra-Orthodox community due to his efforts to end draft exemptions for yeshiva students while finance minister in the last government. Three years ago, in a similar incident, protesters burnt an effigy of Lapid during Lag B’Omer celebrations.
The incident is the latest in which ultra-Orthodox Jews have incited against members of the community who join the Israeli military. The ultra-Orthodox have also held dozens of demonstrations to protest mandatory enlistment of religious Jews, following decades in which they were allowed to avoid conscription.
In March, effigies of IDF soldiers were found hanging by the neck in prominent locations in Mea She’arim, one of which had a sign attached to it that read “hardak out,” a derogatory term for ultra-Orthodox Jews who join the army and which sounds similar to the Hebrew words for insect and germ.
Police said at the time of the incident that one of the figures was taken to a police laboratory for forensic testing and that police requested that the State Attorney’s Office open an investigation for incitement A police spokeswoman said that the investigation is ongoing and refused to comment on whether any arrests have been made.
A religious IDF soldier was also attacked last month by a mob of ultra-Orthodox Jews during a rally in support of two draft dodgers from their community who, at the end of a short furlough, were driven back to military prison in a white stretch limousine.
Dozens of protesters threw debris and shouted curses at the soldier, who was wearing a yarmulke, as hundreds chased him along a street at the Bar Ilan intersection in Jerusalem. A cellphone video of the attack showed the soldier as he was hounded by dozens of noisy demonstrators.
The soldier escaped unhurt from the incident.
The arrest and imprisonment of ultra-Orthodox draft dodgers has raised tensions in the community and a recent series of large demonstrations against the induction of ultra-Orthodox people into the army saw violent clashes between demonstrators and police.
Some segments of ultra-Orthodox society refuse to recognize the State of Israel and oppose Zionism, because of their belief that the establishment of a Jewish state should only come after the arrival of the Jewish Messiah. Many ultra-Orthodox Jews do not serve in the Israeli army and run their own educational system, but receive a variety of grants from the government.
Mea She’arim is a stronghold of Neturei Karta and other anti-Zionist ultra-Orthodox groups. It is not clear from the video which ultra-Orthodox sect participated in the burning. (the Times of Israel)
A New Underground Reality Is Taking Shape Along the Gaza-Israel Border
Increased pressure from Abbas could push Hamas to try to pull off a cross-border raid | Israel’s massive anti-tunnel barrier is causing Hamas to up its posts on the other side − which isn’t necessarily bad
by Amos Harel Ha’aretz
In recent weeks, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas has been gradually ramping up the pressure on the Hamas government in the Gaza Strip. One punitive measure has followed another: ceasing to pay the tax on imported fuel, slashing salaries by one-third for 45,000 civil servants in Gaza who are still paid by the PA, ceasing to pay for Gaza’s electricity from Israel.
Israeli defense officials are still having trouble explaining the change in Abbas’ approach, given that for the past decade, ever since Hamas seized power in the Strip, he hasn’t confronted the organization directly. “The chick still hasn’t sprouted feathers,” then-Prime Minister Ariel Sharon said of Abbas in 2003. But now that the chick has turned 82, something has evidently changed.
One possible explanation is that Abbas believes Hamas will ultimately face an internal uprising – a hope shared by some Israelis. The idea is that Gazans will take to the streets, just like the Egyptians who flooded Cairo’s Tahrir Square six years ago, and bring down Gaza’s Islamist government.
So far, however, there are no signs of this happening. Last winter, when there were similar problems with the power supply, a wave of protests briefly erupted, but Hamas was able to suppress them.
This spring the picture is a bit different. The severe power shortage is mainly affecting public institutions like hospitals and schools. Many Gazans, used to disruptions in the power supply, have bought private generators. Running a generator costs a lot of money but it still might not be enough to push Gazans to the end of their rope.
Even if the people do lose patience, it’s hard to see Hamas’ leaders giving up on their greatest project, the Islamist government they’ve run in Gaza since May 2007. Instead, if the pressure increases, they’re likely to seek another way out of the trap.
One option might be to encourage the people to launch “spontaneous” demonstrations along the border with Israel in an effort to divert the anger toward Israel (any harsh response by Israeli soldiers would further inflame the situation). Another alternative is military action − a cross-border raid via a tunnel or otherwise, which would divert the public’s attention away from Hamas’ responsibility for its people’s distress.
This distress is worsening even as Hamas, which collects tax on every bit of merchandise that enters the Strip, is still devoting most of its available cash to building up its military capabilities. The number of trucks bringing goods from Israel and the West Bank into Gaza averaged more than 1,000 per day this week – five times the daily average before the last Hamas-Israel war in the summer of 2014.
A new reality is taking shape along the Gaza-Israel border. Quietly, Israel has begun building a new barrier against cross-border tunnels. The barrier combines an underground wall, an above-ground fence and a complex system of sensors and monitoring devices. The work began in a few short stretches near northern Gaza and is supposed to kick into high gear in the coming months.
Hamas is watching closely. Inside Gaza, about 300 meters (328 yards) from the border, the organization has significantly increased its number of lookout posts. Almost always, when cranes and drills appear on the Israeli side, lookout posts spring up on the Palestinian side.
This isn’t necessarily bad from Israel’s standpoint. Hamas’ “border patrol” takes pains to prevent infiltrators from crossing into Israel. It arrests most of them and in one recent case even opened fire on a Palestinian who tried to enter Israel. Senior Israeli officers say Hamas is also striving to prevent rocket fire.
The Hamas outposts also help the army retaliate immediately if a rocket or gun is nevertheless fired at Israel. That is, the outposts become targets that Israel attacks on the grounds that Hamas is responsible for everything that happens in the territory it controls.
Evidently, Hamas also understands the rules of the game. Otherwise it’s hard to explain why almost nobody has been hurt in these Israeli punitive strikes.
It’s clear that a massive engineering project has been launched along the Gaza border. The barrier will only be about 65 kilometers (40 miles) long, roughly a quarter the length of the fence along the Israeli-Egyptian border, but the work on the Gaza border is incomparably more complicated.
When historians and geographers study Israel’s borders over the last two decades, they’ll discover that a little-known figure influenced the topography more than all the leaders and generals put together. That man is Brig. Gen. Eran Ophir, head of the army’s fence-building administration. Following the separation barrier in the West Bank, the fence along the Egyptian border and the one in the Golan Heights, Ophir is now focusing on the barrier along the Gaza frontier.
Trump enters Mideast cycle of hope and disappointment
By Seth J. Frantzman The Jerusalem Post
When Donald Trump took office in January many parts of the world looked askance at the new US leader. He had offended Mexico, seemed ready to ditch NATO and cozied up to euroskeptics. China was nonplussed at his critiques of its trade policy. But in the Middle East the rise of Trump was greeted with optimism. Praise and high hopes for Trump came from across the spectrum, from left-wing Kurdish fighters in Syria to the Israeli right wing, from Ankara to Cairo.
However, as Trump prepares his first foreign foray, with a focus on the Middle East, he faces what every US administration before his has. Great expectations and the inevitable disappointment. Many parts of the Middle East have a unique love-hate relationship with Washington. They see the US as both the Mr. Fix-It which, with the wave of a hand, can make all problems disappear, and they blame America for many of the problems in the region.
This perception of the United States as both all-powerful and a conspiratorial scapegoat for everything can be seen from conversations on the street of any major Middle Eastern capital and in discussion with policy-makers and in the op-ed pages of local media. Trump is already ruffling feathers in Israel with his backpeddling on promises to move the US Embassy, and in Turkey there is concern over the US Defense Department’s decision to up the arming of Syrian Kurdish fighters opposing Islamic State.
Many countries in the Middle East had laundry lists of grievances with the Obama administration. High hopes that he might bring peace in the Israel-Palestinian conflict were dashed. In Egypt Obama was initially praised for welcoming the Arab Spring in 2011, but then accused of embracing the Muslim Brotherhood. After mass protests in 2013 and the toppling of the Brotherhood by Gen. Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, public and officials accused Obama of fomenting chaos in the country and the region and seeking to turn Egypt into another Syria or Libya.
The Bashar Assad regime opposed Obama’s policy of training and support for Syrian rebels. At the same time the rebels accused the US of selling them out or not doing enough to oppose Assad. Once the US carved out a close alliance with the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG), the US began to alienate Turkey. Saudi Arabia was incensed with the US support for the Iran nuclear deal, and in 2016 when Obama visited the king refused to meet him on the tarmac, which was interpreted as a snub. Anger at the US soft approach to Iran was common across the Gulf states. In the Palestinian territories protesters greeted Obama in 2013 with shoes as a symbol of contempt and posters reading “No hope.”
Now Trump wades into all this. With the exception of Iran, which is wary of Trump’s boasting he would tear up the nuclear deal (he has now gone back on that), people and leaders in the region welcomed Trump’s inauguration. This seems counterintuitive because of the candidate’s anti-Muslim comments. But there is a regional tendency to downplay the comments and marvel at Trump the man. He is sometimes seen as a classically Middle Eastern leader; brash, manly, and his supposed success in business is admired. For instance the “Muslim ban” was not greeted with the usual protests in the region, primarily because most US allies did not fall under the initial ban, except Iraq, which the second iteration of the ban left off the list.
Saudi Arabia forecasts a strengthened US alliance after feeling the Obama administration gave Riyadh a cold shoulder. Turkey saw new light in Washington and hopes the Trump administration would extradite Fethullah Gulen. Erdogan even appeared to praise Trump’s rough treatment of major media. Jordan’s King Abdullah, after two visits to Washington, has hit off a close relationship with Trump. Abdel Fattah al-Sisi believes the new US administration will give support in its fight against terrorism and tone down critiques about human rights. In his May 3 meeting with Trump, Palestinian President Mahmud Abbas was effusive. “I believe that we are capable under your leadership and your stewardship to – your courageous stewardship and your wisdom, as well as your great negotiating ability… to bring about a historic peace treaty.” Israel’s right leaning government also initially thought Trump was a blessing who would allow it to do whatever it wanted in the West Bank.
Now comes the inevitable disappointment, just as the region turned on previous US administrations despite initial embraces. The Kurds in Syria may force the US into conflict with Turkey. Jerusalem will be annoyed that Trump actually wants a peace deal. The Palestinians will be disillusioned. The Syrian rebels, who celebrated the April 7 Tomahawk missile strikes on Assad, will find that the US won’t do enough for them. Riyadh and Cairo may eventually find the administration less supportive than they thought.
Trump told Time magazine on Thursday, “I’m getting very good marks in foreign policy.” While his administration appears to be in total chaos in Washington in the last weeks, it is still trying to manage a coherent strategy abroad. Success in that strategy should mean tamping down expectations, or the US president will find himself in the same position as all his predecessors in the Middle East. Loathed for trying and loathed for not doing enough.
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