Friday, May 19, 2017

MidEast Twilight Zone: Arab Countries Ponder Israel Ties

The Changing Reality of Arab-Israeli Ties - Evelyn Gordon (Commentary)
  • The Wall Street Journal reported on that Saudi Arabia and the UAE have grown tired of having their relationship with Israel held hostage to the Palestinian problem, and are discussing a proposal to normalize certain types of commercial relations with Israel in exchange for Israeli gestures toward the Palestinians.
  • In exchange for Israel freezing settlement construction in "certain areas" of the West Bank and relaxing its blockade of Gaza, the Arabs would establish direct telecommunication links with Israel, let Israeli aircraft overfly their countries, lift certain trade restrictions and perhaps grant visas to Israeli athletes and businessmen.
  • Even if the proposal goes nowhere, these details are significant. They show that Arab leaders are no longer willing to give the Palestinians (or Syria) a veto over their relations with Israel.
  • The last time Arab states proposed normalization with Israel (in the Saudi-sponsored Arab Peace Initiative of 2002), they conditioned it on Israel signing final-status agreements with both the Palestinians and Syria and withdrawing completely to the 1949 armistice lines.
  • The very fact that this proposal is being openly discussed shows that Arab-Israeli relations are thawing at a faster pace than anyone would have predicted a few years ago.

Thursday, May 18, 2017

Tobin Calls Trump A Wimp

Trump has moved from outsider to wimp - Jonathan Tobin [pictured]

[O]n foreign policy and specifically his attitude toward Israel and Jerusalem, Trump the outsider has become Trump the wimp.

Perhaps those who expected Trump to be the first president to make good on the promise to move the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem were kidding themselves. But Trump not only said it repeatedly; his first major Middle East appointment indicated he meant business. By naming attorney David Friedman, ardent supporter of Israel, as his ambassador to the Jewish state, the president was signaling the foreign-policy establishment that he wouldn’t be playing by their rules.

[O]n the eve of Trump’s visit to Israel next week, the administration confirmed that the embassy won’t be moved anytime soon — and that Trump isn’t even prepared to acknowledge that the Western Wall is part of the Jewish state. When the Israeli government asked to have Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu accompany Trump to the Wall, they were shot down and reportedly told that as far as the Americans were concerned, the holy site was part of the West Bank.

Though the White House disavowed that comment, the assurance rang false when National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster wouldn’t say if he thought the Wall was in Israel.

Part of the problem is that Trump has come under the influence of mainstream figures like McMaster, Secretary of Defense James Mattis and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson. With respect to issues like NATO, they are giving Trump good advice. But on Israel, they may be feeding him the same myths that drove Obama to put pressure on the Jewish state rather than the Palestinians.

He may be different from previous presidents, but like them he has allowed himself to be bamboozled by a Palestinian leader.

Trump seems to have believed the Palestinian Authority’s Mahmoud Abbas when he claimed he opposed terror and the anti-Semitic incitement that fuels the conflict, even though Abbas continues to subsidize terrorists and anti-Israel propaganda in PA schools and media. Yet rather than holding Abbas accountable, Trump is leaving in place the old policy on Jerusalem so as to avoid antagonizing his new friend.

The problem here isn’t just that Trump’s ego has gotten the better of his judgment.

Moving the embassy or recognizing that Jerusalem is part of Israel may generate violence in the Muslim world. But by adhering to the same discredited policies that don’t recognize that Jerusalem is Israel’s capital and that for the first time in history the city’s holy places are open to all faiths, Trump is going to get the same disastrous results as Obama.

So long as the Palestinians are allowed to get away with delegitimizing Jewish rights even at the Western Wall, they won’t make peace.

Only by forcing them to accept the reality of Jewish Jerusalem will they come to grips with the legitimacy of a Jewish state no matter where its borders are drawn. Reinforcing their delusions, as Trump has done, will make peace even less likely.
[New York Post]

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

US Finally Treats Kurds as Proper Ally

U.S. to Arm Syrian Kurds over Turkish Objections
- Michael R. Gordon and Eric Schmitt

President Trump has approved a plan to arm Syrian Kurds with heavy machine guns, mortars, anti-tank weapons, and armored cars so they can participate in the battle to retake Raqqa from the Islamic State, a strategy that has drawn deep opposition from Turkey.

American military commanders have long argued that arming the YPG, a Kurdish militia fighting against the Islamic State, is the fastest way to seize Raqqa, the capital of the militants' caliphate. A high-level delegation of Turkish officials was informed of the decision by Lt. Gen. H. R. McMaster, the U.S. national security adviser, when they visited the White House. 
(New York Times)

Friday, May 05, 2017

Trump Offers "Arab Umbrella"

Trump's Approach: Figure Out the Details Later
- Brian Bennett and Tracy Wilkinson

President Trump hosted Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas at the White House and told him, "I've always heard that perhaps the toughest deal to make is the deal between the Israelis and the Palestinians; let's prove them wrong." Despite the opening flourishes of praise and goodwill, the meeting between Trump and Abbas was expected to become more uncomfortable behind closed doors, as the administration laid out a series of demands.

The White House went out of its way to build up Abbas during the visit, giving in to requests for a lunch with Trump beyond their meeting, as well as that the Palestinian flag be placed behind Trump while the two leaders made statements about the visit, a person close to the White House said.

The White House felt that giving Abbas those symbolic concessions would help create an opening to demand that Abbas shut down terror incitement, stop payments by the Palestinian Authority to the families of those killed or imprisoned in terrorist attacks against Israelis, refrain from lobbying the UN for additional resolutions against Israel, and get on board toward a peace deal. 
(Los Angeles Times)

Palestinians Reject Trump's Request to End Terrorists' Payments
- Yasser Okbi

Nabil Shaath, a senior foreign policy adviser to PA President Mahmoud Abbas, described President Trump's appeal to halt payments to convicted terrorists or their families as "mad" during an interview with Israel Radio, Maariv reported. Shaath added, however, his "appreciation" for Trump's "respectful" approach in an attempt to relaunch the peace process. 
(Jerusalem Post-Maariv Hashavua)

Palestinians Delight in Warm Trump Welcome But Have Cause for Concern
- Avi Issacharoff

The meeting between President Donald Trump and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas at the White House was "very pleasant," senior Palestinian officials said. "He was very sympathetic," and "the atmosphere was excellent and warm." Yet the Palestinian side has cause for concern on the morning after. Legislation is making its way through the U.S. Congress to stop aid to the PA if it continues to pay salaries to families of security prisoners.

Meanwhile, Al-Hayat in London reported that Trump had promised Abbas an Arab "political umbrella" - Saudi, Egyptian and Jordanian backing - if the PA leader agreed to enter talks with Israel.
(Times of Israel)

Trump Approach to the Palestinian Arena
- Brig.-Gen (res.) Yossi Kuperwasser

There is no real difference between the narratives of Hamas and the PA. Both deny the existence of a Jewish people and any sovereign Jewish history in the Land of Israel, both consider Zionists colonizers. Both see as their ultimate and uncompromising goal the liberation of all of "Palestine" and are committed to the so-called "right of return." The only tactical differences are about the attitude toward the Oslo agreements (Hamas opposes them, the PA accepts them but ignores Palestinian obligations under them).
The writer was formerly director general of the Israel Ministry of Strategic Affairs and head of the Research Division of IDF Military Intelligence.
(Jerusalem Post)

Emerging U.S. Policy on Israeli-Palestinian Peace - Daniel B. Shapiro

On their visits to Washington, leaders of key Arab states - Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, and the Gulf states - were showered with praise by President Trump as key partners in the campaign against ISIS. Arab leaders are ecstatic about Trump's tough rhetoric toward Iran and deep skepticism toward the nuclear deal signed by the Obama administration. In turn, Washington has advocated a regional approach to reinvigorating Israeli-Palestinian negotiations, in which the Arab states would contribute by making gestures of normalization toward Israel and encouraging the Palestinians to show flexibility at the negotiating table.

The issue of ending Palestinian Authority payments to terrorist prisoners and their families has gained new currency in Washington, where the murder of U.S. Army veteran Taylor Force by a Palestinian terrorist in 2016 has galvanized bipartisan Congressional efforts to condition assistance to the Palestinians on an end to these payments.
The writer is a former U.S. ambassador to Israel.

Abbas Lies to Trump, Big Time - Noah Pollak

[A]t the White House, PA President Mahmoud Abbas claimed, "We are raising our a culture of peace." In his campaign speech to AIPAC, Trump said: "In Palestinian textbooks and mosques, you've got a culture of hatred that has been fomenting there for years." But Abbas denied that any such concerns are legitimate or true. Please forget all those videos you've seen of Palestinian kindergarteners declaring their greatest ambition in life is to stab a Jew. The lie Abbas told President Trump to his face told the president almost everything he needs to know about the man he is relying on as his partner.

(Washington Free Beacon)

The New "Softer" Hamas
- Kobi Michael

Hamas is not changing its stripes. Hamas was, and remains, a radical Islamic militant organization and a branch of the Muslim Brotherhood that ideologically rejects the right of Israel to exist. The purported updates to its charter that have been leaked so far are nothing more than political acrobatics by Hamas leaders who are attempting cosmetic changes for political gain.

By appearing to soften its position and temporarily accept a Palestinian state within the 1967 lines, political leader Khaled Maashal is maneuvering Hamas for an inside takeover of the Palestine Liberation Organization - the umbrella group headed by Abbas. At the same time, the leaked information came from Lebanon, not Gaza, where the new leadership of Yahya Sinwar, known for his militancy, has said nothing about softening any Hamas positions against Israel.

The new text rejects the three basic requirements set by the Middle East Quartet for Hamas to end its isolation as a terrorist organization: accept previously signed accords, reject violence and recognize Israel.
The writer is former deputy director general of Israel's Ministry of Strategic Affairs and a senior research fellow at the Institute for National Security Studies at Tel Aviv University.

Trump’s tragic mistake - Caroline Glick

[B]y embracing Abbas and the PLO, Trump empowered Hamas. He signaled to Hamas – and to every other terrorist group in the Middle East – that to receive international support, including from his administration, all you need to do is say that you are willing to follow the PLO’s dual strategy of engaging simultaneously in terrorism and political warfare and subterfuge.

There is no upside to Trump’s move. It will not bring peace. It harms prospects for peace by empowering Abbas and his terrorist henchmen.
[Jerusalem Post]