Trump’s Mideast peace plan in limbo as Netanyahu visits

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is to meet his "true friend" Donald Trump in Washington on March 5, 2018 during a visit that will take him away from swirling accusations of personal corruption and a government crisis roiling the Israeli scene. (AFP)
Updated 05 March 2018
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Trump’s Mideast peace plan in limbo as Netanyahu visits

WASHINGTON: There’s much to celebrate but plenty of cause for trepidation, too, as President Donald Trump and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu meet Monday at the White House.
For all his talk about brokering the “ultimate deal” between Israelis and Palestinians, Trump’s long-awaited peace plan has yet to arrive, even as Palestinians and other critics insist it will be dead on arrival. And although Israel’s government is overjoyed by Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital — with a US embassy set to open in the holy city in May — misgivings are percolating under the surface over Iran, where Israel sees Trump’s efforts to date to crack down on Israel’s arch-enemy as lacking.
One major, growing concern: that the United States is acquiescing to Iran’s growing presence in Syria and influence in Lebanon — two Israeli neighbors.
“If we don’t come up with a strategy against Iran, we’re going to make Israel go to war here pretty soon,” Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., said Sunday on ABC’s “This Week.”
Swirling legal investigations distracting both leaders at home, and a stunning fall from grace for Trump’s son-in-law and would-be peace negotiator, Jared Kushner, have added to the mix of politics, personalities and historical grievances that have always hindered Israeli-Palestinian peace efforts. An already volatile situation now looks even more combustible than normal.
Netanyahu arrived in the United States over the weekend as Washington was gearing up for the annual conference of AIPAC, the powerful pro-Israel lobby. He planned to hold a meeting and working lunch with Trump on Monday before speaking at the conference later in the week. Top-ranking US officials including Vice President Mike Pence and UN Ambassador Nikki Haley will also address the conference.
In a poignant reminder of his troubles back home, Netanyahu and his wife were questioned separately by police for hours on Friday before the prime minister left the next day for Washington. Those interviews were part of an investigation into a corruption case involving the country’s telecom giant, and police have recommended indicting Netanyahu on corruption charges in two other cases as well.
The Trump family has legal problems of its own. Kushner, Trump’s point-man for the Mideast, is under intense scrutiny over his business dealings as special counsel Robert Mueller barrels forward with his Russia probe. Kushner has also been stripped of his top security clearance in another blow to his credibility as an international negotiator.
Kushner’s peace proposal is near completion, US officials have said, but Palestinians have already written off Trump’s administration as a viable mediator following his decision last year to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and move the US embassy there from Tel Aviv. A ribbon-cutting for an interim facility is being planned to coincide with the 70th anniversary of Israel’s independence.
Israeli Ambassador Ron Dermer, speaking at AIPAC on Sunday, said that the Jewish people will “forever” remember Trump’s decision.
But while the visit may give Trump a chance to bask in Israel’s delight, Netanyahu also comes with serious concerns to raise about the president’s broader approach on the Middle East.
Israel is increasingly worried that Trump is backsliding on a pledge to “fix” or dismantle the 2015 Iran nuclear deal. Of particular concern is that Trump may push new restrictions to prevent Iran from developing intercontinental ballistic missiles capable of hitting the US, but will allow Iran to keep developing medium-range ballistic missiles that could strike Israel.
The Europeans have balked at the possibility of medium-range missile restrictions, arguing that existing UN resolutions on Iran only focus on longer-range projectiles. US officials negotiating with Britain, France and Germany appear to agree with the Europeans, prompting the Israeli concern.
At least publicly, Israel is still giving Trump some political cover, while gently reminding the president that he’s long vowed to scrap the deal if it can’t be sufficiently strengthened.
“I have no doubt whatsoever that this president is willing to walk away,” Dermer said.


Case of slain Libyan rebel commander opens old wounds in oil producer

Updated 30 min 46 sec ago
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Case of slain Libyan rebel commander opens old wounds in oil producer

  • The unsolved killing of Abdel Fattah Younes by suspected fellow fighters in 2011 caused deep rifts inside the rebel camp
  • The investigation risks stirring new tensions between eastern Libya and a U.N.-backed administration in Tripoli

BENGHAZI: Eastern Libyan authorities have resumed an investigation into the unexplained killing of a top rebel commander in the 2011 uprising that toppled Muammar Gaddafi, a case that could reopen old wounds.
The unsolved killing of Abdel Fattah Younes by suspected fellow fighters in 2011 caused deep rifts inside the rebel camp of the kind that have marked the turmoil and violence gripping Libya ever since.
The investigation risks stirring new tensions between eastern Libya, controlled by the forces of General Khalifa Haftar, and a U.N.-backed administration in the capital Tripoli.
Haftar ordered the eastern military prosecutor to "immediately and urgently reopen the investigation" of the killing of Younes and two others slain in 2011, according to a decree posted late on Monday.
A previous investigation launched in 2011 had named as prime suspect Ali Essawi, who was deputy prime minister during the uprising at a rebel transitional authority which took over power from Gaddafi.
A court later dropped the case against Essawi and other suspects. But Essawi resurfaced into the spotlight when Tripoli-based Prime Minister Fayez appointed him as economy minister this month.
His appointment had sparked angry reactions from Younes's Obeidat tribe and a second eastern-based tribe, who warned in comments published on local media that the move was a provocation.
Both tribes are among the most powerful in the east and allied to Haftar, who has conquered most of eastern Libya.
The United Nations has been trying to mediate between east and west in a bid to overcome divisions and prepare the North African country for elections.
France had been pushing for the vote in December but recent fighting between rival groups in Tripoli and a lack of a constitutional basis has dimmed the prospect.
Younes was for years part of Gaddafi's inner circle.
He defected at the start of the uprising in February 2011 and became the military chief of the rebellion, a move opposed by other rebels who had suffered under the old regime.
His death caused deep rifts within the rebellion, exposing tensions between Islamists - whom Gaddafi fiercely suppressed during his 42-year dictatorship - and secularists and former army figures, with various factions accusing each other of responsibility.
The circumstances of his killing remain murky, but it is known that he was slain in July 2011 after rebel leaders summoned him back from the front line to Benghazi, the eastern city and cradle of the uprising.