Trump ‘may’ attend US Embassy opening in Jerusalem

Israel is overjoyed by US recognition of Jerusalem as its capital. (AP)
Updated 06 March 2018
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Trump ‘may’ attend US Embassy opening in Jerusalem

WASHINGON: Donald Trump said he may attend the opening of a controversial new US Embassy in Jerusalem, a fraught prospect designed to underscore close ties with Benjamin Netanyahu, as he hosted the Israeli leader at the White House on Monday.
The embattled US president warmly welcomed the embattled Israeli prime minister, claiming ties between their two countries had “never been better” as he floated a May trip that would be a major security and diplomatic challenge.
In the Oval Office, Netanyahu praised Trump’s decision to move the embassy to Jerusalem — which both Israel and the Palestinians claim as their capital.
Asked if he would take part in the planned ceremony, which will coincide with the 70th anniversary of Israel’s declaration of independence, Trump said “I may, we’ll be talking about that.”
“If I can, I will,” Trump added, “Israel is very special to me, special country, special people.”
Such a visit would risk pouring gasoline on an already enflamed situation and curb US claims to be an independent broker in the peace process.
Trump’s plan to move the US Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem this year has brought the two leaders closer together, but it has also infuriated Palestinians and was condemned by 128 states in a United Nations General Assembly vote in December.
But Monday’s meeting was all smiles at the White House as the two leaders — both facing serious legal investigations — put on a joint show of unity.
Hours before Netanyahu arrived at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, it was confirmed that an ex-aide agreed to become a state witness in a corruption probe that has imperiled his premiership.
The Israeli leader has embraced the Trumpian tactic of denouncing corruption allegations as “fake news.”
It is a method that Trump has honed in dealing with an investigation into whether his campaign team colluded with Russia during the 2016 US elections.
Several of Trump campaign aides are facing charges or have pled guilty to lying to FBI investigators.
Netanyahu’s visit while in Washington to the annual conference of the influential lobby group the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), will provide a boost for the right-wing Israeli leader as scandals and political turmoil brew at home.
Trump has offered unswerving support for Israel since coming to office, sharing Netanyahu’s determination to challenge Iran’s growing regional influence.
“I think they are partners in ideology, and the ideology is a populist, conservative ideology which says that the old liberal elites are against us,” said Gayil Talshir, a political scientist at Jerusalem’s Hebrew University.
The Middle East peace process grew even more complicated recently after Jared Kushner, the president’s son-in-law and one of his senior advisers, lost his top-secret security clearance.
But Netanyahu is not thought to be overly concerned about any delay in restarting the peace talks.
In his encounters with Trump and at the AIPAC conference, he was expected to focus mainly on Iran as Israel’s greatest enemy, and one he says seeks a permanent military presence in neighboring Syria.
The prime minister is also expected to call again for changes to, or the cancelation of, the nuclear accord between world powers and Iran, said Zalman Shoval, a former Israeli ambassador to Washington.


In Bahrain, US to launch economic part of Mideast peace plan amid skepticism

Updated 21 min 23 sec ago
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In Bahrain, US to launch economic part of Mideast peace plan amid skepticism

  • Two-day meeting billed as the first part of Washington’s long-delayed blueprint to revive the moribund Israeli-Palestinian peace process
  • But neither the Israeli nor Palestinian governments will attend the curtain-raising event

MANAMA/JERUSALEM: The first stage of President Donald Trump’s Middle East peace plan will be launched on Tuesday at a conference the White House touts as a bid to begin drumming up $50 billion in investment but which Palestinians deride as an “economy first” approach doomed to fail.
The two-day international meeting in Bahrain, led by Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, has been billed as the first part of Washington’s long-delayed broader political blueprint to revive the moribund Israeli-Palestinian peace process, which will be unveiled at a later date.
But neither the Israeli nor Palestinian governments will attend the curtain-raising event in the Bahraini capital, Manama.
There will be close scrutiny as to whether attendees such as Saudi Arabia and other wealthy Gulf Arab states show any interest in making actual donations to a US plan that has already elicited bitter criticism from Palestinians and many others in the Arab world.
Bahrain, a close American ally and home to the US Navy’s Fifth Fleet, has been making preparations for weeks.
Although the conference is supposed to focus on economics, Gulf Arab states hope their presence will also show their solidarity with the Trump administration over its hard-line against Iran, a senior Gulf diplomat said on condition of anonymity.
Under the plan, donor nations and investors would contribute about $50 billion over 10 years, with $28 billion going to the Palestinian territories — the Israeli-occupied West Bank and the Gaza Strip — as well as $7.5 billion to Jordan, $9 billion to Egypt and $6 billion for Lebanon.
Among 179 proposed infrastructure and business projects is a $5 billion transport corridor to connect the West Bank and Gaza.
“I laugh when they attack this as the ‘deal of the century,’” Kushner told Reuters, referring to the lofty nickname that Trump’s peace plan has assumed over the past two years.
“This is going to be the ‘opportunity of the century’ if they have the courage to pursue it.”
Kushner, a senior Trump adviser who like his father-in-law comes from the world of New York real estate, is presenting his plan in a pair of pamphlets filled with graphs and statistics that resemble an investment prospectus.
But pushing back against critics who accuse Kushner of trying to forge a strictly “economic peace,” he told Reuters last week: “A lot of past attempts have failed. Calm down ... and keep an open mind.”
Even so, expectations for success are low. The Trump team concedes that the economic plan — billed “Peace to Prosperity” — will be implemented only if a political solution to one of the world’s most intractable conflicts is reached.
Any such solution would have to settle long-standing issues such as the status of Jerusalem, mutually agreed borders, satisfying Israel’s security concerns and Palestinian demands for statehood, and the fate of Israel’s settlements and military presence in territory Palestinians want to build that state.
The Arab Peace Initiative offers Israel normal ties with the Arab world in exchange for a Palestinian state drawn along borders that predate Israel’s capture of territory in a 1967 war and a fair solution for Palestinian refugees. Israel has rejected some of the initiative’s main provisions.
Hanging over the entire initiative are persistent questions about whether the Trump team plans to abandon the “two-state solution,” a long-standing principle of Middle East peacemaking that involves creation of an independent Palestinian state.
But the Trump team has consistently refused to commit to it.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, a close Trump ally, has his own domestic problems, facing an election, and possible corruption charges after a long-running police investigation. He denies any wrongdoing.
“We’ll hear the American proposition, hear it fairly and with openness,” Netanyahu said on Sunday. Although no Israeli government ministers will attend, an Israeli business delegation is expected.
Palestinian leaders have boycotted the workshop, and are refusing to engage with the White House — accusing it of pro-Israel bias after a series of recent Trump decisions. Kushner told Reuters that “some” Palestinian businessmen would be present.
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, whose Palestinian Authority exercises limited self-rule in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, was scathing about its prospects of success.
“Money is important. The economy is important. But politics are more important. The political solution is more important,” he said.
Hamas, the Islamist militant group that controls Gaza, has found itself in rare agreement with its arch-rival Abbas. “The Palestinian people only and no one else can represent the Palestinian cause,” Hamas official Mushir Al-Masri said.
Kushner insists, however, that the economic plan is intended to help draw Palestinians back to the negotiating table by showcasing the benefits a peace deal could bring.
Kushner said that even without the Israeli and Palestinian governments represented, the presence of Israeli business executives and journalists with their Arab counterparts would be significant at a time of rising tensions with Iran.
“People realize that the real threat to that region is Iran and their aggression, and Israel and a lot of the other Arab states have a lot more in common today than they did before,” he said.
David Makovsky, a Washington-based Middle East expert, agreed that although the principal focus of the event was the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, “Iran is higher on the chain of interest right now.”
However, Makovsky, whom the White House has invited as an observer, said of the Trump-Kushner plan: “No one believes you can solve this thing economically without addressing the political issues.”