Tillerson: Trump weighs impact of embassy move on Middle East peace

US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson
Updated 15 May 2017
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Tillerson: Trump weighs impact of embassy move on Middle East peace

Jeddah: US President Donald Trump is pondering whether moving the US Embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem would help or hurt the prospect of an Israeli-Palestinian peace deal, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said Sunday, revealing the criteria Trump is following to reach a decision that will no doubt reverberate throughout the volatile Middle East.
“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.”
While the Israelis seemed dismayed by the new development, the Palestinians said it is a step in the right decision, one that has the potential to increase the chance of having peace negations resume between Palestinians and Israelis.
“We have been saying that we are willing to engage in peace talks and are ready to cooperate with Trump in his efforts to make a peace deal with the Israelis possible on the basis of the Arab Peace Initiative and the relevant international covenants,” Nabil Abu Rudeineh, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’ spokesman, told Arab News on Sunday.
“We welcome this new development and we are optimistic about the upcoming visit of the US president to Palestine, where he is expected to visit Bethlehem and meet with President Abbas. We want to see our country established on our sovereign territories with East Jerusalem as our state’s capital,” Abu Rudeineh said.
Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu, on the other hand, said in a statement that moving the US Embassy to Jerusalem would not harm the peace process, adding that he made his views in this regard clear during his previous meeting with the Trump administration.
Since taking office, Trump has backed away from his campaign pledge to move the embassy to Jerusalem, saying now that he is still studying the issue.
Tillerson linked Trump’s deliberations directly with his aspiration to broker peace in the Middle East.
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.”
As Trump prepares to depart Friday on his first foreign trip, his decision will be closely watched.
After stopping in Saudi Arabia, Trump will visit both Israel and the Palestinian territories, in a bid to strike the Israeli-Palestinian deal that has eluded his predecessors.
The status of Jerusalem is one of the most emotionally charged issues in the conflict between Palestinians and Israelis, with both sides laying claim to this city holy to all monotheistic religions.

Israel captured east Jerusalem — where Palestinians want to establish the capital of a future independent state — from Jordan in 1967 and annexed it, a move not internationally recognized.
In another sign that the White House is proceeding cautiously, David Friedman, Trump’s ambassador to Israel, 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 and undermine America’s status as an effective mediator.
There have been some signs that the Israeli government, while publicly supporting moving the embassy, has quietly raised concerns that doing so could enflame the political and security situation.


Prison becomes ‘second home’ for Turkish cartoonist

Updated 35 min ago

Prison becomes ‘second home’ for Turkish cartoonist

  • Unfailingly optimistic and modest, Kart refuses to be run down by his ordeals

ISTANBUL: Renowned Turkish cartoonist Musa Kart says he has spent as much time in prison and courthouses as he has at work since President Recep Tayyip Erdogan came to power.

His latest stint in jail started in April, after an appeals court upheld his sentence of three years and nine months for “helping terrorist organizations.”

Released last week pending another appeal, Kart told AFP: “For 15 years, prisons and courthouses have become a second home to me.”

Kart, who was recognized last year by the Swiss Foundation Cartooning for Peace, was among 14 journalists and staff from the renowned opposition paper Cumhuriyet convicted in the case.

He was initially arrested in 2016 after Erdogan launched a major crackdown on opponents in the wake of a failed coup.

“I have spent almost the same amount of time in court corridors as I spent in the paper. It is very unfortunate,” he told AFP.

Unfailingly optimistic and modest, Kart refuses to be run down by his ordeals, and says he always made an effort to look his best for prison visitors.

“I never welcomed my visitors in a hopeless state,” he said. “I would shave, pick my cleanest shirt from my modest wardrobe and welcome them with open arms. We would spend our time telling jokes.” His morale was boosted by the knowledge he had done nothing wrong.

“If you believe that your position is right, if you have an inner peace about your past actions, then it is not that difficult to stand prison conditions,” he said. Kart has been in and out of trouble since Erdogan took power in 2003.

His first lawsuit came in 2005 over a cartoon portraying Erdogan, then prime minister, as a cat entangled in a ball of wool.

“I have drawn cartoons for over 40 years ... I did it in the past with other political leaders, but I was never the subject of a court case,” Kart said. 

“The frame of tolerance has seriously narrowed today.”

The current case against him claims he contacted members of the Gulen movement accused of orchestrating the failed coup in 2016. 

It also says the 14 Cumhuriyet staffers had conspired to change the paper’s editorial policy to support the Gulenists, as well as Kurdish rebels and the ultra-left Revolutionary People’s Liberation Party-Front.

“Today the accusations of terrorism have gone well beyond a realistic point,” Kart said.

“When you take a look at my cartoons, you see how much I am against any kind of terrorist organization and how seriously and strongly I criticize them.”

Rights advocates including the Reporters Without Borders have called on Turkey to revise its anti-terrorism and defamation laws, which they claim are abused to silence opponents.

Cumhuriyet — Turkey’s oldest daily founded in 1924 — is not owned by a business tycoon but by an independent foundation, making it an easier target for authorities.

The paper’s former editor-in-chief Can Dundar fled to Germany after being convicted in 2016 over an article alleging that Turkey had supplied weapons to Islamist groups in Syria.

It has its own internal problems, too — Kart and some of the others actually quit the paper last year over disagreements with the new management.

But the case has added to the chilling effect that has infected the whole of the media in Turkey, which has the highest number of imprisoned journalists in the world.

No date has been set for the next appeal, and Kart has no idea how the saga will end.

“Everyone knows that there has been a political shadow hanging over our case,” he said.

Whatever happens, he said his focus would remain on drawing.

“Cartoons are really a very strong language because you can find a way to express yourself under any circumstances, even under pressure.”