Saturday, May 20, 2017

EXCLUSIVE: Abbas to offer large-scale land swap with Israel in Trump talks

Palestinian Authority ready to exchange three times as much territory as previously discussed, official tells MEE ahead of Trump visit to West Bank


Donald Trump meeting Mahmoud Abbas in the Oval Office of the White House in early May 2017 (AFP)
Lubna Masarwa's picture
Last update: 
Sunday 21 May 2017 0:06 UTC
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas will be presenting a plan that involves the Palestinians giving up 6.5 percent of their lands to Israel, three times as much as previously offered, during US President Donald Trump visit to the West Bank on Tuesday, Middle East Eye can reveal.
The proposal excludes Jerusalem and appears to cement the vision of former Israeli prime minister Ehud Olmert for a Palestinian-Israeli peace settlement, a Palestinian official close to the Palestinian Liberation Organisation (PLO) told Middle East Eye.
“The Palestinian side will be presenting [during the meeting with Trump] a new vision which is quite detached from that of the majority of the Palestinian people,” the source told MEE. “This vision is based on exchanging a lot of Palestinian lands.”
“Previous discussions about a Palestinian-Israeli settlement revolved around the exchange of only 1.9 percent of the lands, but now we are talking about more than triple that amount,” said the source.
Palestinian worshippers pray near the Dome of Rock shrine at the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound before the Friday prayer in Jerusalem's Old City (AFP)
Abbas had reportedly rejected an offer from Israel’s Olmert during the failed 2008 peace talks for a near-total withdrawal from the West Bank - proposing that Israel retain 6.3 percent of the territory in order to keep control of major Jewish settlements, reported the Times of Israel in 2015.
Previous discussions revolved around the exchange of only 1.9 percent of the lands. Now we are talking about more than triple that amount
- Palestinian official close to PLO
Abbas met Trump in Washington in early May for their first face-to-face talks. According to Israeli newspaper Haaretz, Abbas urged Trump at the time to restart peace talks under the 2008 offer made by then-prime minister Olmert.
The news comes ahead of Trump’s first foreign visit which includes stops in Israel, Palestine and Saudi Arabia. He is due to convene Arab leaders from across the region alongside Saudi royal family members in Riyadh and is expected to offer details for the first time on his vision for peace between Israelis and Palestinians in a press conference in Jerusalem.

Read more: Trump-Abbas meeting: A celebration of egos

According to a source in the Palestinian ministry of foreign affairs, the peace talks had failed in 2008 because the Palestinian delegation only agreed to exchange a much smaller percentage of its lands.
“We’ve been discussing this issue of land exchange since the negotiations with Olmert,” explained the foreign ministry source. “But at the time of the 2008 peace talks, Palestinians only agreed to exchange between 1-2 percent of Palestinian lands while Olmert was pushing for approximately 6.5 percent instead.”
According to the Times of Israel report, Olmert had offered to compensate the Palestinians with Israeli land equivalent to 5.8 percent of the West Bank, along with a link to the Gaza Strip - another territory meant to be part of a Palestinian state. The rejected offer also included placing Jerusalem’s Old City under international control.
A handicapped Palestinian protester waves the national flag during clashes with Israeli soldiers following a protest against the blockade on Gaza on 19 May (AFP)
This time around however, Jerusalem - the most controversial aspect of previous discussions – is not mentioned in the proposal that Abbas is allegedly meant to discuss with Trump during his visit, the Palestinian official close to the PLO told MEE.
Palestinians want East Jerusalem – which Israel occupied along with the West Bank and the Gaza Strip in 1967 - as the capital of any future Palestinian state. Israel, which later annexed East Jerusalem, has unilaterally declared "reunited" Jerusalem as its capital since 1980. Neither move has been ever been recognised by the international community.

Read more: ANALYSIS: Trump looks to deal, but Abbas holds weak Palestinian hand

More recently, Trump’s promise during his presidential campaign to move the American embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, has further complicated discussions around Jerusalem in the case of a Palestinian-Israeli resolution. Following Trump’s inauguration, Abbas warned him that moving the embassy would have a "disastrous impact on the peace process, on the two-state solution and on the stability and security of the entire region".

The peace process

Palestinians have vied for a negotiated settlement that would meet the terms laid out in the Arab Peace Initiative, a 2002 proposal endorsed by the Arab League, which called for the withdrawal of Israel from the West Bank and East Jerusalem.
But members of the Palestinian leadership believe Trump’s visit will do little to achieve that.
The issue is not about Trump or Obama or Abu Mazen, the issue is that Israel does not want to withdraw from the West Bank or from Gaza 
- Awni al-Mashni, member of Fatah
“The issue is not about Trump or Obama or Abu Mazen, the issue is that Israel does not want to withdraw from the West Bank or from Gaza nor does it want to end the occupation,” Awni al-Mashni, a member of the Fatah movement told MEE.
Mashni explained that regardless of the details of this new proposal, any initiative to withdraw from the West Bank and Gaza would ultimately fail since the Israeli leadership had refused to take this step.
US President Donald Trump and Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in the White House on 15 February 2017 in Washington
“The current political climate won’t allow for a solution. The Israeli government is more radical than ever before and will not be responsive to any initiative,” added Mashni.
During a major policy speech in December 2016, former US Secretary of State John Kerry s criticised the Israeli government of prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, describing his coalition government as the "most right-wing in Israeli history".
While Netanyahu has said he is committed to a two-state solution, international observers including Kerry said the Israeli government's agenda had appeared geared towards a one-state solution that aimed at creating a "greater Israel".
Kerry's remarks came as a batch of Israeli settlements were being built in the occupied West Bank in defiance of the UN security council resolution that was passed in December 2016.
Jerusalem-based journalist and political analyst Rasim Abedat also told MEE that he had little expectation of Trump pushing for a satisfactory settlement for the Palestinians, saying that US and Israeli interests in the region overlap now more than ever.
“Looking at the meeting between Trump and Netanyahu earlier this year, there was no discussion of a two-state solution and that is exactly Netanyahu’s goal – to end any talk of the matter,” said Abedat.
The goal of an independent Palestinian state in the West Bank was thrown into confusion when Trump said that while he was committed to a "really great" peace deal during Netanyahu’s visit to the White House on 15 February, he said he was neither committed to its existence nor against a "one-state solution" to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
At the same time, several Palestinian leaders believe that Abbas’ adoption of a one-man approach has increasingly distanced him from the Palestinian people making him no longer representative of the Palestinian people.
“The PA is battling an internal crisis and is suffering low levels of trust among the Palestinian people. The only thing that has kept it going is that it pays the salaries of tens of thousands of employees,” Abedat told MEE.
Even if Abu Mazen agrees to a settlement, the Palestinian people will not give up Jerusalem 
- Palestinian journalist Rasim Abedat
According to Fatah member Mashni this lack of representation will make any move Abbas makes unimportant.
“I doubt Abu Mazen will agree to a settlement and even if he does, the Palestinian people will not give up Jerusalem or agree to the continuity of the occupation,” he told MEE.

An Arab coalition

Instead of reaching a settlement regarding the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, many observers believe that at the top of the agenda on Trump’s regional visit is the establishment of an Arab coalition which would help normalise relations between Israel and its neighbours.
“Trump is coming with a plan for the whole region which aims to normalise relations between the Palestinians and Israelis on the one hand, and the Israelis and the rest of the Arabs on the other hand,” said the Palestinian official.
A Palestinian protester hurls stones towards Israeli soldiers during clashes in Bethlehem on 17 March (AFP)
“The main aim [of this visit] is to establish an Arab coalition led by Saudi Arabia to fight Iran, Syria and Hezbollah.”
Numerous Gulf states have offered a deal to normalise relations with Israel if it takes steps to restart peace talks with the Palestinians, according to reports last week.
The Wall Street Journal said numerous Gulf states were prepared to set up telecommunication lines between the countries, open trade negotiations and allow planes to fly over their airspace.
In exchange, Israel would have to freeze settlement construction in the West Bank and relax trade restrictions with the Gaza Strip.
Even if Abbas has agreed to give up Jerusalem, no one can impose anything on the Palestinian people
- Fatah member Awni al-Mashni
The proposals to normalise relations with Israel were outlined in an unreleased discussion paper shared among several Arab states, obtained by the WSJ.
The paper, according to WSJ, was intended to demonstrate the Gulf states' commitment to align itself to Trump's foreign policy, who has stressed a desire to work with Arab states to forge a Middle East peace agreement.
MEE approached minister for the Palestinian Economic Council for Development and Reconstruction (PECDAR) and member the Fatah central committee Muhammed Shtayye but he refused to comment on the topic. 
Journalist and political analyst Abedat said that Israel and Trump might also use this coalition to “pressure the Palestinian leadership into accepting a settlement that is not inclusive of a two-state solution".
Mashni agreed: “Many Arab governments believe that the Palestinian cause has been an obstacle in the way of forming this coalition and so they [the Arab countries] will try to find a way to get around it.”
In the voice of the majority of Palestinians however, Mashni insisted that “Even if Abbas has agreed to give up Jerusalem, no one can impose anything on the Palestinian people, and the Palestinian people won’t allow that to happen.”
"Abbas is pursuing a losing battle. I hope he doesn't commit to anything in front of Trump," said the official.

في مؤتمر المركز العربي: انتصار إسرائيل بحرب67 ثبت وجودها

السعودية وأميركا توقعان اتفاقيات بقيمة 460 مليار دولار

الملك سلمان والرئيس ترمب وقعا بيان الرؤية المشتركة للبلدين (الجزيرة)


عرب جرب

Khalil Bendib's Cartoon: IMAM TRUMP GIVES A SPEECH!

Friday, May 19, 2017

Russia probe reaches current White House official, people familiar with the case say

The Washington Post


The law enforcement investigation into possible coordination between Russia and the Trump campaign has identified a current White House official as a significant person of interest, showing that the probe is reaching into the highest levels of government, according to people familiar with the matter.
The senior White House adviser under scrutiny by investigators is someone close to the president, according to these people, who would not further identify the official.
The revelation comes as the investigation also appears to be entering a more overtly active phase, with investigators shifting from work that has remained largely hidden from the public to conducting interviews and using a grand jury to issue subpoenas. The intensity of the probe is expected to accelerate in the coming weeks, the people said.
The sources emphasized that investigators remain keenly interested in people who previously wielded influence in the Trump campaign and administration but are no longer part of it, including former national security adviser Michael Flynn and former campaign chairman Paul Manafort.
Flynn resigned in February after disclosures that he had lied to administration officials about his contacts with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak. Current administration officials who have acknowledged contacts with Russian officials include President Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, as well as Attorney General Jeff Sessions and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson.
 Play Video 3:16
Justice Department appoints special counsel to investigate Trump and Russia
The Washington Post's Devlin Barrett explains the Justice Department's decision to appoint Robert Mueller as special counsel to investigate possible connections between the Trump campaign and Russian officials. (Peter Stevenson,Jason Aldag,Whitney Leaming/The Washington Post)
People familiar with the investigation said the intensifying effort does not mean criminal charges are near, or that any such charges will result. Earlier this week, Deputy Attorney General Rod J. Rosenstein appointed former FBI director Robert S. Mueller III to serve as special counsel and lead the investigation into Russian meddling.
It is unclear exactly how Mueller’s leadership will affect the direction of the probe, and he is already bringing in new people to work on the team. Those familiar with the case said its significance had increased before Mueller’s appointment.
Although the case began quietly last July as an effort to determine whether any Trump associates coordinated with Russian operatives to meddle in the presidential election campaign, the investigative work now being done by the FBI also includes determining whether any financial crimes were committed by people close to the president. The people familiar with the matter said the probe has sharpened into something more fraught for the White House, the FBI and the Justice Department — particularly because of the public steps investigators know they now need to take, the people said.
When subpoenas are issued or interviews are requested, it is possible the people being asked to talk or provide documents will reveal publicly what they were asked about.
A small group of lawmakers known as the Gang of Eight was notified of the change in tempo and focus in the investigation at a classified briefing Wednesday evening, the people familiar with the matter said. Then-FBI Director James B. Comey publicly confirmed the existence of the investigation in March.
Justice Department spokeswoman Sarah Isgur Flores said, “I can’t confirm or deny the existence or nonexistence of investigations or targets of investigations.” An FBI spokesman declined to comment.
White House spokesman Sean Spicer said, “As the president has stated before, a thorough investigation will confirm that there was no collusion between the campaign and any foreign entity.’’
While there has been a loud public debate in recent days over the question of whether the president might have attempted to obstruct justice in his private dealings with Comey, whom Trump fired last week, people familiar with the matter said investigators on the case are more focused on Russian influence operations and possible financial crimes.
The FBI’s investigation seeks to determine whether and to what extent Trump associates were in contact with Kremlin operatives, what business dealings they might have had in Russia, and whether they in any way facilitated the hacking and publishing of emails from the Democratic National Committee and Hillary Clinton’s campaign chairman, John Podesta, during the presidential campaign. Several congressional committees are also investigating, though their probes could not produce criminal charges.
A grand jury in Alexandria, Va., recently issued a subpoena for records related to Flynn’s business, the Flynn Intel Group, which was paid more than $500,000 by a company owned by a Turkish American businessman close to top Turkish officials, according to people familiar with the matter.
The Flynn Intel Group was paid for research on Fethullah Gulen, a cleric who Turkey’s current president believes was responsible for a coup attempt last summer. Flynn retroactively registered with the Justice Department in March as a paid foreign agent for Turkish interests.
Separately from the probe now run by Mueller, Flynn is being investigated by the Pentagon’s top watchdog for his foreign payments. Flynn also received $45,000 to appear in 2015 with Russian President Vladimir Putin at a dinner for RT, a Kremlin-controlled media organization.
Flynn discussed U.S. sanctions against Russia with Russia’s ambassador to the United States during the month before Trump took office, and he withheld that fact from the vice president. That prompted then-acting attorney general Sally Yates to warn the White House’s top lawyer that Flynn might be susceptible to blackmail. Flynn stepped down after The Washington Post reported on the contents of the call.
The president has nonetheless seemed to defend his former adviser. A memo by Comey alleged that Trump asked that the probe into Flynn be shut down.
The White House also has acknowledged that Kushner met with Kislyak, the Russian ambassador to the United States, in late November. Kushner also has acknowledged that he met with the head of a Russian development bank, Vnesheconombank, which has been under U.S. sanctions since July 2014. The president’s son-in-law initially omitted contacts with foreign leaders from a national security questionnaire, though his lawyer has said publicly he submitted the form prematurely and informed the FBI soon after that he would provide an update.
Vnesheconombank handles development for the state, and in early 2015, a man purporting to be one of its New York-based employees was arrested and accused of being an unregistered spy.
That man — Evgeny Buryakov — ultimately pleaded guilty and was eventually deported. He had been in contact with former Trump adviser Carter Page, though Page has said he shared only “basic immaterial information and publicly available research documents” with the Russian. Page was the subject of a secret warrant last year issued by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, based on suspicions he might have been acting as an agent of the Russian government, according to people familiar with the matter. Page has denied any wrongdoing, and accused the government of violating his civil rights.

Ellen Nakashima and Ashley Parker contributed to this report.

DNA - 19/05/2017 التحالف يقصف نظام الأسد

فوق السلطة- ذاكر نايك ليس إرهابيا




Thursday, May 18, 2017

DNA-18/05/2017 مسرحية الديمقراطية الإيرانية

The Saudi leadership and Donald Trump? Two sides of the same coin

Both leaderships are preoccupied with their own survival - and feed narratives about extremism that absolve them from responsibility

By Madawi Al-Rasheed
Madawi Al-Rasheed's picture

Donald Trump’s first overseas tour starts this week in Riyadh, followed by Israel and the Vatican. This is not an inter-faith pilgrimage to three holy sites, although he and his advisors may think that it is. In Riyadh, the US president has promised many things - but redemption and salvation may not be easy to come by.
On 4 May, Trump announced that when in Riyadh he will begin to construct a new foundation of cooperation and support with “our Muslim allies to combat extremism, terrorism and violence”.
Trump is not a prophet, although he may like to think of himself as one
During a briefing at the White House, HR McMaster, his national security advisor, announced: “What President Trump is seeking is to unite people of all faiths around a common vision of peace, progress and prosperity. He will bring a message of tolerance and of hope to billions, including to millions of Americans who profess these faiths.”
Trump is not a prophet, although he may like to think of himself as one. Riyadh is not Mecca. The majority of Muslims do not recognise Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. During his election campaign, Trump mentioned that Jerusalem should be the Israeli capital. Despite these early ramblings, Riyadh has already promised Trump great booty.

Team Trump: Islam is an ideology

First, the Saudis will summon for him around 50 leaders from the Muslim world for a sort of off-shore American-Arab-Muslim summit.
Trump will deliver a speech to these leaders, among them Turkey’s Recep Tayyip Erdogan, King Mohammad VI of Morocco and Nawaz Sharif of Pakistan. He will use the opportunity to endear himself to those present after several months of antagonising their constituencies with his anti-Muslim rhetoric, propagated by his aides and advisors during the election campaign.
Most of those advisors think of Islam as an ideology rather than a religion. Trump’s defeated executive order to ban Muslims from seven Muslim-majority countries from entering the US did little to change his image as someone who is not, to say the least, welcoming to Muslims.
A Malaysian Muslim protests against US President Donald Trump's immigration order, in Kuala Lumpur (AFP)
But many Muslim leaders, including the Saudis, were not so offended. They will welcome him, and applaud after he delivers his “inspiring” speech on Muslim tolerance and extremism.
He will stand as a US false prophet teaching Muslims that their religion is about peace and tolerance, just in case they didn’t know or, even worse, they knew but had forgotten the message.
For this specific mission, Trump has chosen the Saudi regime - historically associated with the most radical interpretations of Islam - to play an important public relations role, improving his image and endearing him to reluctant and suspicious Muslims.
But in the grand scheme of things, Trump can live with a bad reputation among people whom he does not respect nor value as important allies or even acceptable members of the international community. He’d rather not have them on his doorstep in the US.
Trump only recognises regimes who can pay for a wide range of US services, military, economic and otherwise. He believes in their pockets rather than their faith
The president’s general xenophobia and “America first” rhetoric attest to a dangerous hyper-nationalism that is nativist, primordial and ethnic; a real departure from the civic nationalism upon which the US has been built.
Trump only recognises regimes who can pay for a wide range of US services, military, economic and otherwise. He believes in their pockets rather than their faith.
And the Saudi leadership is willing to boost his image and be endeared by him – and pay for the honour of doing so.
The Saudis still hope that Trump will support their bid to be crowned as the leaders of the Muslim umma, now defined as purely and exclusively Sunni, with other unorthodox and heterodox groups excluded forever. Saudi leadership of the Sunni world seems to be strictly dependent on the US and Trump’s endorsement.

A call to arms

Second, Trump has promised that billions in Saudi booty will be invested in the US, especially among his American supporters, who have succumbed to his passionate rhetoric about how to make America great again.
Saudi Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the erratic young son of the king, made financial pledges when he visited Washington in April, promising to invest more than $40bn in the US economy to generate urgently needed jobs, allowing Trump to reward those deprived regions which voted for him. 
Trump shouldn’t be too hopeful, as the young prince has made domestic decisions, for example freezing public sector employment and cutting bonuses as part of his new austerity measures, but less than six months later he changed his mind and abolished these measures. 
Rather it’s the shareholders in the arms industry who are more likely to benefit from such promises, including BAE Systems with its 29,500 employees in the US.
Smoke rises after a Saudi air strike in the Yemeni capital, Sanaa (AFP)
There is an argument that continuing to sell weapons of mass destruction to Saudi Arabia protects jobs in both the US and the UK. But this is flawed reasoning, for globally, BAE Systems only has around 83,000 employees
It is more accurate to say that this small number of employees creates colossal profits for both shareholders and governments, making it a lucrative industry defended by the Western establishment.
Trump has promised that a substantial Saudi booty will be invested in the US, especially among his American supporters
Barack Obama sold weapons worth $115bn to the Saudis during his eight years in office - a record sale by a US president. But now Trump wants to augment those sales and training contracts.
For this, Salman can rely on his new ambassador, Prince Khaled bin Salman, his newly appointed younger brother, in Washington. Both princes will ensure that the US arms industry remains a profitable business. Both princes will honour the Saudi pledge of investing in the US economy, despite shortfalls in their own foreign reserve assets, which continue to decline since oil prices collapsed in 2014. 

The meeting of minds

Aside from the tangible outcomes of the Riyadh tour, what else can those rulers and autocrats, summoned from across the Muslim world, offer an elected authoritarian ruler like Trump?
With the exception of a few, many of those leaders assembled in Riyadh preside over undemocratic and unrepresentative governments in countries where extremism and terrorism have become rife.
Ironically, it is the Saudi regime, now given the onerous task of reforming Muslims, who have gone astray
From Riyadh to Kuala Lumpur, Trump will find leaders willing to buy his rhetoric about Islam and its role in producing lethal global jihadist movements.
Trump and many Muslim leaders share an interpretation of extremism and terrorism that blames Islam and those Muslims allegedly ignorant of their own tradition.
In their misguided views, terrorism is a problem of Muslims and of Islam. Ironically, it is the Saudi regime, now given the onerous task of reforming Muslims, who have gone astray.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erodgan and US President Donald Trump in Washington in May (Reuters)
This is a good trick to divert attention from more embarrassing realities. Repression, extrajudicial killings, disappearances, poverty, corruption, torture and many other factors prevalent in dictatorships across the Muslim world are simply ignored.
Trump, his Saudi hosts and guests in Riyadh will avoid talking about such unpleasant issues, which implicate the leaders present at the summit and their patrons, among whom is the US
Nobody in the US, Trump or his audience, will admit that they had anything to do with the current wave of terrorism.
Trump will find good confidantes among those assembled Muslim leaders, willing to do his, and their own, dirty work without questioning, accountability or transparency
Certainly nobody among those Muslim leaders will be willing to remind Trump that the US bombing of several Muslim countries – among them Somalia, Sudan, Syria, Yemen, Iraq, Pakistan and Afghanistan – during the past two decades is worth mentioning.
Trump will find good confidantes among those assembled Muslim leaders, willing to do his, and their own, dirty work without questioning, accountability or transparency. He will empower them with the latest technology to repress their own people while at the same time improving his own cash flows.
The Saudi leadership and Trump are two sides of the same coin. Both are preoccupied with their own survival at all costs and entangled with narratives about extremism that absolve them from any responsibility.
And they share this concern with those Muslim leaders who will descend on Riyadh later this week, all eager to meet the flamboyant Donald Trump.
Madawi Al-Rasheed is visiting professor at the Middle East Centre at LSE. She has written extensively about the Arabian Peninsula, Arab migration, globalisation, gender, and transnational Islamist movements. On Twitter: @MadawiDr
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Eye.