Trump says Iran ‘working with North Korea’ after ballistic missile test

President Trump accused Iran of collaborating with North Korea to strengthen their missile technology Saturday evening in a Twitter post criticizing the 2015 nuclear agreement between the U.S., Iran and five other nations.

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“Iran just test-fired a Ballistic Missile capable of reaching Israel,” Trump wrote. “They are also working with North Korea. Not much of an agreement we have!”

Nonproliferation experts have long suspected North Korea and Iran are sharing know-how when it comes to their rogue missile programs. Earlier this month, CIA Director Mike Pompeo told Fox News’ “Special Report with Bret Baier” that Iran would “certainly be someone who would be willing to pay” for that expertise.

“The North Koreans have a long history of being proliferators and sharing their knowledge, their technology, their capacities around the world,” Pompeo said. “As North Korea continues to improve its ability to do longer-range missiles and to put nuclear weapons on those missiles, it is very unlikely if they get that capability that they wouldn’t share it with lots of folks.”

Trump posted the tweet hours after Iran claimed to have successfully tested a new ballistic missile capable of reaching parts of the Middle East, including Israel.

The missile, known as the Khoramshahr, has a range of 1,250 miles and is based on a North Korean design. A similar missile was tested in late January and blew up 600 miles after launch.

The Iranian test-launch constituted a direct challenge to Trump, who last month signed a bill imposing mandatory penalties on those involved in Iran’s ballistic missile program and anyone who does business with them.

Trump has vowed repeatedly to take a tougher line toward Iran than his predecessor, threatening at various times to renegotiate or even dismantle the nuclear deal, and shoot Iranian boats out of the water if they provoke U.S. naval vessels in the Persian Gulf.

On Wednesday, Trump told reporters that he had made a decision about whether or not to pull out of the nuclear deal, but declined to say what it was.

Earlier this week, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani vowed Iran would strengthen its missile capabilities without asking for any country’s permission, just days after Trump accused Iran in an address to the United Nations General Assembly of exporting violence to Yemen, Syria, and other parts of the Middle East.

In that speech, Trump criticized the nuclear deal as “one of the worst and most one-sided transactions the United States has ever entered into.”

“Frankly, that deal is an embarrassment to the United States,” the president proclaimed, “and I don’t think you’ve heard the last of it, believe me.”

The nuclear deal between Iran and world powers does not strictly prohibit Iran from developing missiles but after the deal came into effect last year, the U.N. Security Council adopted a resolution calling on Iran not to take any actions related to ballistic missiles “designed to be capable of delivering nuclear weapons” for eight years.

Iranian officials have argued that the measure only applies to missiles specifically designed to carry nuclear warheads.

Fox News’ Lucas Tomlinson and the Associated Press contributed to this report.

Courtesy, Fox News

US seeks to ‘milk’ terrorism sponsor Saudi Arabia – Iran’s Revolutionary Guard to RT

As the US influence in the Middle East wanes, it increasingly associates itself with dictatorships like Saudi Arabia, whose “dark face” and “role in supporting terrorism is known to everyone in the region,” a high ranking Iranian Revolutionary Guard official told RT.

The United States and President Trump in particular consider only one “dimension” of convergence with Saudi Arabia, ignoring the “ideological and intellectual” challenges and costs such ties entail, media adviser to the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), Commander-in-Chief Hamid Reza Moghadam Far told RT in an exclusive interview.

“That was one of Trump’s senseless moves. He was just seeking to milk this cow and thinking about only business,” Moghadam Far said.

“The first challenge is that Trump goes to such a country as his first trip after being elected… That is the behavior shown towards a dictatorial regime in which democracy is meaningless and no elections take place and the people have no presence on the scene. The next challenge is that they claim that they are combatting terrorism. It is no secret that Saudi Arabia has provided the most support for terrorism.”

The recent naming of Mohammed bin Salman as Saudi Arabia’s new crown prince might be another “outcome of Trump’s visit” amidst internal disputes among Saudi princes and with other Arab countries.

“This replacement is one of the internal political impacts of the [Trump’s] visit on Saudi Arabia. I mean the replacement of the crown prince. But Saudi Arabia is facing certain conditions today that I think the development would create further problems for the country,” Moghadam Far said, pointing out that this decision would hardly be beneficial for the Saudi people.

While the appointment might push Saudi Arabia into further radicalization, it would unlikely lead to an armed conflict with Iran, Moghadam Far believes, as the Saudi army is “not fit for military action.”

“There is no possibly of conflict. Today many Arab countries are complaining about Saudi Arabia’s inexperienced and radical moves. They consider Saudi Arabia as callow,” Moghadam Far told RT.

“A number of inexperienced people who are ruling Saudi Arabia lack the resolve and determination to initiate a war on Iran. They lack the courage and power. I do not think they will come up with such conclusion, even if all global powers support them.”

Saudi Arabia’s policies in the Middle East only bring instability to the region and its alliance with the US only diminishes the already dwindling American power and influence, Moghadam Far believes.

“[The US policies] definitely have a negative effect. What matters more, however, is that the US is not as influential a player as it used to be and it can no longer manipulate regional equations. Today, it does not enjoy such a sway at all and its influence in the region has waned,” Moghadam Far said.

READ MORE: US stirring up ‘Iranophobia’ to boost arms sales to Arab nations – Tehran

“It now has to associate with countries like Saudi Arabia whose negative role in supporting terrorism, whose dictatorship, and whose dark face is known to everyone in the region.”

Tehran’s recent Iranian missile attack on Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS/ISIL) terrorists in Syria should have weakened the resolve of the Saudis and other powers to go to war with Iran. A key “message” of the attack was to clearly demonstrate Iranian military capabilities to those who doubted them, Moghadam Far said.

“In the past, when these missiles were test-fired in Iran, the US and certain western countries used to usually announce that Iran was lying that its launches had been successful and tried to create this impression that Iranians do not have such a capability and their missiles cannot strike their targets with precision,” he said.

The strike also demonstrated Iran’s resolve to fight terrorism, rubbishing usual US accusations that Tehran supports terrorist elements.

“As in the past, whenever Americans want to mount pressure on Iran, impose new sanctions and proceed with an issue in the region and beyond, [the US] accuse Iran of backing terrorism,” Moghadam Far said.

“But I think that today’s conditions are such that the world’s public opinion does not accept this. The world has come to realize that the US, despite leading a coalition against [IS] and terrorism in Syria and Iraq, Syria in particular, does not fight terrorism in practice and is in fact is supporting it… They cannot both take an opposite stance against terrorism and accuse Iran.”

Anxious Indians in Qatar cling on to hope

With several Arab nations breaking off their ties to Qatar for its alleged support of terrorism, there is growing concern in India over the fate of hundreds of thousands of Indians living there. Murali Krishnan reports.

Arbeiter Baustelle in Doha Katar sklavenähnliche Zustände (Karim Jaafar/AFP/Getty Images)

Mariamma Sebastian, 65, has regularly been on the phone for the last three days enquiring about the safety of her two sons, Thomas and Isaac, who are employed as construction workers in Doha. They left the coastal town of Kozhikode in southern Kerala state two years ago to work for the construction projects related to the 2022 football World Cup Qatar is scheduled to host.

“For now, they are safe. But I am concerned and hope the situation normalizes. They send money regularly and I hope nothing happens to them,” Sebastian told DW.

Read: World Cup puts spotlight on Qatar’s migrant workers

In Kerala’s commercial capital Kochi, Pullikose Mathew, a retailer, has also been on tenterhooks. He says his nephew Samuel, who works as a technician in the Middle Eastern country, is worried. “He has had a good job so far. But this crisis is something we never anticipated. I hope all turns out well,” Pullikose told DW from Kochi.

Like Mariamma and Pullikose, there are thousands of families from Kerala and other parts of India who are concerned by the rapid flow of events shaking the Middle East.

Katar - Gasanlagen von Ras Laffan (picture-alliance/dpa/T. Brakemeier)Qatar is one of the richest countries in the world in per capita GDP terms and sits atop one of the largest reserves of natural gas

Paying close attention

Saudi Arabia, Egypt and the UAE, along with some other Arab countries, severed their ties with Qatar on Monday, accusing Doha of backing Islamist groups and their archrival Iran. Qatar has denied the allegations.

They have also cut air, sea and land links with the tiny, gas-rich nation, thus making it extremely tough to ship goods in and out of Qatar.

Read: Jordan downgrades Qatari ties

Countries like the US and Kuwait have called on the squabbling parties to remain united and work toward easing the tensions. Their appeals do not seem to have produced the desired result, as reports suggest that the Saudi-led coalition is apparently mulling imposing an economic embargo on Qatar, which relies on imports for most goods.

Isolated incidents of panic buying to stock up on essential commodities have been reported in the local media.

The problems affecting Qatar are being closely watched in India.

One of the richest nations in the world in per capita terms, Qatar has a small population of about 2.7 million people. Indian expatriates residing there account for the largest segment of the population, with the size of the community estimated to be around 650,000 or about a quarter of the total inhabitants. In fact, Indians outnumber native Qataris by almost 2 to 1.

Read: Scores of Asian migrants left stranded and penniless in Saudi Arabia

Many Indians in Qatar are employed as technicians, electricians, construction workers, drivers and domestic help. They send huge sums of remittances – worth billions of dollars – to India annually.

It’s therefore unsurprising that calls have been growing for the Indian government to intervene and ensure the safety of Indian nationals living in Qatar. Kerala’s Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan has written letters to Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Foreign Minister Sushma Swaraj seeking their intervention.

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Qatar citizens storm supermarkets after trade partners cut food shipments

Ensuring safety

PM Modi’s administration has so far tried to downplay the situation. “There is no challenge arising out of this for us. This is an internal matter of the Gulf Cooperation Council and it has happened earlier also. Our only concern is about Indians there. We are trying to find out if any Indians are stuck there,” said Foreign Minister Swaraj.

“I don’t think India has any stakes in the crisis,” Lalit Mansingh, a former Indian diplomat, told DW. “But we have to be concerned about our citizens,” he added.

The Indian Embassy in Qatar has issued an advisory assuring the Indians of their safety. “The embassy of India is monitoring the situation closely and is in touch with the Qatari authorities to ensure the safety and security of Indian nationals in Qatar,” the advisory read.

Read: Saudi Arabia revokes Qatar Airways’ operating license

Indian authorities insist the current crisis is precipitated by conflicts within the Gulf Cooperation Council and there’s nothing for Indians to worry about at the moment. “If push comes to shove, ministers from the foreign ministry will be sent to douse the situation. But we don’t see that scenario unfolding,” a senior foreign ministry official told DW.

The crisis, if not resolved soon, could also impact trade ties between India and Qatar. Bilateral commerce is worth over $8 billion and several Indian companies and banks have presence in the country. 14 Indian schools also operate in Qatar, educating over 30,000 Indian students.

The businesses are likely to see their operational costs rise as a result of the economic damage from the dispute. India’s airlines are already feeling the pinch as they face higher costs from having to fly planes in a circuitous route over Pakistan and Iran to reach Qatar.

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Middle East trip ‘already paying off’ – Trump on Qatar-Arab League rift

Middle East trip ‘already paying off’ – Trump on Qatar-Arab League rift
US President Donald Trump has hinted that the spat which saw Saudi Arabia, the UAE and several other Arab League states cut ties with Qatar over alleged funding of terrorist groups was a result of his recent Middle East trip.

“So good to see the Saudi Arabia visit with the King and 50 countries already paying off,” Trump tweeted, wading in to the largest crisis in the Arab world in decades.

“They [Arab states] said they would take a hard line on funding extremism, and all reference was pointing to Qatar. Perhaps this will be the beginning of the end to the horror of terrorism!” he added.

So good to see the Saudi Arabia visit with the King and 50 countries already paying off. They said they would take a hard line on funding…

…extremism, and all reference was pointing to Qatar. Perhaps this will be the beginning of the end to the horror of terrorism!

In another tweet, the US president said that leaders of unnamed Middle Eastern nations “pointed to Qatar” when he demanded funding of “radical ideology” to be stopped.

During my recent trip to the Middle East I stated that there can no longer be funding of Radical Ideology. Leaders pointed to Qatar – look!

During his visit to Saudi capital Riyadh in late May, Trump delivered a speech in which he called upon Gulf and Middle Eastern nations to step up their efforts aimed at tackling the “crisis of Islamic extremism.”

“The nations of the Middle East cannot wait for American power to crush this enemy for them. The nations of the Middle East will have to decide what kind of future they want for themselves, for their countries, and for their children,” the US leader said at the time.

The diplomatic row in the Gulf broke out on Monday, when five Arab League nations – Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Egypt, Yemen – as well as the Maldives and Mauritius announced they were cutting diplomatic ties with Qatar.

They accused the oil-rich nation of supporting terrorism, with Riyadh also saying Doha collaborated with Iran-backed militias.

The Arab sanctions against Doha included shutting down ground, aerial and maritime transport links, with fears of supply shortages already seeing Qataris flocking to the supermarkets, Reuters reported.

Qatar rejected the claims, calling them a “campaign of incitement” which is “based on lies.”

Doha then addressed Kuwait for mediation in the crisis, with Kuwaiti Emir, Sheikh Sabah Al-Ahmad Al-Jaber Al-Sabah, traveling to Saudi Arabia on Tuesday for talks on the issue.

READ MORE: Qatar seeks Kuwaiti mediation after major Arab League states cut ties

Qatar’s Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al-Thani has already postponed an address to his country and opted to “exercise restraint” after Kuwait warned that harsh remarks could hamper a settlement.

Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir told journalists in Paris on Tuesday that Qatar needed to take several steps, including cutting support for the Palestinian organization Hamas and the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, in order to restore ties with key Arab League players.

“We’ve decided to take steps to make clear that enough is enough. Nobody wants to hurt Qatar. Qatar has to choose whether it must move in one direction or another direction,” al-Jubeir said, as cited by Reuters.

Trump touts success on NATO, terrorism battle, thanks troops in trip-ending speech

Joseph Weber

President Trump on Saturday concluded his international trip with a speech that saluted overseas U.S. troops and expressed tones of optimism and success about working with America’s “oldest and newest friends” to bring about Middle East peace and solve such pressing concerns as NATO and radical Islamic terrorism.

“I think we hit a homerun no matter where we are,” Trump told civilians, service members and their families at Air Station Sigonella, in Sicily, Italy, before boarding Air Force One for Washington. “We will always support you. And we will never, ever forget you. … You are the metal spine forged out of fires of American strength.”

The president made no comment about his move hours early at the G-7 summit, in Taormina, Italy, to postpone a decision on whether the United States would reaffirm its commitment to the 2015 Paris Climate Agreement, as the six other nations confirmed their commitment.

Trump’s roughly 20-minutes speech essentially hit on the policy issues that he adopted during his 2016 presidential campaign and brought to his first overseas presidential trip.

“Terrorism is a threat — a bad threat  — to all of humanity, and together we will overcome this threat,” said Trump, who at the start of the trip, in Saudi Arabia, made a dramatic appeal to roughly 50 Persian Gulf leaders to stop radical Islamic terrorism.

On Saturday, Trump said he ends his trip hopeful that “America’s oldest and newest friends” can “eradicating the terrorism that plagues humanity.”

“I was deeply encouraged to hear from many Muslim nations they are ready to take on the role of combatting terrorism,” he also said.

Trump was introduces by first lady Melania Trump, who praised her husband’s efforts during the nine-day trip and revealed that the highlights included visiting a children’s hospital in Israel and a sought-after private audience with Pope Francis.

“This has been an incredible trip, and we have made great strides,” she said. “I am proud of him.”

Trump, who during his presidential campaign once called climate change a “hoax,” made the announcement on Twitter about delaying his decision on the Paris accord.

He was under heavy international pressure during the trip to affirm the United States’ commitment under the agreement to reduce the emission of greenhouse gases and other pollutants believed to be warming the earth to harmful levels.

The presidential trip started in Saudi Arabia, then proceeded to Israel, the Vatican, Brussels and Italy.

On Saturday, Trump repeated an earlier argument that he was instrumental in getting a renewed commitment by NATO’s member to spend more on defense.

“The money is  pouring in,” said Trump, arguing the influx would not have happened “had I not been elected.”

Trump was referring to a vow by NATO countries to move toward spending 2 percent of their gross domestic product on defense by 2024.

Only five of NATO’s 28 members meet the target: Britain, Estonia, debt-laden Greece, Poland and the United States, which spends more on defense than all the other allies combined.

However, there is no evidence that money has begun to “pour in” — and countries do not pay the U.S. or NATO directly. Germany, for instance, has been increasing its defense spending with the goal of reaching the 2 percent target by 2024.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Trump: ‘I now have responsibility’ when it comes to Syria

Story highlights

  • Trump made the comments alongside King Abdullah of Jordan
  • Trump spoke in the Rose Garden

Washington (CNN)President Donald Trump, speaking at a news conference on Wednesday, said the chemical attack against Syrian civilians “crossed a lot of lines for me” and changed the way he views Syria and leader Bashar al-Assad.

“I now have responsibility, and I will have that responsibility and carry it very proudly,” Trump said responding to a question about a White House statement Tuesday that blamed the attack in part on President Barack Obama.
“It is now my responsibility. It was a great opportunity missed,” Trump said.
Trump did maintain that Obama’s failure to respond to his red line threat “was a blank threat (that) set us back a long ways, not only in Syria but in many other parts of the world.”
The President condemned the attack as “heinous.”
“Yesterday’s chemical attack, a chemical attack that was so horrific in Syria against innocent people, including women, small children and even beautiful little babies, their deaths were an affront to humanity,” Trump said from the Rose Garden. “These heinous actions by the Assad regime cannot be tolerated. The United States stands with our allies across the globe to condemn this horrific attack and all other horrific attacks, for that matter.”
cnnee lkl sal amergui siria ataque quimico docenas de heridos_00002428
Video shows gas attack aftermath 01:23
World leaders expressed shock and outrage Tuesday at reports of the suspected targeted attack in northwestern Syria that killed scores of civilians, with one UK official suggesting the incident amounted to a war crime.
Activists said the Syrian regime was responsible for killing dozens of people, including many children, leading the United Nations to replace a scheduled Security Council session for Wednesday morning with an emergency meeting.
Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s military denied using chemical weapons and blamed rebels for the carnage. Russia, Syria’s strong ally, said it had no warplanes in the vicinity.
Earlier in the day, Trump had left the door open to new action in Syria in his first on-camera comments in response to a deadly suspected chemical attack in the Middle East.
“You will see,” Trump said when asked if he would take new action, according to pool reporters present when Trump welcomed Jordan’s King Abdullah to the Oval Office.
“These are very troubled times in the Middle East, and we see what happened just recently yesterday in Syria — horrible. Horrible, horrible thing. Unspeakable,” Trump said, later calling it a “terrible affront to humanity.”

Netanyahu’s honeymoon with Trump ends abruptly

Story highlights

  • Trump walked back his promise to move the US Embassy to Jerusalem and criticized the settlements
  • In addition to the political pressure Netanyahu faces, he is under criminal investigation

Jerusalem (CNN)This was supposed to be Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s victory lap.

After a combined 10 years leading the government, he finally had a Republican president in the White House, with a Republican House and Senate to boot. It should have been the perfect match for Netanyahu’s right-wing coalition.
The prime minister would be free of the condemnation of construction in West Bank and East Jerusalem settlements that became routine under former President Barack Obama, the right wing believed. President Donald Trump would allow Israel to build and build freely.
Within 10 days of Trump’s inauguration, Israel approved plans for more than 6,000 housing units in settlements as well as the first brand-new settlement municipality in the West Bank in nearly two decades.
Heaping praise upon Trump at their first news conference together in Washington, Netanyahu said: “There is no greater supporter of the Jewish people and the Jewish state.” Vice President Mike Pence is expected to also receive a warm reception when he addresses the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) at its large annual conference in Washington, which begins on Sunday.
And the settlement movement rejoiced at the new White House leadership.
“I think (Trump) loves Israel,” said Chaim Silberstein, spokesman for the Beit El settlement outside of Ramallah. “I think he loves the biblical heartland of Israel, which is here.” Some even spoke in messianic terms.
Education Minister Naftali Bennett, head of the right-wing Jewish Home party and one of the most outspoken Israeli opponents of a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, declared after the elections, “The era of a Palestinian state is over.”
But for Netanyahu, the honeymoon period lasted less than two months.
Trump quickly walked back his oft-repeated campaign promise to move the US Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, and he criticized Israeli settlements as “not good” for peace.
At their joint White House appearance, Trump told Netanyahu to “hold back on settlements for a bit.” Trump wanted a chance to conclude what he called “the ultimate deal”: peace between Israelis and Palestinians.
On Thursday, after two rounds of talks spanning the US and the Middle East, the White House put out a statement saying that the American delegation “reiterated President Trump’s concerns regarding settlement activity in the context of moving towards a peace agreement,” adding, “The Israeli delegation made clear that Israel’s intent going forward is to adopt a policy regarding settlement activity that takes those concerns into consideration.”
Netanyahu now finds himself walking a tight-rope between a new president interested in a peace deal and an empowered right-wing determined to sink the two-state solution once and for all. In the face of this political pressure and a corruption investigation, it is increasingly possible that the Israeli leader may soon have to face elections.
Ever the cautious politician, Netanyahu had previously warned his governing coalition — which includes Jewish Home and Netanyahu’s own Likud Party — not to celebrate too much over Trump’s victory. He even forbade his ministers, Bennett included, from speaking to Washington officials without his approval, especially about settlements and annexation.
But after Trump’s inauguration, Israel’s right-wing felt there was no reason to hold back. The pressure on Netanyahu from Jewish Home and even those within Likud kept growing.
For Netanyahu, building in the settlements isn’t just a promise he’s made to the approximately 420,000 Israeli settlers in the West Bank; it is also about long-term political survival, as Netanyahu and Bennett battle for the same right-wing constituency.
Netanyahu has boasted that there is no government that will be more pro-settlement than the current one, and he can’t afford to be outflanked on the right by his own coalition partners. At the same time, no Israeli leader — on the right or left — would risk angering Israel’s primary international ally.
“I think we can say now what is clear is that if the right in Israel thought that Mr. Trump is going to join Mr. Bennett’s party, it made a very grave mistake,” Yehuda Ben Meir, a principal research fellow at the Institute for National Security Studies told CNN. “As I think any intelligent person can realize, Donald Trump is President of the United States. The United States has interests throughout the world.”
Ben Meir continued, “To a certain degree, Mr. Netanyahu has really locked himself into this dilemma, and we will have to see how he maneuvers through it. … It depends on what is the position of President Trump. It’s not clear yet.”
The tension was evident in mid-March in Netanyahu’s first meeting with Jason Greenblatt, Trump’s special envoy for international negotiations.
Greenblatt, who served as Trump’s business attorney before becoming an adviser on Israel, may have seemed likely to be in sync with the Israeli Prime Minister. Before the elections, he wrote an op-ed for CNN insisting that Trump would recognize Jerusalem as the eternal, undivided capital of Israel and would move the embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. Those moves, warned the Palestinian leadership that sees East Jerusalem as its capital in any future Palestinian state, would essentially sink the process of forging a two-state solution.
In a meeting that lasted more than five hours, Greenblatt and Netanyahu reaffirmed the strong bond between the United States and Israel, with the former emphasizing Trump’s commitment to Israel’s security. But the statement addressing the settlements issued Thursday made clear that the US is looking for Israel to rein in construction.
So far, the parties have not found a framework for settlement construction acceptable to Trump and Netanyahu. After marathon meetings between Greenblatt, Netanyahu Chief of Staff Yoav Horowitz and Israeli Ambassador to the US Ron Dermer, the two sides still had not finalized an agreement. Trump’s “concerns regarding settlement activity” remained. So did Netanyahu’s desire to keep building.
One day after Netanyahu’s first meeting with Greenblatt, Trump’s envoy met Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in Ramallah. According to a readout of that meeting, Abbas stressed the Palestinian commitment to a two-state solution, while Greenblatt emphasized Trump’s desire for peace through direct negotiations.
The statement mentioned the possibility of a meeting in Washington between Abbas and Trump — which would only ratchet up the pressure on Netanyahu to make concessions if Abbas presents himself as a partner for peace, willing to compromise for the sake of an agreement.
Israel’s right, however, wants to move in the other direction. During Greenblatt’s visit earlier in the month, politicians from Jewish Home and Likud had planned to introduce a bill to annex Ma’ale Adumim, a West Bank settlement just outside Jerusalem.
Israel has never annexed any part of the West Bank it captured in the 1967 war outside of East Jerusalem. Israeli settlements there are illegal under international law, though Israel disputes this on historical and religious grounds.
“Trump is genuinely interested in making peace. He’s been very consistent about that. I think he sees it as a personal challenge,” said Chemi Shalev, a senior columnist with Haaretz, an Israeli daily newspaper. “And he had to get over bad relations with Gulf countries, especially Saudi Arabia, and part of that is that the Saudis have made it clear to him that if he’s thinking of creating (a regional) anti-Iranian bloc, at least part of that has to be a semblance of a peace process with the Palestinians.”
To some degree, President Barack Obama’s deep opposition to settlements helped Netanyahu navigate the thorny politics of the issue. It gave him the political cover to satisfy the right wing with only small steps on settlements — making the case that he could do not more — so that he didn’t face major blowback from the US, international community and Israeli center and left.
Trump is making some signs that he’s no fan of settlements either, but the right doesn’t see his opposition as stiff enough to warrant Netanyahu caving in and therefore is unlikely to be satisfied with small steps. (For one thing, both the President and his pick for ambassador to Israel have given money to the Beit El settlement’s schools.)
The current term of Israel’s government runs until late 2019. Few think it will last that long.
In addition to the political pressure Netanyahu faces, he is under criminal investigation in a corruption probe, suspected of receiving gifts from overseas businessmen. So far, he has been questioned by police four times, though police and the attorney general’s office have been guarded with information about the investigation.
Netanyahu has sworn the investigations will lead to nothing, as they did when he was investigated in his first term as prime minister in the late ’90s. But an indictment would put political and public pressure on him to step down despite his promise not to do so. Under Israeli law, he has to step down only if he is convicted and if that conviction is upheld through the appeals process.
As the investigation inches along, election fever is in the air. Three parties have called for early primaries.
Netanyahu’s former defense minister, Moshe Ya’alon, announced he has split off from the Likud to form his own party. Yair Lapid, head of the Yesh Atid centrist party and one of Netanyahu’s primary rivals, has been running even with Netanyahu’s party in recent polls. Right-wing Agriculture Minister Uri Ariel has promised to leave Netanyahu’s coalition if the premier agrees to any limitation on settlement construction.
“Even though (the coalition) doesn’t want elections, there’s a growing sense that elections may be around the corner in any case, and in that case the Jewish Home will press on with the annexation of Ma’ale Adumim and will attack whatever arrangements Netanyahu has with Trump,” said Shalev. “It’ll go from bad to worse from the point of view of the stability of the coalition.”
Netanyahu himself threatened elections one week ago, despite strenuous objections from his coalition and his own party. Critics have pointed out that calling an election would also, under Israeli law, freeze the criminal investigation of Netanyahu. It may also be a way of keeping the smaller parties in the coalition in line.
It is a sign of the instability in a government that was supposed to be reinforced by Trump’s victory, not undermined. Netanyahu finds himself trying to balance the demands of his own coalition with the unpredictable expectations of a president who is not the partner Israel’s right wing thought it was getting.
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