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TRUMP RAISES MORE QUESTIONS THAN ANSWERS IN MIDDLE EAST

President Donald Trump meets with King Hamed bin Issa of Bahrain during their bilateral meeting, Sunday, May 21, 2017, at the Ritz-Carlton Hotel in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. (Official White House Photo by Shealah Craighead)

The only thing consistent about U.S. President Donald Trump is his frequent lack of consistency. He left Israel with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the Right-wing camp jumping for joy: Trump had made no specific reference to the two-state solution! But on the other hand, he and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson declared Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas was truly interested in making peace with Israel. Knesset Member Tzipi Livni, a former Likudnik who has switched to Labor, has more negotiating hours with Abbas than any other Israeli politician. Livni feels the question now is whether Trump will follow through on his declaration that both Bibi and Abbas are ready for a deal.

Livni is looking for Trump's Middle East envoy Jason Greenblatt to start the ball rolling by putting something on the table. Greenblatt is Trump's longtime private lawyer with a reputation for resolving sticky issues. He will now have his work cut out for him. So far, he stage-managed a great Middle East tour for his boss that has left everybody singing the praises of Trump: Saudi Arabia's King Salman, Abbas, and Bibi.

Should Israel be vexed about the $110 billion arms sale to Saudi Arabia? Of course, Israeli military planners have taken note. But for now at least, the Saudis and Israel are actually on the same side against Iran. For the same reason there was no burst of Saudi protest over the super-duper F-35 sleuth fighter bombers being sent to Israel. The old adage cuts both ways 'the enemy of my enemy is my friend'.

In Israel, even the Peace Camp has come away hoping Trump will really mean business and follow up his Middle East triumph with some concrete proposals. The first step was to rebuild America's bridges with the Sunni Muslim world after his predecessor Barack Obama tilted toward Shiite Iran with the nuclear accord that spooked the Arab world, except for Syria. 'Peace Now' swiftly organized a peace rally in Rabin Square, Tel Aviv. An estimated 15,000 Israelis showed up demanding Israel take steps to end the 'occupation' of the West Bank. Abbas played ball by sending a message that the Palestinian were ready for peace.

The next day, former Labor Prime Minister Ehud Barak again lashed out not only against Bibi, for sabotaging the peace process, but also against Labor (Zionist Camp) leader Yitzhak Herzog for not conducting a consistent, no-holds barred campaign against the Right wing. (In the wake of rumors that America is serious about jump-starting the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, there is speculation that Bibi might again offer Herzog to join the cabinet in order to lend some leeway for conducting negotiations with Abbas. The vast majority of Bibi's Right-wing cabinet are vehemently opposed to making concessions or negotiating a two-state solution, which Bibi has said he supports.

In effect, Barak is acting like a 'kibitzer', or back-seat-driver, without getting his hands dirty and again running for office. At age 75, Barak is as fit and caustic as ever. He rejects the criticism, saying he has a citizen's right to speak his mind. He charges that both the government and a hapless Opposition are leading Israel to disaster. The question here is whether General Barak is biding his time waiting for Labor to draft him as leader - remember General Charles de Gaulle who was recalled by France to resolve the bitter Algerian war.

In any case, Labor is set to hold its internal party election on July 4th. No less than nine Laborites are running for party leadership. The lackluster Yitzhak Herzog is trailing far behind a veteran Laborite Amir Peretz and newcomer Avi Gabbay. Gabbay could turn out to be a 'dark horse' who could win on a second ballot, if Peretz does not get the required number of votes from party members. An intriguing relationship is emerging between Barak and Gabbay, both have gone out of their way to praise the other.

Gabbay, a brilliant economist with the reputation of a straight shooter, is the son of a very poor Moroccan Jewish family. He is an Israeli success story, who acquired two degrees in economics. As such, he could pull many Moroccan Jewish voters who tend to vote Likud. Although he served as a major in the IDF Intelligence Branch, his lack of high-level experience in foreign affairs and security is the weakest chink in his leadership armor. This is where Barak, a former PM, Defense Minister and IDF Chief of Staff could fill the bill. There are precedents: Barak himself once jumped ship from Labor and served as Bibi's Defense Minister. So did Moshe Dayan, who served as Foreign Minister for Prime Minister Menachem Begin. Dayan wound up playing a key role in forging the peace treaty with Egypt.

Palestinian hunger strikers call it quits…

It will go do down as one of the weirdest hunger strikes ever. After forty days, Palestinian security prisoners (terrorists) were back in the dining hall (they are allowed to plan and cook their traditional Arab meals). Sixteen hundred started but half of them stopped earlier on. Eighteen were treated in an Israeli hospital. They had demanded a second monthly visit by their families. In addition, they insisted on having more TV channels on their TV sets and the restoring of academic studies by correspondence. Get this: Dr. Marwan Barghouti, the Palestinian inmate, who organized the hunger strike, studied for his a doctorate while serving time in the Israeli pen. Barghouti was convicted on five counts of murdering Israelis. During the strike Barghouti, or someone else, was filmed secretly munching on a chocolate bar he had found in his quarters. (Possibly planted by the Israeli guards?) Obviously, this did not go over very well with his followers who observed the hunger strike.

There is a reason for what some might consider the pampering of terrorists, many of whom are convicted killers. They do enjoy extraordinary conditions that are monitored by the International Red Cross. In addition to being able to study, they are also given an allowance for buying cigarettes and candy etc. in the prison canteen. This obviously reduces prison rioting or imposing extremely harsh conditions. There is no Guantanamo-like facility in Israel. In fact, although declaring victory, all the Palestinian prisoners got was a second family visit a month.

Why re-election of Rouhani is not necessarily good news…

If only the re-elected 'President' Hassan Rouhani had any control over Iran's nuclear weapons program or Tehran's policy or Iran’s taking the number one spot for state terrorism - but he doesn't. So the view that his re-election indicates a more democratic and peaceable Iran is nothing but hogwash. And why is that? Simply because it is Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei and the rest of the Ayatollahs, combined with the fanatical Shiite Revolutionary Guards who call the shots. The RG paints the slogan 'Annihilate Israel' on their missiles before they are test-launched. In fact, the RG has seen fit to announce the existence of another underground ballistic missile facility - to make their point about who runs the show - Rouhani or not!

Ballistic missiles have one purpose - to deliver a nuclear warhead. They already have ballistic missiles with a range of 2,000 kilometers that can target Israel and some European countries. They, like their North Korean pals, are trying to develop an ICBM (Inter-Continental Ballistic Missile) that can reach the U.S. No wonder Trump got a standing ovation in Jerusalem after declaring he would never allow the Ayatollahs to get their hands on nuclear weapons. Meanwhile, the grinning Rouhani will be conning the Western media while the real power-brokers in Iran will continue to test ballistic missiles and foment terrorism and subversion throughout the Middle East. The Muslim fanatics in Iran are of the same ilk as their spiritual brothers in Egypt - the ones who have just machine-gunned to death twenty-nine Christians, five of them children. Daesh has claimed responsibility.





 

David Essing

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