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U.S. to Recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s Capital, Trump Says, Alarming Middle East Leaders

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President Trump told Israeli and Arab leaders on Tuesday that he plans to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, a symbolically fraught move that would upend decades of American policy and upset efforts to broker peace between Israel and the Palestinians.

Mr. Trump is expected to announce his decision on Wednesday, two days after the expiration of a deadline for him to decide whether to keep the American Embassy in Tel Aviv.

Palestinian officials said Mr. Trump told the president of the Palestinian Authority, Mahmoud Abbas, that the United States would move the embassy to Jerusalem. Jordan said the president gave a similar message to King Abdullah II.

American officials, however, said such a move could not occur immediately for logistical reasons, given the lack of facilities to house the embassy staff. As a result, Mr. Trump is expected to sign a national security waiver that would authorize the administration to keep it in Tel Aviv for an additional six months.

Still, Mr. Trump’s decision to recognize Jerusalem as the capital — and to set in motion an embassy move — is his riskiest foray yet into the thicket of Middle East diplomacy. Arab and European leaders warn that it could derail any peace initiative and even ignite fresh violence in the region.

King Abdullah II strongly cautioned against the move, “stressing that Jerusalem is the key to achieving peace and stability in the region and the world,” according to a statement from the royal palace in Amman.

“King Abdullah stressed that the adoption of this resolution will have serious implications for security and stability in the Middle East, and will undermine the efforts of the American administration to resume the peace process and fuel the feelings of Muslims and Christians,” the statement said.

Few details of the conversation between Mr. Trump and Mr. Abbas were released, but a P.L.O. spokesman said that the call had given shape to the worst fears of Palestinians — that the United States would break with decades of practice and longstanding international consensus by recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.

The Palestinians hope to make East Jerusalem the capital of a Palestinian state, and the city is of great religious significance to Jews, Christians and Muslims.

“It’s very serious,” said the spokesman, Xavier Abu Eid. “Things look very bad.”

The Palestinian news agency, WAFA, quoted Mr. Abbas’s spokesman, Nabil Abu Rudeineh, as saying that Mr. Abbas will continue his contacts with world leaders to prevent such “unacceptable action.”

King Abdullah also spoke with Mr. Abbas, assuring him of Jordan’s support for the Palestinians “in preserving their historic rights in Jerusalem and the need to work together to confront the consequences of this decision,” it said.

Mr. Trump, officials said, assured Mr. Abbas that the administration would protect Palestinian interests in any peace negotiation with Israel. He also invited the Palestinian leader to visit him in Washington for further consultations.

In his phone calls with Arab leaders, Mr. Trump is making the case that settling the question of the American Embassy could actually hasten the peace process by removing a thorny political issue that recurs every six months.

But that is primarily a political problem for Mr. Trump, who promised during the 2016 campaign to move the embassy. His pledge was extremely popular with evangelicals and pro-Israel backers, including the casino magnate Sheldon Adelson. They expressed frustration when Mr. Trump signed the waiver in June, keeping the embassy in Jerusalem.

Middle East experts said the administration’s argument that it could not move the embassy immediately made little sense, since all that is required is to place a sign on the existing American consulate, declaring it the embassy.

For Arab leaders, word that the United States would formally recognize Jerusalem as the capital had already caused great consternation. The symbolic statement of the embassy’s change of address, many officials warned, was actually less damaging to the peace process than changing United States policy on Jerusalem’s status.

For the United States to move the embassy would break with international consensus that the status of Jerusalem remains unsettled.

Though Israel houses its parliament, president, prime minister and most ministries in Jerusalem, and Israelis overwhelmingly want the world to acknowledge the Holy City as their seat of government, the international community recognizes de facto Israeli sovereignty only in West Jerusalem.

East Jerusalem was captured by Israeli forces during the Arab-Israeli war of 1967. And the permanent status of Jerusalem as a whole, East and West, was postponed under the Oslo Accords, although Israel extended Jerusalem’s municipal borders to encompass the predominantly Arab eastern neighborhoods.

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Saudi billionaire Alwaleed to walk free ‘within days’

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AL JAZEERA — Prominent Saudi businessman Prince Alwaleed bin Talal, says he expects to soon be released after two months of detention on allegations of corruption.

Prince Alwaleed, who was arrested among dozens of other royal family members, ministers, and top businessmen, said in an exclusive interview with Reuters news agency on Saturday that he expected to be cleared of charges and released from custody within the next few days.

“There are no charges. There are just some discussions between me and the government,” the 62-year-old said.

“I believe we are on the verge of finishing everything within days.”

He and his counterparts were arrested in early November during the kingdom’s “anti-corruption purge”, and were held collectively in the country’s Ritz Carton hotel.

In his interview, Prince Alwaleed said he was continuing to maintain his innocence of any corruption in talks with authorities. He also said he expected to remain in full control of his global investment firm, without being required to give up assets to the government.
During a previous interview with Reuters, a Saudi official said charges against the billionaire prince included money laundering, bribery and extorting of officials.

Also speaking to officials in the kingdom, the Reuters news agency said Saudi authorities were asking detainees to hand over assets and cash in return for their freedom.

The deals involve separating cash from assets, such as property and shares, and looking at bank accounts to assess cash values, one source told Reuters.

Prince Alwaleed appeared frail in comparison to his last public appearance in a televised interview last October, but confirmed that he was being treated well, dismissing rumors that had said otherwise.

Showing off his private office, dining room and kitchen in his hotel suite, Prince Alwaleed said he agreed to the interview mainly to prove that such rumours were false.

The release of Prince Alwaleed, whose net worth has been estimated by Forbes magazine at $17bn, may reassure investors in his business empire. Directly or indirectly through his firm, Kingdom Holding, he holds stakes in companies such as Twitter Inc and Citigroup Inc,

He has also invested in top hotels around the world, including the George V in Paris and the Plaza in New York City.

Saudi authorities said they aimed to reach financial settlements with most suspects and believed they could raise some $100bn for the government this way.

In recent days, there have been signs the purge is winding down; several other prominent businessmen, including Waleed al-Ibrahim, owner of regional television network MBC, have reached financial settlements with authorities, an official source told Reuters on Friday, though terms were not revealed.

Prince Alwaleed said his own case was taking longer to conclude because he was determined to clear his name completely, but he believed the case was now 95 percent complete.

“There’s a misunderstanding, and it’s being cleared. So I’d like to stay here until this thing is over completely and get out and life goes on,” he said, adding that he plans to live in the kingdom after his release.

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A bitter rivalry between Arab states is spilling into Africa

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THE rivalry between Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) on one side and the Gulf state of Qatar on the other is spilling poison into the Horn of Africa, embittering animosities between half a dozen countries in the region. Several of them have seized an opportunity to benefit from instability in the Arabian peninsula by offering bases. But if Arab conflicts spread, countries in the Horn could be dragged into the fray.

Broadly speaking, the regional imbroglio pits two camps of Muslims. One is a more vigorously Islamist lot, including Qatar and Turkey, which have been friendly towards the Muslim Brotherhood, an Islamist movement spanning many countries, and seek better relations with Iran. The other is an alliance led by Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Egypt, whose governments all loathe the Brothers and proclaim themselves as moderate Sunnis particularly hostile to the Shia version of Islam promoted by Iran.

But peripheral countries are being affected, too. According to one recent report, not confirmed by independent sources, Egypt has deployed troops in Eritrea near the latter’s border with Sudan. This followed a bout of bad blood in which Egypt’s government accused Sudan’s of boosting the Brotherhood, which ruled Egypt for a year from 2012 until overthrown by General Abdel-Fattah al-Sisi, now Egypt’s president. On January 15th Eritrea’s long-serving president, Issaias Afwerki, furiously denied the report, saying that “outright lies” had been “repeated ad nauseam by an assortment of Eritrea’s detractors” led by Qatar and its influential broadcaster, Al Jazeera.

The civil war just across the Red Sea in Yemen, where Iranian-backed Houthi rebels are fighting a Gulf coalition led by Saudi Arabia and the UAE, is further increasing regional tension. The countries of the Horn of Africa have been called on to take sides; many officially espouse neutrality, yet offer naval and military facilities.

A merry-go-round of island-swapping and port-lending is taking place. Even before the Yemen conflict erupted, Djibouti had earned billions of dollars by providing France (its former colonial master), America and China with military bases. Until a recent row it also hosted the UAE, which now uses a base in the Eritrean port of Assab, close to Djibouti, as a key spot from which to attack Houthi positions in Yemen. Sudan, which has deployed troops as part of the Gulf coalition against the Houthis, has been making friendly noises to Qatar, and has recently enraged Egypt by letting Turkey develop an old Ottoman port at Suakin, on the Red Sea. Egypt, for its part, last year delighted Saudi Arabia by ratifying an agreement that two small uninhabited islands near the Gulf of Aqaba belonged to the kingdom.

Somalia has been particularly friendly to Turkey and leans towards the Islamist camp. But Somaliland, the internationally unrecognised breakaway statelet on the Red Sea coast, which functions far better than the supposed mother country, has done a big deal with the UAE. The Emirates are building another base there and paying for a new road to connect Somaliland’s port of Berbera with landlocked Ethiopia. To confuse matters more, some of Somalia’s federal states, displaying their own quasi-independence, have made deals that seem to flout the foreign policy of the federal capital, Mogadishu. For instance, Somalia’s north-eastern statelet of Puntland last year signed a deal with the UAE to develop its port, Bosaso, to the annoyance of the government in Mogadishu. A hashtag called #HandsOffSomalia has become popular among Somalis prickly about what they see as infringements of their sovereignty.

Ethiopia tries to keep out of the regional spat, though it is still at loggerheads with Egypt over the nearly completed Great Renaissance Dam in Ethiopia, which Egypt says will drastically curb the flow of the Nile river. The Ethiopians are cosy with Turkey, a big investor, but have also put out friendly feelers to the UAE. Recently, by way of balance, they let Al Jazeera open an office in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia’s capital.

In any event, Ethiopia is likely to oppose anything Eritrea supports: the two countries’ armies still glower at each other across a disputed border, though full-scale fighting ceased in 2000. Meanwhile Eritrea has seized the chance to boost its depleted coffers. Not only has it let the UAE build its base at Assab, by the mouth of the Red Sea. Eritrea is also said to let Israel, which has quietly provided intelligence to Saudi Arabia on Yemen, have discreet use of facilities in the Dahlak archipelago, along with a listening station on an Eritrean mountain. The Houthis in Yemen accuse the Saudis of cosying up to the Israelis—a most heinous crime in some Islamist circles.

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Prize camels keep tradition alive in changing Saudi, but please no Botox!

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The dromedaries paraded down a dusty racetrack as judges rated the size of their lips, cheeks, heads and knees. Crowds of men watched from the bleachers, hooting when the beasts representing their own tribe loped down the track.

A dozen beasts have been disqualified from this year’s Saudi “camel beauty contest” because their handlers used Botox to make them more handsome.

“The camel,” explained the chief judge of the show, Fawzan al-Madi, “is a symbol of Saudi Arabia. We used to preserve it out of necessity, now we preserve it as a pastime.”

Much is changing in Saudi Arabia: the country is getting its first movie theaters. Soon women will be permitted to drive. The authorities eventually hope to diversify the economy away from the oil that has been its lifeblood for decades.

But as they seek to transform the conservative kingdom, the Saudi authorities are trying to smooth the path for reform by emphasizing traditional aspects of their culture. And for the Bedouin of Arabia, nothing is more essential than the camel, used for centuries for food, transport, as a war machine and companion.

So, the authorities have ramped up the country’s annual month-long camel festival, which was relocated last year from the remote desert to the outskirts of the capital. On a rocky desert plateau, the government has erected a permanent venue to host the headline events: races and show competitions with combined purses of 213 million riyals. ($57 million)

The pavilion features an auction where top camels can fetch millions of riyals.

There are food stalls and souvenir shops, a petting zoo featuring the world’s tallest and shortest camels, a museum with life-size sand sculptures of camels, tents for tasting camel’s milk and viewing camel-hair textiles, and a planetarium showing how Arabs rode camels through the desert guided by the stars.
Organizers say this “heritage village” will expand in coming years as Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman – who is heir to the throne, defense minister and head of oil and economic policy – takes the reins through a newly-created official Camel Club established by royal decree last year.

Halfway through this year’s festival, attendance is up about a third from last year, with about 300,000 people making the 1-1/2 hour trip from Riyadh so far, said Fahd al-Semmari, a Camel Club board member.

“The vision is for the (festival) to become a global, pioneering forum for all classes of people to come for entertainment, knowledge and competition.”

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