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Making Middle East peace impossible: Donald Trump and Jerusalem

Donald Trump’s Jerusalem move weakens US influence in the Middle East and makes peace between Arabs and Israelis all but impossible

Alexander Mercouris

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President Trump’s decision – of which he informed Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in a telephone call today – to move the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem has implications which too few people in the West and in the US especially recognise.

Jerusalem has hosted Israel’s government and parliament ever since the Israeli army took over formerly Jordanian controlled east Jerusalem during the 1967 Six Days War.   In a sense moving the US embassy to Jerusalem simply recognises what has been the reality of the last fifty years.

That is however to ignore the huge symbolism of this step.

For Israelis – and for many Jewish people elsewhere – Jerusalem’s status as Israel’s capital is obvious and sacrosanct.

Jerusalem was the capital first of the united Kingdom of Israel and Judah following its capture by King David, and then of the Kingdom of Judah, until the sacking of the city by the Babylonians in 586 BC.

During this period the First Temple – destroyed by the Babylonians in 586 BC – was built in Jerusalem by David’s son Solomon.

Jerusalem was then restored to Jewish control by the Persian King Cyrus the Great later in the sixth century, making it possible for the Second Temple to be built.

Though there were periods thereafter when Jerusalem was under the political control of the Greeks and Romans, the Second Temple – hugely increased in size by Herod the Great – continued to be the centre of Jewish worship until it was destroyed by the Romans in 70 AD.

Throughout this period Jerusalem remained the centre of the Jewish people’s religious, political and intellectual life.

A last attempt to regain control of Jerusalem and to rebuild the Temple was made in the Second Century AD by the Jewish rebel Simon Bar-Kokhba.  However following the suppression of Bar-Kokhba’s revolt by the Romans Jerusalem fell successively under Roman, Byzantine, Muslim Arab, Crusader, Ottoman Turkish and eventually British control, until the establishment of the state of Israel in 1948.

Throughout this long period the Jewish people never forgot their connection to Jerusalem, which remains emotionally powerful for them to this day.

Given the decisive importance of Jerusalem in forming the Jewish identity, it could not be otherwise.

Suffice to say that for the vast majority of Israelis and for most Jews a state of Israel which does not have Jerusalem as its capital is unthinkable, and the whole project of establishing a Jewish state on the territory of the former British Mandate of Palestine would make no sense without it.

This view is not held by Jews alone.  Many evangelical Christians – especially in the US – who have been brought up on the Bible also share it.  So do many secular people in the West.

There is no doubt that Donald Trump is one of those people.  Throughout his brief political career he has made know his deep affection for Israel and for the Jewish people, which has unquestionably been deepened by the marriage of his daughter Ivanka to Jared Kushner and her conversion to Judaism.

Beyond this there is unquestionably the political calculation that much of Donald Trump’s electoral support comes from evangelical Christians, who strongly support the recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.

It is very easy to see how a US President under the sort of political siege which Donald Trump has been placed under might wish to do something such as moving the US embassy to Jerusalem which he may well calculate will shore up the support of his electoral base.

The decision nonetheless is one which is fraught with dangerous implications, and which is both wrong and unwise.

Firstly – though this is something which will probably not concern Donald Trump or his supporters overmuch – recognising Jerusalem as Israel’s capital is contrary to international law.  UN Security Council Resolutions 242 and 2334 leave no room for doubt about this.

Far more importantly, if the status of Jerusalem is a matter that is critically important for Israelis and Jews, it is also one which is critically important for Muslims and Arabs.

The Prophet Muhammad in his lifetime already recognised Jerusalem as a Holy City in light of its association with the Biblical prophets – David, Solomon, Elijah and Jesus – who are recognised as prophets by Islam.  Before Muhammad’s cleansing of the Ka’ba in Mecca, Jerusalem was the first Direction of Prayer for Muslims in Muhammad’s lifetime.

More importantly for Muslims, Jerusalem is the place where the Prophet Muhammad ascended to Heaven to speak with God, the prophets and the archangels.

The relevant authority for this in the Quran – which it is important to remember Muslims regard as the unmediated Word of God – is verse 17:1

Glory to Him Who carried His servant by night from the Sacred Masjid (ie. the Great Mosque in Mecca – AM) to the Furthest Masjid (the furthest mosque – AM), whose precincts We have blessed, to show him of Our wonders! He it is Who is All-Hearing, All-Seeing

That the location of the Furthest Masjid referred to in this verse is Jerusalem was according to Hadith (ie. Muhammad’s own teaching) confirmed by Muhammad himself.

Verse 17.1 of the Quran is held by Muslims to refer to what is known as the Night Journey (al-’Isrā’ wal-Mi‘rāj) whereby Muhammad was transported in a single day in the year 630 AD to Jerusalem by the miraculous steed Buraq, and from thence ascended to Heaven where he spoke with the archangels, the prophets and God before returning to earth.  The place of Muhammad’s ascent is identified by Muslims as the Al-Aqsa mosque.

The Night Journey is one of the most important events for Muslims in the life of the Prophet, and is one of the most significant events in the Islamic Calendar.  As result of the Night Journey Jerusalem is considered by Muslims to be the third holiest site (after Mecca and Medina) in Islam.

Beyond its religious significance for Muslims, for the Palestinian Arabs Jerusalem is their greatest city and the capital of the country – Palestine – to which they belong, and which ever since the fall of the Ottoman empire they have always aspired to create.

Recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital is therefore as emotionally offensive to Muslims and Arabs (especially Palestinian Arabs) and it is emotionally important for Israelis and Jews.

Every single attempt to mediate a settlement of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict ever since the 1947 United Nations Partition Plan has recognised this fact.

That plan envisaged that Jerusalem would not become the capital of either Israel or of the Palestinian state that it proposed, but should instead be separately administered as a holy city important to Jews, Muslims and Christians under international control.

All other plans and proposals to negotiate a settlement of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict proposed since then have struggled with the issue of Jerusalem, which is recognised as the central and most intractable issue of the whole conflict.  It has always been understood that a peaceful end to the conflict is only possible if some mutually acceptable compromise over the status of Jerusalem can be agreed.

De facto recognition by the US of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, even if it only comes in the form of the physical relocation of the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, threatens to make achieving such a compromise impossible.

Given the enormous emotional pull of Jerusalem for Israelis and for the Jewish people, it now becomes all but impossible to see how they will ever accept a compromise on this issue given that the US – the world’s most powerful country – has now de facto recognised Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.

However de facto recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital now all but guarantees that whatever peace proposal is put forward which is acceptable to Israelis will be rejected by a critical mass of Muslims and Arabs.

Given the emotional and religious significance of Jerusalem for Muslims and Arabs, it is inconceivable that most of them will accept a peace proposal which leaves Jerusalem under Israeli control as Israel’s capital.

That all but guarantees that the Palestinian-Israeli conflict – and the conflict between Israel, the Arabs and the broader Muslim world – will continue indefinitely.

At best there may be periods of ‘cold peace’ ie. periods when the conflict goes into temporary remission.  However as night follows day after every such period will end, with the conflict sooner or later flaring up again.

Beyond this there is the issue of the radicalisation this decision will cause across the Muslim world.

It is not generally acknowledged in the West, but the 1967 Six Days War and the capture by Israel of formerly Jordanian east Jerusalem was the watershed moment when radical political Islam began to take over from Arab nationalism as the dominant political movement in the Arab world and the Middle East.

For Muslims Israel’s capture in 1967 of the last remaining part of Jerusalem under Arab and Muslim control – including the territory of the Al-Aqsa mosque from whence the Prophet ascended to Heaven – was a profound shock.

Though it took some time for the effect of this to become visible – as such things always do – the rise of radical political Islam and eventually of violent Jihadism was the result.

De facto recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital is bound to give this process further impetus.

The immediate beneficiaries will not be the violent Jihadi groups such as Al-Qaeda and ISIS, who have shown no interest in fighting Israel, and whose atrocities have discredited them in Arab and Muslim eyes.

It will be Iran and Hezbollah: the Islamic Republic and the Muslim movement who have been the most consistent leaders of the so-called “Axis of Resistance” opposing Israel and the West.

In other words, at a time when the US and Israel and their allies have been seeking to reduce Iranian influence in the Middle East and the Arab world, Donald Trump has just taken a step which will make Iran’s popularity and its influence in the Middle East and the Arab world still greater.

Inevitably it is a step which will also undermine the position of those Arab leaders – first and foremost the Saudis – who are allies of the US.

Though these leaders have shown no interest in challenging Israel – on the contrary in the case of the Saudis they are in de facto alliance with it – the Arab and Muslim populations over which they rule are known to feel very differently.

With the Middle East becoming increasingly unstable, with US influence diminishing, and with Iranian influence growing, Donald Trump has just taken a step which will make the lives of these leaders more difficult.

Lastly, it is very difficult to see how the US’s already threadbare reputation as an honest broker in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict can long survive this move.

As is always the case it will take some time for this to become apparent, but more and more Muslims and Arabs – including the leaders of the traditionally pro-US conservative Arab states – are going to struggle to explain to themselves how they can continue to accept the US as a mediator in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict when it has de facto recognised Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.

That will inevitably further reduce the US’s role in the peace process, and by extension its already diminishing influence in the Middle East.

All in all Donald Trump has just done both the US’s position in the Middle East and the long-term prospects of peace there major and possibly irretrievable damage.

Not bad for a single day’s work.

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Russian Il-20 downed by Syrian missile. Russia blames Israel. Israel blames Syria (Video)

The Duran – News in Review – Episode 110.

Alex Christoforou

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The unthinkable has happened in Syria.

The world now teeters on the brink of all out war in Syria as a Russian Il-20 was downed by Syrian missile after Israeli F-16s used it as cover during attack, according to statements made by the Russian Ministry of Defense.

President Vladimir Putin, answering a reporter’s question during a press conference with Hungarian PM Viktor Orban, said the downing of the Russian Il-20 plane looks like “a chain of tragic circumstances.” 

The Duran’s Alex Christoforou and Editor-in-Chief Alexander Mercouris discuss the tripwire triggered that has the potential to tip the fragile balance in Syria towards conflict between Russia, Iran and Israel.

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The Russian military says an Israeli raid on Syria triggered a chain of events that led to its Il-20 plane being shot down by a Syrian S-200 surface-to-air missile. Moscow reserves the right to respond accordingly.

Russian Defense Ministry spokesman Maj. Gen. Igor Konashenkov said…

“Israel did not warn the command of the Russian troops in Syria about the planned operation. We received a notification via a hotline less than a minute before the strike, which did not allow the Russian aircraft to be directed to a safe zone.”

The statement by the Russian Defense Ministry said that four Israeli F-16 fighter jets attacked targets in Syria’s Latakia after approaching from the Mediterranean.

The Israeli warplanes approached at a low altitude and “created a dangerous situation for other aircraft and vessels in the region.”

The statement further said that 15 Russian military service members have died as a result…

“The Israeli pilots used the Russian plane as cover and set it up to be targeted by the Syrian air defense forces. As a consequence, the Il-20, which has radar cross-section much larger than the F-16, was shot down by an S-200 system missile.”

According to reports from RT, the Russian military said that the French Navy’s frigate ‘Auvergne,’ as well as a Russian Il-20 plane were in the area during the Israeli operation.

Map of the incident on September 17 in Syria provided by the Russian defense ministry.

The Russian ministry said the Israelis must have known that the Russian plane was present in the area, but this did not stop them from executing “the provocation.” Israel also failed to warn Russia about the planned operation in advance. The warning came just a minute before the attack started, which “did not leave time to move the Russian plane to a safe area,”the statement said.

The statement gives a larger death toll than earlier reports by the Russian military, which said there were 14 crew members on board the missing Il-20. It said a search and rescue operation for the shot-down plane is underway.

A later update said debris from the downed plane was found some 27km off the Latakia coast. The search party collected some body parts, personal possessions of the crew, and fragments of the plane.

Meanwhile Israel has come out to blame the Syrian government for the downing of the military plane, according to an IDF statement.

Israel said that it “expresses sorrow for the death of the aircrew members” of the Russian plane. However, it stated that the government of Bashar Assad “whose military shot down the Russian plane,” is “fully responsible” for the incident.

Israel further blamed Iran and Hezbollah for the incident.

The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) explained that its jets were targeting a Syrian facility “from which systems to manufacture accurate and lethal weapons were about to be transferred on behalf of Iran to Hezbollah in Lebanon.”

Israel claimed that the weapons were “meant to attack Israel.”

Via RT

The IDF assumed that the Syrian anti-air batteries “fired indiscriminately” and didn’t “bother to ensure that no Russian planes were in the air.” The Israelis said that when the Syrian military launched the missiles which hit the Russian plane, its own jets were already within Israeli airspace. “During the strike against the target in Latakia, the Russian plane that was then hit was not within the area of the operation.”

According to the Israeli military, both IDF and Russia have “a deconfliction system,” which was agreed upon by the leadership of both states, and “has proven itself many times over recent years.” The system was in use when the incident happened, the IDF stated. The IDF promised to share “all the relevant information” with Russia “to review the incident and to confirm the facts in this inquiry.”

The military presented a four-point initial inquiry into events in Latakia. It insisted that “extensive and inaccurate” Syrian anti-aircraft fire caused the Russian jet “to be hit and downed.”

The Russian Il-20 aircraft, with 15 crew on board, went off radar during an attack by four Israeli jets on Syria’s Latakia province late Monday. Later on Tuesday the Russian Defense Ministry said that an Israeli raid on Syria triggered a chain of events that led to its plane being shot down by a Syrian S-200 surface-to-air missile.

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Trump Orders Immediate Release Of All Text Messages, Carter Page FISA Application From Russia Investigation

Trump has ordered the DOJ to release all text messages related to the Russia investigation with no redactions.

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Via Zerohedge

President Trump has ordered the Department of Justice to release all text messages related to the Russia investigation with no redactions, of former FBI Director James Comey, his deputy Andrew McCabe, now-fired special agent Peter Strzok, former FBI attorney Lisa Page and twice-demoted DOJ official Bruce Ohr.

Also released will be specific pages from the FBI’s FISA surveillance warrant application on former Trump campaign aide Carter Page, as well as interviews with Ohr.

The statement reads in full:

“At the request of a number of committees of Congress, and for reasons of transparency, the President has directed the Office of the Director of National Intelligence and the Department of Justice (including the FBI) to provide for the immediate declassification of the following materials: (1) pages 10-12 and 17-34 of the June 2017 application to the FISA court in the matter of Carter W. Page; (2) all FBI reports of interviews with Bruce G. Ohr prepared in connection with the Russia investigation; and (3) all FBI reports of interviews prepared in connection with all Carter Page FISA applications.

In addition, President Donald J. Trump has directed the Department of Justice (including the FBI) to publicly release all text messages relating to the Russia investigation, without redaction, of James Comey, Andrew McCabe, Peter Strzok, Lisa Page, and Bruce Ohr

***

As we reported last Monday, Trump had been expected to release the documents any time – with specific attention to the Page documents and the “investigative activities of Justice Department lawyer Bruce Ohr” – who was demoted twice for lying about his extensive relationship  with Christopher Steele – the former MI6 spy who assembled the sham “Steele Dossier” used by the FBI in a FISA surveillance application to spy on Page.

Republicans on the House Intelligence and Judiciary committees believe the declassification will permanently taint the Trump-Russia investigation by showing the investigation was illegitimate to begin with. Trump has been hammering the same theme for months.

  • They allege that Bruce Ohr played an improper intermediary role between the Justice Department, British spy Christopher Steele and Fusion GPS — the opposition research firm that produced the Trump-Russia dossier, funded by Democrats. (Ohr’s wife, Nellie, worked for Fusion GPS on Russia-related matters during the presidential election — a fact that Ohr did not disclose on federal forms.)
  • And they further allege that the Obama administration improperly spied on Carter Page — all to take down Trump. –Axios

Ohr, meanwhile, met with Russian billionaire Oleg Deripaska in 2015 to discuss helping the FBI with organized crime investigations, according to The Hill‘s John Solomon. The meeting with the Putin ally was facilitated by Steele.

Last month Trump called Ohr a disgrace, while also tweeting: “Will Bruce Ohr, whose family received big money for helping to create the phony, dirty and discredited Dossier, ever be fired from the Jeff Sessions  “Justice” Department? A total joke!”

Trump’s threat came one day after two tweets about Ohr, noting a connection to former FBI agent Peter Strzok, as well as a text sent by Ohr after former FBI Director James Comey was fired in which Ohr says “afraid they will be exposed.”

According to emails turned over to Congressional investigators in August, Christopher Steele was much closer to Bruce Ohr and his wife Nellie than previously disclosed.

Steele and the Ohrs would have breakfast together on July 30, 2016 at the Mayflower Hotel in downtown Washington D.C., days after Steele turned in installments of his infamous “dossier” on July 19 and 26. The breakfast also occurred one day before the FBI formally launched operation “Crossfire Hurricane,” the agency’s counterintelligence operation into the Trump campaign.

“Great to see you and Nellie this morning Bruce,” Steele wrote shortly following their breakfast meeting. “Let’s keep in touch on the substantive issues/s (sic). Glenn is happy to speak to you on this if it would help.”

“After two years of investigations and accusations from both sides of the aisle about what documents indicate, it is past time for documents to be declassified and let the American people decide for themselves if DoJ and FBI acted properly,” Freedom Caucus chairman Mark Meadows told Axios earlier Sunday.

In early August, journalist Paul Sperry tweeted that Trump may use his presidential authority to declassify “20 redacted pages of a June, 2017 FISA renewal, “and possibly” 63 pages of emails and notes between “Ohr & Steele,” and FD-302 summaries of 12 interviews.”

President Trump threatened to declassify documents two weeks ago – one day after the New York Times allegedly published an anonymous Op-Ed claiming to be from a White House official claiming to be part of an unelected “resistance” cabal within the Trump administration.

“The Deep State and the Left, and their vehicle, the Fake News Media, are going Crazy – & they don’t know what to do,” Trump tweeted earlier this month, adding: “The Economy is booming like never before, Jobs are at Historic Highs, soon TWO Supreme Court Justices & maybe Declassification to find Additional Corruption. Wow!”

Trump’s threat comes as calls by frustrated GOP legislators to release the documents have hit a fevered pitch. Spearheading the effort are Republican Reps. Meadows, Jim Jordan, Matt Gaetz and Lee Zeldin – who have repeatedly asked Trump to declassify more of the heavily redacted FISA surveillance warrant on former Trump campaign aide Carter Page in late 2016.

In June, Republicans on the House Intelligence Committee asked President Trump to declassify key sections of Carter Page’s FISA warrant application, according to a letter obtained by Fox News.

Carter Page, the DOJ/FBI’s person of interest, weighed in on the matter in late August, tweeting: “The Corrupt DOJ, co-conspirators in the DNC and their high-priced consultants correctly believed they had American democracy and the FISA Court over a barrel in 2016.”

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De-Dollarization Tops Agenda at Russia’s Eastern Economic Forum

The Eastern Economic Forum (EEF) was held in Vladivostok on Sept.11-13. Founded in 2015, the event has become a platform for planning and launching projects to strengthen business ties in the Asia-Pacific region.

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Via Strategic Culture

This year, the EEF brought together delegations from over 60 countries to discuss the topic “The Far East: Expanding the Range of Possibilities”. A total of 100 business events involving over 6,000 participants were held during the three days.

1,357 media personnel worked to cover the forum. Last year, the number of participants was 5,000 with 1,000 media persons involved in reporting and broadcasting. The EEF-18 gathered 340 foreign and 383 Russian CEOs. Nearly 80 start-ups from across South-East Asia joined the meeting.

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This year, a total of 175 agreements worth of 2.9 trillion rubles (some $4.3 billion) were signed. For comparison, the sum was 2.5 trillion rubles (roughly $3.7 billion) in 2017.

They included the development of the Baimsky ore deposits in Chukotka, the construction of a terminal for Novatek LNG at Bechevinskaya Bay in Kamchatka and the investment of Asian countries in Russia’s agricultural projects in the Far East.

Russian Direct Investment Fund (RDIF), Mail.Ru Group, Megafon and Chinese Alibaba inked an agreement on establishing AliExpress trade joint venture. Rosneft and Chinese CNPC signed an oil exploration agreement.

The Chinese delegation was the largest (1,096 people), followed by the Japanese (570 members). The list of guests included the president of Mongolia and prime ministers of Japan and South Korea.

It was also the first time Chinese President Xi Jinping attended the event to meet his Russian counterpart. The issue of de-dollarization topped the agenda. Russia and China reaffirmed their interest in expanding the use of national currencies in bilateral deals.

During the forum, Kirill Dmitriev, the head of RDIF, said the fund intends to use only national currencies in its transactions with China starting from 2019. It will cooperate with the China Development Bank.

This “yuanification” is making visible progress with Shanghai crude futures increasing their share of oil markets up to 14 percent or even more. China has signed agreements with Canada and Qatar on national currencies exchange.

READ MORE: Eastern Economic Forum opens new chapter in US-Russia dialogue

De-dollarization is a trend that is picking up momentum across the world. A growing number of countries are interested in replacing the dollar. Russia is leading the race to protect itself from fluctuations, storms and US-waged trade wars and sanctions.

Moscow backs non-dollar trade with Ankara amid the ongoing lira crisis. Turkey is switching from the dollar to settlements in national currencies, including its trade with China and other countries. Ditching the US dollar is the issue topping the BRICS agenda. In April, Iran transferred all international payments to the euro.

The voices calling for de-dollarization are getting louder among America’s closest European allies. In August, German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas called for the creation of a new payments system independent of the US.

According to him, Europe should not allow the United States to act “over our heads and at our expense.” The official wants to strengthen European autonomy by establishing independent payment channels, creating a European Monetary Fund and building up an independent SWIFT system.

Presenting his annual program, European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker called on Sept. 12 for the European Union to promote the euro as a global currency to challenge the dollar.

According to him, “We must do more to allow our single currency to play its full role on the international scene.” Mr. Juncker believes “it is absurd that Europe pays for 80 percent of its energy import bill – worth 300 billion euros a year – in US dollars when only roughly 2 percent of our energy imports come from the United States.” He wants the raft of proposals made in his state of the union address to start being implemented before the European Parliament elections in May.

70% of all world trade transactions account for the dollar, while 20% are  settled in the euro, and the rest falls on the yuan and other Asian currencies. The dollar value is high to make the prices of consumer goods in the US artificially low. The demand for dollars allows refinancing the huge debt at low interest rates. The US policy of trade wars and sanctions has triggered the global process of de-dollarization.

Using punitive measures as a foreign policy tool is like shooting oneself in the foot. It prompts a backlash to undermine the dollar’s status as the world reserve currency – the basis of the US economic might. The aggressive policy undermines the US world standing to make it weaker, not stronger.

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