Trump and Netanyahu waver on support for two-state solution in Middle East

WASHINGTON — President Trump hosted Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the White House Wednesday for a series of meetings intended to "show there is no daylight" between the two leaders on a range of issues.And that includes the so-called "two-state solution" that has been a hallmark of U.S. policy in the Middle East — and a source of friction between the Netanyahu government and Trump's predecessor, President Barack Obama.Trump professed to be agnostic on the policy. "So I'm looking at two-state or the one-state," Trump said. "I was thinking for a while that the two-state was looking like the easier of the two."He concluded that the matter is up to Israel and Palestine to decide. "I'm happy with the one they like best," he said.The one-state solution would include Israelis and Palestinians in a single, secular country with equal citizenship. The two-state solution calls for a negotiated settlement leading to a Palestinian nation alongside Israel, and it was the U.S. policy under both the Bush and Obama administrations.But with Trump stepping back, Netanyahu reasserted his position that a two-state solution can only happen under two conditions: The new Palestinian state must recognize Israel's legitimacy, and Israel must maintain security control of the West Bank.And he suggested that the very "two-state" label was a hindrance to progress."Rather than deal with labels, I'd like to deal with substance," Netanyahu said.Trump and Netanyahu appeared to have an easy chemistry, even bantering among themselves during the press conference."Bibi and I have known each other a long time — a smart man, great negotiator. And I think we're going to make a deal. It might be a bigger and better deal than people in this room even understand. That's a possibility. So let’s see what we do," Trump said."Let’s try it," Netanyahu interjected."Doesn't sound too optimistic, but he’s a good negotiator," Trump Continue Reading

On the Middle East, Obama embraces the Bush foreign policy — which he built his career opposing

In the first two years of his presidency, President Obama's Middle Eastern foreign policy was premised on a set of if-onlys. It went something like this: If only America engaged Iran, the mullahs would end their pursuit of nuclear capabilities. If only America restored relations with Syria, dictator Bashar al-Assad - a "reformer," supposedly - would abandon its alliance with Iran and make peace with Israel. If only America stopped preaching democratization to Arab leaders, Arab publics would stop brooding at American "interference." And if only America pressured Israel to stop building settlements as a precursor to negotiations, there would be Israeli-Palestinian peace. Yet one-by-one, these theories exploded in the President's face. It turned out that the mullahs were not willing to negotiate away their nukes; that Assad, who has killed over 900 of his people in the past month, was not a "reformer"; that Arab publics hated their dictators and actually wanted a pro-democratic U.S. foreign policy, though they opposed the way it was done in Iraq; and that even a nine-month settlement freeze wouldn't bring Palestinian leaders to the table. So today, the President who promised to govern on the basis of "what works" finally conceded to reality. And though he called it a "new chapter in American diplomacy," much of Obama's speech represented an embrace of George W. Bush's Middle Eastern foreign policy - a foreign policy that Obama built his political career opposing. CLICK HERE TO READ ABOUT THE PRESIDENT'S SPEECH Indeed, as his predecessor once did, Obama highlighted Iran's human rights abuses very explicitly. In stark contrast to his deafening silence when Iranians took to the streets to demand political change nearly two years ago, Obama spoke eloquently of "the image of a young woman dying in the streets," and accused the Iranian government of teaching Syria "the tactics of suppression." Just like that, the hand he once extended towards the Islamic Continue Reading

Middle East diplomat causes terror scare on Denver-bound flight by lighting cigarette in bathroom

A Middle East diplomat sparked a bomb scare and a full-scale security alert on Wednesday night after he fired up a cigarette in the bathroom of a cross-country flight. Two jet fighters were scrambled to meet the United Airlines flight, President Obama was alerted and scores of police officers and FBI and Homeland Security Department officials mobilized to meet the plane. The jets escorted the flight, which took off from Washington, to Denver International Airport, its scheduled destination. Yet officials were quick to play down initial reports it was an attempted shoe-bomb attack. The man was identified as a Washington-based diplomat who works in the Qatari Embassy and is a third secretary, a relatively low-ranking position. An Arab diplomat briefed on the matter identified the man as Mohammed al-Madidi, who is believed to be 27 years old with full diplomatic immunity. Madidi, who was seated in first class, drew attention after he went into the bathroom to sneak a cigarette and smoke began seeping into the cabin from beneath the door, sources told the Daily News. Two federal marshals aboard the plane were alerted, and they approached the bathroom and knocked on the door, sources said."He mouthed off to them, making a tense, stupid situation worse," a law enforcement source told The News.No explosives were found on the man, and officials do not believe he was trying to harm anyone, but a high-scale security response was already in action.Fighter jets were dispatched to meet the plane and accompany it for its final descent into Denver."Two of our F-16s were scrambled out of [Colorado's] Buckley Air Force Base and escorted the aircraft all the way into Denver," NORAD spokesman Air Force Capt. Craig Savage said.Investigators met the plane as it landed shortly after 7 p.m. as about 40 fire and police vehicles with lights flashing waited on the tarmac. None of the 157 passengers and six crew members on the flight was harmed. The FBI was Continue Reading

Tony Blair on Dick Cheney: He wanted to remake Middle East after 9/11, invade Iraq, Syria, Iran

Dick Cheney wanted to invade several Middle East nations, not just Iraq, former British Prime Minister Tony Blair reveals in his new book. Blair writes that the former Vice President had a goal to remake the power structure of several countries in that part of the world. Cheney "would have worked through the whole lot, Iraq, Syria, Iran, dealing with all their surrogates in the course of it -- Hezbollah, Hamas, etc.," Blair wrote in his memoir, "A Journey." The former PM told Christiane Amanpour on ABC's "This Week" that Cheney, 69, believed "the world had to be remade after September the 11th." "Dick was always absolutely hard-line on these things," Blair said. "I mean, I think he would openly avow this." In his book, Blair writes Cheney wanted to deliver a message to nations he felt were supporting terrorists and terror organizations. "He was for hard, hard power," he wrote. "No ifs, no buts, no maybes. We're coming after you so change or be changed." Blair didn't exactly agree with this position, but told Amanpour that there was some merit to it. "You can't dismiss that Cheney view and say, well, that's just stupid," he said. As an example, Blair pointed towards Iran, which has gotten much closer to obtaining nuclear weapons than Iraq's Saddam Hussein ever did. "Maybe if [Iran] got them, they would never use them," he said. "But I don't think, if I was a leader today, and certainly, this is the view I took then, I don't think I would take the risk." When pressed on whether or not an invasion of the country would be necessary to stop its nuclear ambitions, Blair was reticent. "I don't want to see it, but I'm saying you cannot exclude it because the primary objective has got to be to prevent them from getting a nuclear weapon," Blair said. Join the Conversation: Continue Reading

The bigger Middle East war: It’s moderate Arabs against radical Islamists

The war in Gaza is the first chapter of a new era in the Middle East. The Arab-Israeli conflict is far from the region's dominant dispute. The Arab-Islamist conflict now overwhelms it - by a large margin. Increasingly, Arab regimes know Hamas isn't their friend and, though they won't say so publicly, don't see Israel as an enemy. No wonder: Israel is politically stable and economically prosperous. It doesn't threaten to take over their countries, overthrow their regimes and stand them in front of a firing squad. Radical Islamism, Iran-style, does. That's right. Arab nations' prime 21st century enemy is Iran and its allies: Syria, Hezbollah, Hamas and Iraqi terrorists. After destroying their own countries, they want to do the same to everyone else. Up on the Lebanese border, where I just visited, things are quiet. Hezbollah talks big about its 2006 "victory" but knows how hard Israel hit it then. It's not looking for trouble with the Jewish state now. At the same time, Egypt condemns Hamas and urges Israel to smash the radical Islamist group. Lebanese friends tell me they fear that unless Israel and the West stop the Islamists, their country will be taken over in this new year. The editor of the important Arabic newspaper Al-Sharq al-Awsat, himself a Saudi, warns that Iran and Hamas - effectively at war with Egypt and Saudi Arabia - are the real threat to Arab security. And the meeting of Arab states last week, instead of producing a condemnation of Israel or America, did nothing. What was the 2006 Israel-Hezbollah war's big lesson? That unless Israel wins a clear victory, Islamists will be more aggressive. It's the same thing the U.S. surge in Iraq demonstrates: pulling punches on terrorists doesn't make them love you or be peaceable. Of course, the Israel-Palestinian conflict is far from over: It will probably continue for decades. But that's precisely the point. It's an Israel-Palestinian battle, smaller and less strategically Continue Reading

A Middle East ally emerges: Its name is Iraq

The barbarism in Mumbai and the economic crisis at home have largely overshadowed an otherwise singular event: the ratification of military and strategic cooperation agreements between Iraq and the United States. They must not pass unnoted. They were certainly noted by Iran, which fought fiercely to undermine the agreements. Tehran understood how a formal U.S.-Iraqi alliance endorsed by a broad Iraqi consensus expressed in a freely elected parliament changes the strategic balance in the region. For the United States, it represents the single most important geopolitical advance in the region since Henry Kissinger turned Egypt from a Soviet client into an American ally. If we don't blow it with too hasty a withdrawal from Iraq, we will have turned a chronically destabilizing enemy state at the epicenter of the Arab Middle East into an ally. Also largely overlooked at home was the sheer wonder of the procedure that produced Iraq's consent: classic legislative maneuvering with no more than a tussle or two - tame by international standards (see YouTube: "Best Taiwanese Parliament Fights Of All Time!") - over the most fundamental issues of national identity and direction. The only significant opposition bloc was the Sadrists, a mere 30 seats out of 275. The ostensibly pro-Iranian religious Shiite parties resisted Tehran's pressure and championed the agreement. As did the Kurds. The Sunnis put up the greatest fight. But their concern was that America would be withdrawing too soon, leaving them subject to overbearing and perhaps even vengeful Shiite dominance. The Sunnis, who only a few years ago had boycotted provincial elections, bargained with Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, trying to exploit his personal stake in agreements he himself had negotiated. They did not achieve their maximum objectives. But they did get formal legislative commitments for future consideration of their grievances, from amnesty to further relaxation of the de-Baathification laws. Continue Reading

War on Christians in the Middle East must be stopped

Shiraz, Iran, has just convicted two men of being infidels. Their crime? Converting to Christianity. The possible sentence? Death. Not too far away in Saudi Arabia, an outraged father recently hacked his own daughter to death for the same "abomination."In the daily drumbeat of Mideast news, there is one story of historic proportion that goes nearly unreported: the persecution and systematic destruction in the Islamic world of some of the world's oldest Christian communities. Sure, we hear when a Catholic bishop is murdered in Iraq, when machete-armed fanatics attack Egyptian Copt worshipers, or when churches are torched in Hamas-controlled Gaza. But what about the jailing in Saudi Arabia of foreign workers for holding forbidden Christian prayers? Or the arrest in Pakistan of a Christian man for marrying a Muslim woman? Or the continuing problem of an Islamic educational system that teaches the young that Christians (as well as Jews) are "the descendants of apes and pigs"? The pattern is nearly the same wherever extremist Islam holds sway. From Bangladesh to Darfur, Christians have become regular targets for Islamic thugs and the governments that back them. Just this month, a Pakistani court upheld the kidnapping, conversion and "marriage" to older Muslim men of two Christian sisters, aged 10 and 13. Even in lands that are not under orthodox Sharia law, Christian communities feel the pressure of persecution. In constitutionally secular Turkey, a legally recognized Protestant church in the capital of Ankara is under threat of closure by local police. Many Christians in Islamic lands have become subject to such terror that they are fleeing the homelands their ancestors have known almost since the time of Jesus. Iraq's Christian sects now feel forced to pray in secret. Others simply leave. Although they comprise less than 4% of Iraq's population, Iraqi Christians now account for 40% of its refugees. Lebanon's once politically powerful Christian community Continue Reading

What if Iran gets a working nuclear weapon? How Middle East crisis would hit U.S.

If and when Iran gets nuclear weapons it would set off a global nightmare. Most obviously, Iran could use nuclear arms to attack Israel. It’s easy to say that Iran’s leaders would be cautious, but what if ideology, error, or an extremist faction decides to wipe the Jewish state off the map? Even a 10-percent chance of nuclear holocaust is terrifying. And if Israel decides its existence is at risk, it would launch a preemptive attack that would also produce a big crisis.That’s just for starters. Once Iran has nuclear weapons, every Arab state, with the exception of Iran’s ally Syria, would also be imperiled. Those countries would beg for U.S. protection. But could they depend on America, under the Barack Obama administration, to go to war – especially a nuclear one – to shield them? Uncertain of U.S. reliability, these governments would rush to appease Iran.To survive, the Arab states will do whatever Iran wants – which would come at high cost for America: alliances would weaken and military bases would close down. No Arab state would dare support peace with Israel, either.But Arab states wouldn’t feel safe with just appeasement. An arms’ race would escalate in which several other countries would try to buy or build nukes of their own. Tension, and chance for nuclear war, whether through accident or miscalculation, would soar. The United States would eventually have to get dragged in.European allies would also be scared. As reluctant as they are to help America in the Middle East, that paralysis would get worse. As willing as they are to appease Tehran, they’d go far beyond that.Meanwhile, an emboldened Iran would push to limit oil and gas production and increase prices. Other oil producers would feel compelled to move away from their former, more responsible practices. Consumers’ fears would push up the prices further.Yet there’s worse. Flush with a feel of victory, Iran and its allies — Continue Reading


SOUNDING like a presidential candidate, former Mayor Rudy Giuliani said the U.S. must hang tough against Iran's nuclear ambitions and can't "cut and run" on Iraq. Appearing on Fox News Channel's "The O'Reilly Factor," Giuliani refused to say if he'll run for the White House in 2008, but left no doubt on what his foreign policy would be. "I don't think you can take the military option off the table," Giuliani said of ending Iran's nuclear program. "It really depends on the circumstances, but the option has to be there, and if they think that the President wouldn't be strong enough to exercise that option, we have much less chance of solving the problem." On Iraq, he said the fledgling government there has to be given time to be successful. "I think you give them the time to try to put an accountable government together," he said. "That is the reason we are there. It is critical to turning around the Middle East. It's critical to the war on terrorism. It's critical to the root cause of terrorism that we accomplish that and we can't cut and run." About the current fighting on the Israel-Lebanon border, he said the United States should give Israel all the time it needs to crush Hezbollah resistance. "It's been a strong supporter of the United States, strong friend of the United States," he said of Israel. "We have to support our friends. They have to support us." Join the Conversation: Continue Reading

Obama’s Middle East myopia

As sectarian civil wars consume much of the Arab world — with ISIS controlling much of Iraq and Syria while Yemen and Libya are collapsing into failed states — President Obama has keyed in on one nation of profound concern. That is Israel, a country the American President indicts as fomenting bloody upheaval in the Middle East because he is seething at Benjamin Netanyahu, its newly reelected prime minister. Scanning his region, Netanyahu sees the Palestinian Authority in partnership with the terror band Hamas, sees Hamas connected to Iran, sees Iran enmeshed in the Syrian civil war next door, sees ISIS threateningly close to his borders in Syria, sees Iran, whose regime has pledged to annihilate Israel, grabbing power in country after country. Next, Netanyahu knows that a peace deal with the Palestinians would entail surrendering territory that would put Israel in direct jeopardy of attack. This being the case, what he cannot see is the feasibility of entering a two-state solution with the Palestinians — as he said, “today.” Willfully blind to the threats facing Israel, as well as to its status as a bastion of democracy and shared values in a landscape of insanity, Obama spoke on Saturday of muscling Netanyahu: “We take him at his word when he said that it wouldn’t happen during his prime ministership, and so that’s why we’ve got to evaluate what other options are available to make sure that we don’t see a chaotic situation in the region.” Instant replay: Obama wants to make sure that we don’t see a chaotic situation in the region — as if the Jewish state will be guilty of despoiling a Garden of Eden. As it happens, the President spoke to the Huffington Post as America was withdrawing its last 125 Special Operations troops from Yemen because Iranian-backed Houthis have taken much of the country, placing one of the mullahs’ proxy groups directly across the Continue Reading