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Trump’s Jerusalem bet defies direst predictions

When President Donald Trump recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and promised last December to move the U.S. Embassy there, the predictions of violence came fast and furious.

“Trump’s Jerusalem Plan Is a Deadly Provocation,” read one headline. “Any second this place could be set on fire,” said a Jerusalem police official. The State Department urged diplomats abroad to heighten security ahead of Trump’s Dec. 6 announcement.

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Despite visible anger and some localized violence after Trump unveiled his decision, the region did not go up in flames. No embassies were stormed. The reaction was surprisingly muted — especially in Arab countries whose leaders have long supported Palestinian claims on Jerusalem.

Some analysts believe Trump’s decision made an already moribund peace process all but impossible to revive. His administration also isn’t expected to unveil its peace proposal for the Israelis and Palestinians anytime soon. Still, among Trump allies, the tense calm has been a vindication — an “I-told-you-so” to the foreign policy experts who warned that the world would end if he made good on his campaign promise to relocate the U.S. Embassy from Tel Aviv.

The relatively subdued reaction from the Muslim world “helps confirm that Trump not only did the right thing, but also offered important doses of reality for the peace process,” said Michael Makovsky, a Pentagon official in the George W. Bush administration who now leads the Jewish Institute for National Security of America.

The new Embassy’s official dedication on Monday may yet trigger the sort of violence many predicted back in December. The ceremony — which the president’s daughter Ivanka Trump and son-in-law Jared Kushner will attend — does come at a particularly fraught moment in the region, coinciding with sensitive anniversaries, Palestinian calls for protests and recent military blows between Israel and Iran.

But there’s also a growing sense that any violence that might occur in the coming days might not matter much in the long run.

The status of Jerusalem — and maybe even the overall status of the Palestinians — no longer galvanizes the Muslim world as it once did, analysts on both sides of the issue say. The longtime calculus has been altered by worries about Iranian influence, the spread of Islamist militancy, internal anger at Arab autocracies and frustration with Palestinian leaders.

Monday’s event will be more about style than substance: The Trump administration is simply relabeling a consular facility in the city as its Embassy and shifting some functions there from Tel Aviv. A permanent embassy site will take at least seven to 10 years to find and build, according to a State Department cable obtained by POLITICO.

But the style will be grand, with an event featuring some 800 attendees — including Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and a U.S. congressional delegation. Trump won’t attend in person but plans to address the audience by video.

Kushner met privately with Netanyahu in Jerusalem on Sunday, according to Israeli media, along with Jason Greenblatt, a Trump special envoy for the Middle East peace process. At a gala event on the eve of the embassy ceremony, Netanyahu called on dignitaries from other nations in attendance to follow suit and move their embassies.

Palestinians and Israelis have long claimed Jerusalem as their capital, but most countries have declined to take a side, saying the issue must be resolved in peace talks. Trump upended convention by recognizing Israel’s claim.

In doing so, Trump fulfilled a campaign promise other U.S. presidents had made but failed to keep — one that motivates his evangelical Christian supporters.

The move did initially trigger an angry reaction in the region: Jordan’s King Abdullah II urged Trump to back off. Saudi Arabia’s King Salman told Trump he was taking “a dangerous step … likely to inflame the passions of Muslims around the world.” Egypt’s President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi advised Trump not to “complicate” matters in the Middle East.

Thousands protested from Tunisia to Malaysia. At least four Palestinians died in clashes with Israeli security forces in the West Bank and along the Gaza border, while dozens more were injured.

But those protests faded relatively quickly, and calls for a new “intifada,” or uprising, by the Gaza-based Palestinian militant group Hamas fell flat.

One reason appears to be sheer exhaustion among Palestinians who remember the destruction caused by past uprisings. Palestinian security officials in particular understand that their Israeli counterparts would use overwhelming force against another intifada.

Many Palestinians are also unhappy with a leadership they consider divided, corrupt and hapless. At 82, Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas is struggling to maintain his power and credibility. Abbas was forced to apologize earlier this month after suggesting that Jews brought the Holocaust on themselves in part because of their “social function,” including money lending.

Palestinians think, “‘Why should I go out, get shot at when at the end of the day I have no political leadership that will capitalize on it?'” said Ghaith al-Omari, a senior fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy who previously held positions in the Palestinian Authority.

“The Palestinian Authority leadership — old, tired, having lost legitimacy — fears that a street awakened to Jerusalem will end up turning its frustrations against it,” added Nimrod Novik, an Israeli-based fellow with the Israel Policy Forum.

Meanwhile, Arab governments elsewhere have kept restive elements in check.

Egypt’s government reportedly urged influential talk show hosts to downplay Trump’s decision. Saudi Arabia’s powerful crown prince would later astonish longtime Middle East watchers by telling The Atlantic that the Jewish people had a right to “their own land.”

Many Sunni Muslim Arab leaders are more focused on Islamist radicalism and, especially, Shiite-led Iran’s growing regional influence — an issue on which they increasingly cooperate with Israel. This week, Israeli and Iranian forces exchanged rockets and airstrikes in Syria, where Israel is determined to deny Tehran a long-term military foothold.

Still, the embassy dedication comes at a tense time, and many officials expect some violence in response.

Monday is the 70th anniversary of the establishment of Israeli and President Harry Truman’s immediate recognition of the country. It’s also the eve of what Palestinians commemorate as the “Nakba,” or catastrophe — the creation of Israel on their homeland. The embassy opening also lands close to the start date for Ramadan, the Muslim holy month of fasting.

Hamas has called for a mass demonstration on Monday as a culmination of several weeks of Palestinian protests along the Gaza border with Israel. The demonstrations are aimed at Israel’s long-running blockade of impoverished Gaza.

“Hopefully, the situation could be kept under control, but there could be an explosion,” warned Ilan Goldenberg, a former State Department official now with the Center for a New American Security.

“The U.S. has always played the role of fireman in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. But now it is inexplicably playing the role of arsonist throwing more fuel on the flames instead of calming things down,” he added.

The Palestinian envoy to the United States, Husom Zomlot, said in a Sunday statement that the United States was encouraging “a full-fledged apartheid” and warned that America’s actions in a city held dear by three faiths promised more sectarian strife. “Today’s move of the U.S. Embassy gives life to a religious conflict instead of a dignified peace,” Zomlot said.

But in a conference call with reporters on Friday, David Friedman, the U.S. ambassador to Israel, said he was “optimistic that this decision will ultimately create greater stability rather than less.”

Speaking in Jerusalem on Sunday, Deputy Secretary of State John Sullivan — who is formally leading the U.S. delegation — called the embassy move “a long overdue recognition of reality.” The State Department cable indicates that U.S. government maps will be updated to denote Jerusalem with a star, as are other capital cities.

The Trump administration also says it is not taking a position on how the Israelis and Palestinians will ultimately decide on the boundaries of the city. That means the U.S. is leaving open the possibility that the Palestinians could at least lay claim to East Jerusalem.

The new embassy site is in the Arnona neighborhood and lies partly in West Jerusalem and partly in an area called “No Man’s Land,” a demilitarized zone located between the 1949 armistice lines, according to the cable.

The administration is also calling on all parties in the region to respect the status quo at the city’s holy sites, where access issues have inflamed tensions.

Elliott Abrams, a national security veteran of past Republican administrations now with the Council on Foreign Relations, said the absence from the event of Trump and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo “suggests a desire not to escalate the issue into a problem with Arab governments or with the Palestinians.”

US Ready to Impose Sanctions on European Companies in Iran, Bolton Says

WASHINGTON—National security adviser John Bolton warned Sunday that the U.S. is prepared to impose sanctions on European companies if their governments don’t heed President Donald Trump’s demand to stop dealing with Iran.

“Europeans are going to face the effective U.S. sanctions,” Mr. Bolton said on ABC’s “This Week.”

His comments are the…

“Not the way I would deal with people,” former Defense Secretary Gates says of Trump

Asked about reports that Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen considered resigning, after President Trump berated her at a cabinet meeting, Robert Gates characterized President Trump’s management style as “not the way I would deal with people.”

The New York Times reported the president has grown increasingly angry with the Department of Homeland Security head, unloading Thursday in a “lengthy tirade” on Nielsen over a lack of progress on combating illegal immigration.

“That’s not the way I think I ever did deal with people, and I did fire people, very senior people,” the former CIA director and defense secretary told Margaret Brennan in an interview to air Sunday on “Face the Nation.”

“I mean that’s the way he is. That’s the way he deals with people. I mean, let’s just say I have a totally different style, but he is president of the United States,” said Gates.

Brennan sat down with Gates for a wide-ranging interview on the campus of William Mary in Williamsburg, Virginia, where he serves as the school’s chancellor.

“Different presidents deal with the people that work with them in different ways, the first president I worked for, Lyndon Johnson, did a lot of yelling and swearing at his senior officials,” Gates added later, “in his own way so did — so did Richard Nixon.”

Asked to assess President Trump’s embattled chief of staff John Kelly, who once served as Gates’ aide, Gates praised Kelly for having brought order to the White House “pretty well.”

Gates said also he was not surprised about “the churn” in the cabinet “for a president who had no experience in government.”

“I live a continent away from Washington, D.C., not by accident,” Gates said, “but my impression is that since John got there, that there has been more order, a more orderly process in terms of staff meetings, in terms of coordination within the White House and so on.”

“The sooner things settle down, and there’s a modicum of an organizational process that goes on in terms of policymaking, I think that’s better for the country,” Gates told Brennan.


More of Margaret Brennan’s interview of Robert Gates airs Sunday on “Face the Nation.”

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US fighter jets intercept Russian bombers near western coast of Alaska

Two U.S. fighter jets intercepted two Russian bombers flying near the western coast of Alaska on Friday, the North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) said in a statement. The incident happened at 10 a.m. Friday as the Russian jets were flying in the Air Defense Identification Zone (ADIZ) around Alaska’s western coast, north of the Aleutian Islands.

The two Russian TU-95 “Bear” long-range bombers were intercepted and escorted out of the ADIZ — an airspace that extends about 200 miles from the coastline — by two NORAD F-22 fighter jets, NORAD spokesperson Canadian Army Major Andrew Hennessy said in the statement.

At no time during the incident did the Russian bombers enter North American sovereign airspace, Hennessy said.

Earlier this month, a Russian fighter jet intercepted a U.S. Navy spy plane above the Baltic Sea in what the U.S. called “safe” but “unprofessional.” In January, another Russian fighter jet came within five feet of a U.S. spy plane over the Black Sea. The U.S. State Department then said Russia was “flagrantly violating existing agreements and international law.” 

Low Turnout Reported in Iraqi Election as US and Iran Vie for Influence

Iraqis went to the polls Saturday but in lower numbers than the past, reflecting disillusionment with a political elite they blame for years of corruption and mismanagement that enabled the rise of Islamic State.

The unpredictable election pitted moderate candidates favored by the U.S. against Iran-backed leaders, presenting a test for how President Donald Trump’s withdrawal from the Iran nuclear pact will affect the region’s politics. Results aren’t expected until Monday, and the country’s prime minister will be chosen during…