Arab Leaders Seek Common Ground at Summit on Palestinian State

DEAD SEA, JORDAN �

Divided Arab leaders arriving in Jordan for a summit on Wednesday are seeking common ground to reaffirm their commitment to a Palestinian state, a long-standing goal that U.S. President Donald Trump last month put into doubt.

The Dead Sea meeting is expected to have a bigger turnout than those of recent Arab summits, Jordanian officials say, and security forces cast a high profile in the capital, Amman, with armored vehicles standing at traffic junctions as leaders flew in.

While they are highly unlikely to bridge rifts over the regional role of Iran or intractable wars in Syria and Yemen, Arab leaders remain united in supporting a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

“We are concerned that there should be an Arab consensus on the Palestinian file so that this reflects clearly in the discussions of Arab states and their leaders with the new American administration,” Palestinian Foreign Minister Riyad al-Maliki told Reuters.

Before taking office in January, Trump promised to move the U.S. Embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem � something adamantly opposed by Arabs as tantamount, in their view, to recognizing Israeli sovereignty over Jerusalem.

The Palestinians want Arab East Jerusalem � which Israel captured in a 1967 war and later annexed in a move not recognized internationally � as the capital of a future state encompassing the Israeli-occupied West Bank and the Gaza Strip.

Israeli-Palestinian peace talks have been frozen since 2014.

One-state solution

During a White House news conference with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu last month, Trump also he indicated he was open to a one-state solution to the conflict.

That would be deeply problematic for both sides, as it would mean either two systems for two peoples � something Palestinians would see as apartheid and endless occupation � or equal rights for all, which would compromise Israel’s Jewish character.

The Arab monarchs and presidents attending Wednesday’s summit will meet at the Dead Sea, only a few kilometers from the West Bank and with Israeli settlements visible to the naked eye.

The United States is sending a representative to the summit, Maliki said. Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sissi and Jordan’s King Abdullah are both scheduled to meet Trump soon.

A draft resolution on Jerusalem, seen by Reuters, would require all Arab states to respond to any move by any country to move its embassy there, without specifying the United States.

“The Palestinian issue is the central issue. It is the root cause of conflict in the region and its resolution is the key to peace and stability. We hope we will be able to again relaunch efforts that would get serious negotiations restarted again,” said Jordanian Foreign Minister Ayman Safadi.

The biggest disagreement among Arab countries is over the regional role of Iran, an ally of Syria and Iraq and the Shi’ite Hezbollah movement that dominates Lebanon, but regarded by Saudi Arabia and some other Sunni Muslim states as a bitter adversary.

Shi’ite Iran and Saudi Arabia support opposing sides in the civil wars in Syria and Yemen, which have caused humanitarian catastrophes, and in political and factional disputes simmering for years in Bahrain and Lebanon.

Sunni-Shi’ite tensions

The Middle East’s political feuds have stoked sectarian tensions between Islam’s main Sunni and Shi’ite branches in recent years, contributing to increased militant violence.

“We meet in a difficult Arab era dominated by crisis and conflicts that deprive our region of the security and stability they need to attain our people’s rights,” Safadi said in a meeting with fellow foreign ministers before the summit.

A Jordanian official told Reuters that the final statement from the summit was expected to include a condemnation of Iran for what it called meddling in internal Arab affairs, and a call to Tehran to refrain from using force or threats. Iran denies any such interference.

A summit of the Organization for Islamic Cooperation included a similar line in its final statement last year.

Friction also smolders between Saudi Arabia, the richest Arab state, and Egypt, the most populous one � close allies for decades before the 2011 Arab Spring uprisings � over approaches to Syria’s war and the demarcation of their marine border.

The kingdom’s oil giant Saudi Aramco resumed petroleum shipments to Egypt this month, suggesting relations may be improving, and Egypt’s Sissi is hoping for a bilateral meeting with King Salman in Amman this week.

“There could actually be a product of the Arab summit: a unified attitude towards Washington’s policy in Palestine. They might disagree on all other issues, but I think this is the unifying one,” said Mustafa Alani, an Iraqi security expert with close ties to the Saudi Interior Ministry.

Source: Voice of America

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Trump’s Rhetoric Undercuts His Travel Order

WASHINGTON �

President Donald Trump’s own words have come back to haunt him as he tries to launch an executive order on travel that will stick.

Wednesday, two U.S. federal courts issued temporary restraining orders against the president’s second attempt at a travel order that would limit who can enter the country.

A judge in Hawaii blocked both the order’s suspension of refugee admissions and its ban on issuing new visas to people from a group of six countries.

Judge Derrick Watson pointed to statements made by Trump and his associates both before and after the president was elected in November as justification to halt the order, which was to take effect hours later, because of a constitutional clause that requires government actions to have a primarily secular purpose.

Trump’s campaign once included a call to ban all Muslims from entering the United States, a policy that was later changed to advocating extreme vetting for people from countries with a link to terrorism.

Judge Watson said the case before him included significant and unrebutted evidence of religious animus driving the promulgation of the executive order and its related predecessor.

A federal judge in Maryland also cited Trump’s comments in issuing a separate injunction later Wednesday, but that ruling applies only to the visa ban portion of the executive order, and not the section on the refugee program.

If I were legal counsel, any kind of counsel, to the president, I would tell him to stop with the inflammatory rhetoric because he is undermining his own goals, said David Abraham, professor of immigration and citizenship law at the University of Miami (Florida) School of Law.

Abraham said as recently as Wednesday’s rally in Nashville, Tennessee, the president was using rhetoric that could hurt him in court by indicating that the new travel order is not really different from the old one.

As he did again last night in his address, the president said, ‘Well we cleaned it up. It’s basically what I wanted before; it’s the same thing. In fact, I like the other one even better.’ So in some ways so the president is creating his own bad static.

Next Stop, Ninth Circuit

The Trump administration says the travel order is necessary to protect the country from the threat of terrorism. It features a four-month ban on admitting any refugees and a three-month freeze on issuing visas to people from Iran, Syria, Yemen, Libya, Somalia and Sudan.

An earlier version of the order included Iraq in the targeted countries, as well as a clause that exempted religious minorities from the ban.

Trump said the court’s ruling makes the United States look weak, and that he will continue the legal battle.

The danger is clear, the law is clear, the need for my executive order is clear, he told supporters at the Tennessee rally. I was elected to change our broken and dangerous system and thinking in government that has weakened and endangered our country and left our people defenseless.

The first step in the appeals process would be filing a claim with the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, which upheld a hold on the original travel order by a Washington state court. Hawaii is also in the Ninth Circuit.

But Leon Fresco, an immigration attorney who served as deputy assistant attorney general for the DOJ Civil Division’s Office of Immigration Litigation during President Barack Obama’s administration, expects the order to have little success at the appeals level and even eventually at the Supreme Court level.

I think it was an interesting ruling in the sense that the court is taking a very bold statement on saying that the actions in the administration have basically irrevocably tainted any effort to move forward with this travel executive order, Fresco told VOA via Skype.

However, Fresco said he thinks the president’s statutory authority to ban people is absolutely vital to the country, and shouldn’t be weakened by what he called an ill-conceived travel ban with ill-conceived statements.

If you think someone is dangerous, just deny their visa. You don’t need a ban, he said. And the fact that they created these waivers just shows you that they basically are implementing a normal visa system. They’re saying deny it unless there’s some reason to grant it. There’s no reason you couldn’t do that now, just don’t have a categorical ban.

Source: Voice of America

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