Trump shapes the landscape in Jerusalem

Trump shapes the landscape in Jerusalem
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JERUSALEM — President TrumpDonald John TrumpVeterans groups demand end to shutdown: 'Get your act together' Brown launches tour in four early nominating states amid 2020 consideration Pence on border wall: Trump won't be ‘deterred’ by Dem ‘obstruction’ MORE’s next move in the Middle East is being watched closely in Israel, where the president’s recent policies have reverberated loudly across the region.

Ahead of the expected release of the administration’s Middle East peace plan, a new poll of Israelis finds that less than 5 percent of those polled have “high” hopes for its likely success in the region.

But the Peace Index poll also found that a vast majority of both Jewish and Arab Israelis believe Israel’s interests are important to Trump.

Trump is everywhere in Israel.

Pro-Trump posters appear on walls and poles around West Jerusalem, many paid for by the Friends of Zion Museum, a project of Mike Evans, an American author and commentator.

 

Michael Wolff’s controversial critique of the White House, “Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House,” is available at the Tel Aviv airport in both Hebrew and English. Kiryat Yam, a northern town in Israel, named a park after Trump and Jerusalem’s mayor renamed a traffic circle for him that’s near the new location of the U.S. Embassy.

 

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is a close international ally of Trump, a marked contrast to the chilly relations he had with former President Obama.

“When Trump visited here I was shopping in a grocery store when his plane landed and people were huddling together to watch live footage of his arrival at the Ben Gurion airport,” said Ariella, an American who has lived with her family in the West Bank — which she calls Judea — for seven years. She asked that her last name not be used.

“Seems like Trump is very popular here especially after the terms of Obama,” she added.

Critics say Trump’s recent actions in the Middle East have exacerbated tensions in the region.

Trump moved the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem — the contested capital of both Israel and any future Palestinian state — from Tel Aviv in May, in the process recognizing the city as Israel’s capital. Netanyahu embraced the move as other western allies of the United States criticized it. British Prime Minister Theresa May called it “unhelpful” to peace.

Protests in Gaza on the day the embassy opened — also the anniversary of the creation of the Jewish state — resulted in more than 50 deaths.

To Israelis like Ariella, however, “tensions” in her community don’t seem that different from the norm for the area. Ariella, who has an app on her phone that alerts her to rocket launches called Red Alert, said protests near her town are not “any worse since the embassy declaration. It’s just another excuse to riot.”

Humanitarian organizations are raising alarms over the U.S. moving the embassy and cutting off U.S. funds to Palestinian refugees — which Trump did in January, by suspending aid to the United Nations Relief and Work Agency (UNRWA) as well as cutting off a separate $45 million commitment to emergency food aid for Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank.

“Tensions in the region are higher now than they were just a few months ago,” said Rene Celaya, CARE director for the West Bank and Gaza, who made the decision not to take this writer into the West Bank region due to security concerns.

It is not clear when the administration will release the peace plan, although it’s expected this summer.

Top Trump officials were in the Middle East over the past two weeks meeting with the leaders of Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Jordan and Israel. The White House would only say that the meetings were “productive.”

But Haaretz reported last week that Arab leaders asked White House senior adviser Jared KushnerJared Corey Kushner'Vice' director shrugs off report that Ivanka and Jared walked out of screening Chris Christie claims Jared Kushner enacted 'hit job' as revenge for prosecuting father White House announces reduced delegation to travel to Davos amid shutdown MORE, who is leading Trump’s Middle East initiative, not to release the peace plan anytime soon in order to avoid further destabilizing the region.

The U.S. has pushed the Palestinian leadership further from negotiations with recent actions.

While Israelis have embraced Trump, the U.S. consulate general that represents the U.S. to the Palestinian people has struggled in its mission since the embassy opened.

Palestinian leaders are no longer talking to U.S. diplomats. The consulate lost a building in Jerusalem and some of its staff to the embassy.

A State Department official confirmed the consulate, now operating mainly out of a building several miles from the embassy, “will continue to operate as an independent mission with an unchanged mandate.” The consulate also released a video last week reminding people it still exists as a resource for the Palestinian people.

But the Peace Index poll found that just 3.5 percent of Israeli Arabs and 30 percent of Israeli Jews believe Trump cares about Palestinian interests.

Even as tensions appear to be higher than they have been in years, in another sign that even the details can be tricky when it comes to Middle East negotiations, the U.S. Embassy that has created so many obstacles to negotiation still isn’t official.

The definition of “U.S. Embassy” in the Jerusalem Embassy Act requires that the ambassador have an official residence in the city, which does not exist. Trump has to sign a waiver every six months technically suspending the embassy’s relocation here.

“We look forward to working with Congress to eliminate the need for further waivers under the act,” a State Department official told The Hill.