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Turkey appears to snub US; no assurances on Syrian Kurds

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ANKARA, Turkey (AP) — A senior U.S. official trying to negotiate the safety of Kurdish allies in northeastern Syria was apparently rebuffed by Turkey’s president who said Tuesday there would be “no concession” in Ankara’s push against terror groups in the war-torn country.

White House national security adviser John Bolton met for roughly two hours with his Turkish counterpart Ibrahim Kalin and other senior officials at Ankara’s presidency complex but got no assurances on the safety Syrian Kurdish allies — a condition for President Donald Trump’s planned withdrawal of U.S. troops from northeastern Syria.

Bolton relayed Trump’s insistence that Turkey refrain from attacking Kurdish forces that fought alongside U.S. troops against the Islamic State group, a guarantee Turkey appeared unwilling to grant.

“They had a productive discussion of the President’s decision to withdraw at a proper pace from Northeast Syria,” spokesman Garrett Marquis said in a statement, adding that direct military to military talks would continue Tuesday.

Shortly after Bolton’s meetings and in an apparent snub to the U.S. diplomatic push, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Ankara’s preparations for a new military offensive against terror groups in Syria are “to a large extent” complete.

“We cannot make any concessions,” Erdogan said, and also slammed Bolton over comments suggesting the United States would prevent attacks on Kurds.

Turkey insists its military actions are aimed at Kurdish fighters in Syria — the Syrian Kurdish Peoples Protection Units, or YPG — whom it regards as terrorists, and not against the Kurdish people. That has been Ankara longtime position and Turkey rejected any role for Kurdish fighters in restoring peace to the war-torn region.

Bolton is to depart Turkey without meeting with Erdogan, which U.S. officials said Saturday was expected. Marquis said U.S. officials were told Erdogan cited the local election season and a speech to parliament for not meeting with Bolton.

Trump’s shifting timetable for pulling U.S. troops out of Syria has left allies and other players in the region confused and jockeying for influence over a withdrawal strategy that appeared to be a work in progress.

National Security Adviser John Bolton attends a meeting with President Donald Trump and senior military leadership at Al Asad Air Base, Iraq, on Dec. 26, 2018. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik, File)

National Security Adviser John Bolton attends a meeting with President Donald Trump and senior military leadership at Al Asad Air Base, Iraq, on Dec. 26, 2018. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik, File)

After Bolton announced this week the U.S. pullout would not be as immediate as Trump had initially declared, U.S. allies were still seeking clarification from American diplomats. The Kurds, who have fought alongside U.S. forces against IS and fear an assault by Turkey if the U.S. withdraws, publicly said they awaited explanation from Washington.

Bolton said the U.S. would seek assurances from Turkey before withdrawing that it would not harm the Kurds — for the first time adding a “condition” to the withdrawal.

However, Erdogan’s remarks Tuesday to his ruling party lawmakers in parliament underscored the destabilizing impact of Trump’s spur-of-the-moment withdrawal announcement, with no details, leaving allies scrambling for answers and aides crafting a strategy that can satisfy all the players, including Trump.

Trump discussed Syria during a phone call Monday with French President Emmanuel Macron, who had warned Trump’s decision could have dangerous consequences. White House press secretary Sarah Sanders said they discussed the commitment of their two countries “to the destruction of ISIS as well as plans for a strong, deliberate, and coordinated withdrawal of U.S. troops from Syria.”

“We don’t think the Turks ought to undertake military action that’s not fully coordinated with and agreed to by the United States,” Bolton said Sunday, adding that Trump has made clear he would not allow Turkey to kill Kurds.

Bolton had said the protection of U.S. allies in Syria, including the YPG, was among “the objectives that we want to accomplish that condition the withdrawal” of U.S. forces.

Speaking to The Associated Press from northern Syria on Monday, a Syrian Kurdish official said the Kurds have not been informed of any change in the U.S. position and were in the dark about Bolton’s latest comments.

“We have not been formally or directly notified, all what we heard were media statements,” Badran Ciya Kurd said.

Kurdish officials have held conversations with Moscow and Syrian President Bashar Assad’s government about protection, but Bolton called on them to “stand fast now.”

Bolton’s pronouncements were the first public confirmation from the administration that the pace of the drawdown had changed since Trump’s announcement in mid-December that U.S. troops are “coming back now.” Trump faced widespread criticism from allies about his decision, including that he was abandoning the Kurds in the face of Turkish threats. Officials said at the time that although many details of the withdrawal had not yet been finalized, they expected American forces to be out by mid-January.

At the time, Trump had also said that Turkey would step up the fight against the remnants of the Islamic State in Syria, but Bolton said Sunday U.S. troops will eliminate what remains of IS as another “condition” to northeastern Syria.

Trump on Monday struck back at the perception that his intentions in Syria had changed. “No different from my original statements, we will be leaving at a proper pace while at the same time continuing to fight ISIS and doing all else that is prudent and necessary!…..” he said in a tweet.

While Sanders said last month the administration had “started returning United States troops home,” the Pentagon said Monday no U.S. troops have withdrawn from Syria yet, but added that there is an “approved framework” for withdrawal.

Bolton maintained there is no fixed timetable for completing the drawdown, but insisted it was not an indefinite commitment to the region. Still, some 200 U.S. troops will remain in the vicinity of al-Tanf, in southern Syria, to counter growing Iranian activity in the region, he said.

In meetings with Turkish officials Tuesday, Bolton was joined by the chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Joseph Dunford, who will remain in Turkey for additional meetings with Turkish military officials, as well as Jim Jeffrey, the special representative for Syrian engagement and the newly named American special envoy for the anti-Islamic State coalition. Jeffrey will travel from Turkey into Syria to reassure the Kurdish fighters that they are not being abandoned, Bolton said.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo left Washington on Monday for an eight-nation trip of the Middle East. Both he and Bolton are seeking input and support for the specifics of the withdrawal plan, according to one official, who said U.S. partners were eager for details.

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo talks to reporters on his plane on his way to the Middle East, Monday, Jan. 7, 2019. (Andrew Caballero-Reynolds/Pool via AP)

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo talks to reporters on his plane on his way to the Middle East, Monday, Jan. 7, 2019. (Andrew Caballero-Reynolds/Pool via AP)

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Associated Press writers Suzan Fraser in Ankara, Turkey, Bassem Mroue in Beirut and Robert Burns and Matthew Lee in Washington contributed to this report.

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The realities of the two-state solution

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The realities of the two-state solution

The belief that a two-state solution is possible and that it is the solution most likely to bring peace is discussed by observers outside of Israel as an almost foregone conclusion. This outsider view too often wholly ignores the unfortunate realities on the ground in Israel. If either side has ever truly considered the possibility of a two-state agreement, it has been in terms of how it will further either side’s overall goals.

And so, as in most discussions related to deeply held beliefs or viewpoints that affect a significant pivot point in history, we must understand perspective before a real solution, or recognition that there may be no immediate solution, can be found.

First, I would like to state that I find it troubling and seriously disconcerting that so often discussions related to propositions for Middle Eastern peace revolve almost exclusively around the actions and policies of Israel, while little to no discussion occurs in regards to the activities and policies of Palestinian organizations and their supporters across the Islamic world. This is especially troubling considering the majority of actions engaged by Israel and its allies, throughout its short but tumultuous history, have been enacted in response to efforts by their enemies and detractors. To understand why Israel has done and continues to do what it’s doing is to understand the motivations of those that Israel sees as enemies to their very existence.

Why do I say very existence? Major Islamic powers, both within Israel and without, have stated unequivocally that their primary reason for organization is to destroy Israel wholly. These are not charters stating a goal of resisting, impeding, or leveraging for a future two-state arrangement. These are specific statements of intention for total annihilation. Iran has called for the destruction of Israel ever since their revolution in 1979, and many experts believe it is for this purpose they have pursued nuclear capabilities. Hamas, the branch of the Muslim Brotherhood currently in political control of the Gaza Strip within Israel, has maintained the Hamas Charter calling for the destruction of Israel for over thirty years. And this is all occurring in a region that has a historical consistency of armed and political opposition to the very existence of Israel, dating back to 1948 when every major Islamic country that bordered Israel declared war upon its creation as a country.

Indeed, Israel’s tactics can easily be seen as harsh. Indeed, their continued expansion of settlements in the West Bank and in Gaza can be seen as colonial supremacy and even a false sense of cultural superiority. It is true that many Israelis honestly hope for the failure of the two-state solution process. But when it is understood that the two-state option is honestly not viewed by either the Israelis or the Palestinians as a final solution, the whole perspective changes. Israelis often see the two-state option as an appeasement to terrorists and the concession of a base of operations for continued militant attacks against them, and they have only entertained its proposal as an option in hopes of gaining concessions that would stymie outside influence amongst the Palestinians. The Palestinians and their allies often view the two-state solution as a victory in splintering the autonomy of an avowed enemy and the creation of leverage for continued disintegration of what they see as an illegitimate state on lands they continue to view as their own.

I do not pretend to know the answer to the question that so many of the world’s foremost leaders have failed to answer: the question of finding peace in the Middle East. But I think it only takes a little common sense to see that current propositions for a two-state solution choose to ignore the factors demonstrating its failings out of a desperate and foolish belief that any agreement is a good agreement.

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General Jack Keans on Trump’s plan to send more troops to Middle East

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General Jack Keans on Trumps plan to send more troops to Middle East

As the Pentagon sends 1000 more troops to the Middle East to counter Iran’s latest round of aggressions, many Democrats and media talking heads are attacking the whole mess. They’re blaming the President for antagonizing the Iranians, first by pulling out of the nuclear deal and then by imposing harsh sanctions on them. But as General Jack Keans told Shannon Bream on Fox News last night, the Iranians have been the ones antagonizing the whole time.

Where did all the money go that the Obama administration sent them? Over $100 billion is apparently gone as the people continue to struggle to survive, yet nothing seems to have come from the generous gift.

If the sanctions were really the problem, why won’t Iran stop engaging in proxy wars, funding terrorism, and continuing their development of nuclear weapons? They were testing ballistic missiles even before the sanctions. They were engaged in Yemen before the sanctions. And yes, they never stopped funding terrorism. If they would stop these things, the sanctions could be lifted, but Iran refuses.

Keans is correct in asserting the President has made the right moves. The only question that remains is whether or not Iran will comply or if they’ll continue down the road to war.

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An open letter to Sen. Lindsey Graham on his two-state solution resolution

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An open letter to Sen Lindsey Graham on his two-state solution resolution

Dear Senator Graham,

It is being reported in the news that you are planning to introduce a nonbinding resolution in the Senate, together with Sen. Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), calling on President Trump to support a “two-state solution” between Israel and the Palestinian Authority. If true, it would be a tragic error.

As a longtime supporter of Israel, I am sure that you’re aware that the GOP removed the two-state solution from its platform in 2016. I’m sure that you also know that the president’s Middle East team has been discussing Israel’s right to retain parts of Judea and Samaria (the so-called West Bank). By supporting the two-state solution at this time, you are not only going against the growing sentiment in your party that opposes a Palestinian (Fatah, Hamas, Islamic Jihad) state and the danger it would be to Israel’s survival, but you are also taking a stand against the obvious democratic wishes of the Israeli people. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has recently made it clear that he no longer supports such a path to resolving the conflict by announcing his intention to annex the Jewish communities in Judea and Samaria (the so-called West Bank).

In a recent interview with the McClatchy news service, you were quoted as saying “I don’t want to get in the way of Jared,” referring to Deal of the Century architect Jared Kushner, “but I can’t envision a one-state solution. It won’t work. I mean, you’d have to disenfranchise the Palestinians. That won’t work. If you let them vote as one state, they’ll overwhelm the Israelis. That won’t work. So, if you want to have a democratic, secure Jewish state, I think you have to have two states to make that work.”

Sen. Graham, with all due respect, you are echoing the common wisdom that has prevailed for the past forty years, but the facts on the ground have changed. Recent polling shows that Israelis understand the new reality, but the world is lagging beyond, with the very noticeable exception being the growing number of realists in the GOP. President Trump, as well, has expressed a remarkable willingness to explore “new ideas”, since the “land for peace” formula clearly hasn’t worked. This was proven by the Israeli withdrawal from Gaza in 2005, which simply gave Iranian-backed Hamas the land from which they are now firing rockets at Israeli cities. Doing the same in Judea and Samaria and Jerusalem (which is the primary Palestinian demand) would be suicidal for Israel.

However, you have mentioned that a Palestinian state must be created, because of the demographic danger; that without creating a separate Palestinian state, Israel would be “overwhelmed” by the Palestinian vote. This presumes that in a one-state solution, all the Arab residents of Judea and Samaria would be given automatic citizenship. Yes, you and I seem to agree, granting such instant citizenship would be the definition of foolishness. No self-preserving country in its right mind would grant citizenship (and the right to vote in national elections) without a lengthy process of vetting such non-citizens, as is done in the United States and most free countries.

In my peace plan, which is pointedly called Peace for Peace (as opposed to the failed land for peace formula), I call for Israeli sovereignty in Judea and Samaria, alongside a path to loyal citizenship for the non-citizens, mostly Arabs (or Palestinians, if you prefer), now residing in the areas that Israel recaptured in the defensive Six Day War of 1967. Such a process would include a three-year comprehensive good citizenship course, followed by two-three years of national service, culminating with an oath of loyalty to the State of Israel.

Many non-citizens in Judea and Samaria, many of whom I know personally, would seize at the opportunity to become loyal Israeli citizens. Many others would refuse, thereby minimizing the demographic danger to Israel, but the truth be told, noted demographers such as Yoram Ettinger have shown that the Jewish birth rates in Judea, Samaria, and Jerusalem have been sky-rocketing for the past two decades, way beyond that of the Arabs. Israel is undergoing a social renaissance, in which the traditional family is having a resurgence and having large Jewish families is fashionable once again. Therefore, when we examine the current reality, we see that the demographic threat is greatly exaggerated by those who cling to the land for peace agenda.

Of course, I haven’t yet mentioned Israel’s historical rights to these areas, which I have documented extensively in my most recent book, “Trump and the Jews”, but you haven’t disputed those rights. I also haven’t mentioned that we can’t make peace with a Palestinian Authority that for years has been giving salary payments to each and every terrorist that has killed or wounded an Israeli. This includes the three Fatah terrorists who shot and wounded me and my then three-year-old son in December of 2001 and their salaries continue to this day.

Given the new, pragmatic approach of President Trump, I am strongly urging you to rethink the dual mantras of land for peace and the two-state solution. As Donald would say, it’s time for new ideas.

Bio: David Rubin, former Mayor of Shiloh Israel, is the author of the new book, “Trump and the Jews”. Rubin is the founder and president of Shiloh Israel Children’s Fund, established after he and his then three-year-old son were wounded in a terror attack. He can be found at www.DavidRubinIsrael.com or at www.ShilohIsraelChildren.org.

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