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Is Donald Trump Following in Barack Obama’s Footsteps in the Middle East?

March 20 2017

Looking past the various rumors, conspiracy theories, and scandals swirling around the Trump administration, Lee Smith notes that many stalwarts of the previous White House are still shaping policies toward Iran, Syria, and Israel—suggesting a surprising measure of continuity:

After excoriating Barack Obama’s foreign policy, including his realignment in the Middle East, President Trump has yet to nominate any officials below the cabinet level at the State Department or the Pentagon, which means there is no one to formulate Trump’s own foreign policy, never mind implement it. To fill the growing vacuum, . . . the Trump White House is now handing over key foreign-policy positions to Obama administration [officials] who handled the very same portfolios under the previous president. . . .

Yael Lempert, a National Security Council (NSC) staffer from the Obama administration that the Trump team decided to keep on, [was] in Jerusalem [last] week with the White House’s special representative for international negotiations, longtime Trump lawyer Jason Greenblatt. Lempert, one former Clinton official told me, “is considered one of the harshest critics of Israel on the foreign-policy far left. From her position on the Obama NSC, she helped manufacture crisis after crisis in a relentless effort to portray Israel negatively and diminish the breadth and depth of our alliance.” . . .

Trump is showing the same disregard for his big promises when it comes to . . . Islamic State (IS), which he firmly swore to demolish. To make good on that promise, the Trump team has selected Brett McGurk—the same Brett McGurk who served as the Obama administration’s special envoy to lead the campaign against IS. One of the main reasons Obama’s IS policy failed was because Sunnis refused to engage in an intramural civil war whose spoils would go to the Iranians and their Shiite allies. McGurk was the point man on this pro-Iran policy, famously arranging for Iran to get $400 million in cash delivered on wooden pallets to the [Islamic Republic] in exchange for American hostages.

Remember when the Trump administration promised to make public the secret agreements that Obama made with Iran? McGurk signed some of the secret documents, relieving sanctions on a key financial hub of Iran’s ballistic-missile program, and dropping charges against 21 Iranian operatives linked to terrorism. Notably, none of those documents has been made public. Maybe that’s because McGurk’s name is on them, or maybe it’s because the former National Iranian American Council staffer Sahar Nowrouzzadeh, Obama’s NSC director for Iran, is now on the policy-planning staff in Trump’s State Department.

Read more at Tablet

More about: Barack Obama, Donald Trump, Iran, Israel, Politics & Current Affairs, Syria, U.S. Foreign policy

Palestinian Unification Brings No Benefits to Israel Unless It Involves Disarmament

Oct. 17 2017

On Thursday, Hamas—which governs the Gaza Strip—and Fatah—which governs parts of the West Bank through the auspices of the Palestinian Authority (PA)—signed an agreement ending over a decade of conflict. The agreement will allow Hamas to share the governance of Gaza with the Fatah-controlled PA; crucially, the PA will again supply Gaza with fuel, electricity, and medical supplies. But Hamas will maintain control over its military and terrorist operations, and thus, writes Alan Baker, the agreement brings peace no closer:

The Hamas-Fatah unity agreement could, in principle, be seen to be a positive development in the general framework of the Middle East peace process . . . [were it] to enable a responsible and unified Palestinian leadership, speaking with one voice and duly empowered to further peace negotiations. . . .

[But in order for such an agreement to have this effect, its] basic tenet . . . must be the open reaffirmation of the already existing and valid Palestinian commitments vis-à-vis Israel and the international community, signatories as witnesses to the Oslo Accords. Such commitments, set out in detail in the accords, include ending terror, incitement, boycott, and international attempts to bypass the negotiating process. Above all, they require dismantling all terror groups and infrastructures. They necessitate a return to economic and security cooperation and a positive negotiating mode. . . .

The Palestinian Authority also has its own obligation to cease supporting terrorists and their families with salaries and welfare payments. Since the present unification does not fulfill [this requirement], it cannot be acceptable either to the international community or to Israel.

Read more at Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs

More about: Fatah, Gaza Strip, Hamas, Israel & Zionism, Palestinians