Tuesday, 23 May 2017

ISRAEL: Trump Arrives In Israel

In a visit fraught with symbolism, President Trump on Monday became the first sitting U.S. president to set foot in the Old City of Jerusalem.

The president and first lady Melania Trump visited the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, traditional site of Jesus' crucifixion, burial and resurrection, and the Western Wall, part of the Jewish temple complex destroyed by Rome in 70 C.E.

The walled Old City lies in East Jerusalem, which was captured by Israel from Jordan in the Six-Day War 50 years ago. Israel's subsequent annexation of East Jerusalem is not recognized internationally.

The White House said the visit was unofficial and private. The U.S. considers the status of Jerusalem unresolved and subject to negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu did not accompany the president to the Old City.

Nonetheless, Trump's visit and particularly his brief stop at the Western Wall, Judaism's most revered religious site carried profound significance.

Trump said in joint remarks with Netanyahu later Monday that he was "deeply moved" by the experience. It will leave an impression on me forever.

Netanyahu said the Israeli people "applaud" the U.S. president for making the trip.

According to the White House, the visit affirmed the theme of Trump's first overseas trip, promoting unity and peace among the three Abrahamic faiths.

The president stopped first in Saudi Arabia, home of Islam's most sacred sites. Wednesday he is scheduled to visit Pope Francis in Vatican City.

But when it comes to the Western Wall, real estate plays as large a role as religious faith.

Israelis celebrate the "reunification" of Jerusalem in 1967 as a national holiday. Its 50th anniversary, according to the Jewish calendar, begins on Tuesday night, just hours after Trump leaves Israel.

The Wall sits at the base of a plateau which Jews call the Temple Mount and Muslims call the Noble Sanctuary. Since the 7th century C.E. it has been the site of Islam's Dome of the Rock and the Al-Aqsa Mosque.

Trump did not visit the Muslim sites above the Western Wall.

Trump's daughter Ivanka and son-in-law Jared Kushner, who are observant Jews, joined the president and his wife. The chief rabbi of the Western Wall, Shmuel Rabinovich and his wife Yael, greeted them.

In accordance with traditional Jewish religious practice in which men and women sit separately during prayer — Trump's wife and daughter went to the women's section with the rabbi's wife.

On the men's side, Trump approached the Wall alone, rested the palm of his hand on it and stood silently for about 15 seconds. He placed a note between the massive stones, a centuries-old tradition of supplication.

Israeli security closed off much of the normally bustling Old City in advance of Trump's visit. A large temporary security screen blocked views of the Western Wall.

Many Israelis remarked that the president's visit implicitly affirmed Israel's claim to the site, though Trump has made no public statement to that effect.

In their press conference, Trump and Netanyahu reiterated their plans to work together. We understand each other, Netanyahu said, thanking Trump for the change in American policy on Iran and the reassertion of American leadership in the Middle East.

Referencing his earlier visit to Saudi Arabia, Trump said he believed a new level of partnership is possible in the Middle East.

This includes a renewed effort at peace between the Israelis and the Palestinians. I've heard it's one of the toughest deals of all, but I have a feeling that we're going to get there eventually, he said. I hope.

Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates will donate a combined $100 million to a World Bank fund for women entrepreneurs that was the brainchild of Ivanka Trump.

The announcement by World Bank President Jim Young Kim came during a visit to Saudi Arabia by President Trump, who was accompanied by his wife, Melania, daughter Ivanka and son-in-law, Jared Kushner.

We thought it was a fantastic idea, Kim said. But we had no idea how quickly this would build. This is really a stunning achievement. I've never seen anything come together so quickly, and I really have to say that Ivanka's leadership has been tremendous.

The money will help kick off a $1 billion women's empowerment fund that the World Bank will announce in July, he said.

The UAE's U.S. ambassador, Yousef Al Otaiba, said in a statement that the promised donation reflects our commitment to empowering women in our region and builds on the progress we have made in our country, where women play a role in every segment of society.

The donation raised some eyebrows, since candidate Trump regularly excoriated the Clinton Foundation for accepting donations from repressive Middle East regimes such as Saudi Arabia.

Facebook posting in which Trump said, Saudi Arabia and many of the countries that gave vast amounts of money to the Clinton Foundation want women as slaves and to kill gays. Hillary must return all money from such countries!

During an October debate, Trump also told Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton, Saudi Arabia giving $25 million, Qatar, all of these countries.

You talk about women and women's rights? So these are people that push gays off business off buildings. These are people that kill women and treat women horribly. And yet you take their money.

The World Bank fund, which provides technical help and investment funding for women business owners, differs from the Clinton Foundation in some significant ways.

While Ivanka Trump proposed the idea along with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, she is not involved with its operation.

Norm Eisen, former ethics official for the Obama Administration and a regular critic of the Trump family's conflicts of interest, noted in an email to NPR, In my view foreign government donations to a fund run by a reputable international organization like the World Bank for a good cause are generally acceptable.

But Eisen said the donations need to be strictly vetted and must be transparent.

Based on what we know, there's no reason to believe that those two things did not happen. That said, the hypocrisy is concerning, and the general miasma of corruption that surrounds all things Trump suggests some extra scrutiny here, he added.

I don't see this fund as a big problem if she does not solicit donations and it is entirely World Bank run, said Richard Painter, former ethics adviser to the George W. Bush administration.

But the Saudis could try letting women drive cars too. That would be good for entrepreneurship, he said.

Earlier in the day, Ivanka Trump met with a group of elite Saudi women at Tuwaiq Palace in Riyadh, where she largely avoided sharp criticism of the country's treatment of women.

There's still a lot of work to be done to empower women in both Saudi Arabia and the United States, she said.