The Early Edition: December 7, 2017

Before the start of business, Just Security provides a curated summary of up-to-the-minute developments at home and abroad. Here’s today’s news.

TRUMP RECOGNIZES JERUSALEM AS ISRAEL’S CAPITAL

President Trump recognized Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and ordered the State Department to begin the process of moving the U.S. Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem in a speech yesterday, the president said it was a “long overdue step to advance the peace process” and added that the U.S. “would support a two-state solution if agreed to by both sides.” David M. Halbfinger, Mark Landler and Isabel Kershner report at the New York Times.

“While previous president have made this a major campaign promise, they failed to deliver,” Trump said, adding that “we cannot solve our problems by making the same failed assumptions and repeating the same failed strategies of the past.” David Nakamura reports at the Washington Post.

“The president’s decision is an important step toward peace,” the Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in response to Trump’s decision, however Palestinian officials denounced the decision and the Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas said that the move undermined efforts to achieve peace and meant that the U.S. could no longer be an honest broker in peace talks. Rory Jones reports at the Wall Street Journal.

The recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital is a “war declaration against Palestinians,” the leader of the Palestinian Hamas militant group, Ismail Haniya, said in a speech in Gaza City today, calling for a new “Intifada,” or uprising, and saying that Trump’s decision “has killed the peace process, has killed the Oslo [accord], has killed the settlement process.” Al Jazeera reports.

Clashes between Palestinian protestors and Israeli soldiers broke out today following Trump’s announcement, including at a checkpoint near Ramallah, at the border fence between Israel and Gaza, and in other places in the West Bank. Loveday Morris and Ruth Eglash report at the Washington Post.

Leaders across the world condemned Trump’s decision, including some of the U.S.’s traditional allies and leaders in the Arab and Muslim world. The BBC reports.

“There is no alternative to the two-state solution. There is no Plan B,” the U.N.-Secretary-General António Guterres said yesterday in response to Trump’s announcement, adding that he understood the “deep attachment that Jerusalem holds in the hearts of so many people.” The U.N. News Centre reports.

The solution to the conflict between Israel and Palestine “is based on two states and with Jerusalem as the capital of both,” the E.U. foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini said today, Reuters reporting.

Trump’s decision amounted to “throwing the region into a circle of fire,” the Turkish President Reçep Tayyip Erdoğan said today, adding that the move disregarded U.N. resolutions regarding the status of Jerusalem. The Hürriyet Daily News reports.

Trump’s decision to recognize Jerusalem constitutes a “legitimate reason to target American forces” in Iraq, the leader of a prominent Iranian-backed Iraqi militia group said in a statement today. Reuters reports.

“I would like to announce that we are already in contact with other countries which will issue a similar recognition,” Netanyahu said today, but did not say which countries have been contacted, Reuters reporting.

The White House was prepared to accept a temporary “derailment” of the peace process to fulfil Trump’s campaign process, two senior White House officials said after the announcement, with one official explaining that “we know there will be some short term pain, but think it will help in the long run.” Elisa Labott and Jeremy Diamond report at CNN.

A full transcript and video of Trump’s speech is provided by the New York Times.

It is not for the U.S. to decide who should control East Jerusalem, the U.S. ambassador to the U.N. Nikki Haley said yesterday in response to a question about the issue. East Jerusalem is considered by many to be occupied Palestinian territory, Mallory Shelbourne reports at the Hill.

The U.N. Security Council will meet tomorrow to discuss Trump’s decision to recognize Jerusalem, diplomats said yesterday that the request for a meeting was made by eight members of the 15-member body. Michelle Nichols reports at Reuters.

“While I recognize that you will publicly welcome this news, I ask that you restrain your official response,” a State Department document dated Dec. 6 said, revealing U.S. efforts to influence Israeli officials to temper their reaction to the news. Arshad Mohammed reveals at Reuters.

A taskforce was set up by the State Department to deal with the fallout from the Jerusalem announcement, revealing the threat to the safety of Americans, Josh Rogin explains at the Washington Post.

The precise location of a U.S. Embassy in Jerusalem has important symbolic implications, and some consider the White House’s plan to move the embassy within three to four years as optimistic, Adam Taylor explains at the Washington Post.

The announcement was greeted with joy and outrage in Jerusalem, an Israeli police spokesperson said that the police were prepared for larger protests in the city tomorrow. Loveday and Ruth Eglash observe at the Washington Post.

The key takeaways from Trump’s speech are provided by Barbara Plett Usher at the BBC.

Trump had been intent on moving the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem for months. Some senior administration officials, such as Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, warned that the move would raise potential risks to U.S. interests in the region and undermine the prospect of an Israel-Palestine peace deal, while others, such as Vice President Mike Pence and Nikki Haley, were in support of the decision. Josh Dawsey, Missy Ryan and Karen DeYoung reveal at the Washington Post.

The president’s son-in-law and senior adviser Jared Kushner pushed for the recognition of Jerusalem, he has been focused on achieving a peace deal in defiance of his critics and amid waning influence since the appointment of White House chief of staff John Kelly. Kushner has gambled that the Jerusalem announcement will pay off, however it could have serious implications in the Middle East, Annie Karni explains at POLITICO.

Arab leaders have deprioritized the Palestinian cause while they have been distracted by other troubles in the region, including the Arab Spring uprisings, wars in the Middle East, and the Saudi Arabia-Iran rivalry, meaning that the emotions following Trump’s speech “were as much of sadness and resignation as of anger and threats.” Anne Barnard, Ben Hubbard and Declan Walsh explain at the New York Times.

The rationale for the decision was seemingly tied to Trump’s psychology rather than diplomatic considerations, and it is hard to discern any substance in the Trump administration’s strategy to achieve the “ultimate deal” between Israel and Palestine. Peter Beaumont and Julian Borger write at the Guardian.

The peace process was over long ago, Christopher Dickey writes at The Daily Beast, noting the changed dynamics since 1995 and the assassination of Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin.

Countries have not recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital for good reason, the president’s decision has demonstrated that the Trump administration has been willing to pick sides in the Israel-Palestine conflict and “exploded any residual notion that Washington can act as honest broker.” The Financial Times editorial board writes.

Trump’s decision was not as radical as his critics have portrayed, it reflected promises by numerous previous presidential candidates and was in accordance with Congress’s 1995 act recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. The Wall Street Journal editorial board writes.

Trump’s speech did not acknowledge the majority-Arab East Jerusalem, was muted in his support for the two-state solution, and the motivation for his speech may in fact be an ideological desire to extend the reach of the culture war, consequently solidifying his support among American evangelicals and reinforcing his own brand of divisive politics. Ishaan Tharoor writes at the Washington Post.

Trump’s announcement has undermined the U.S.’s moral authority, damaged the nascent relationship between Israel and Gulf Arab countries and played into the hand of extremists and terrorists in the region. Hussein Ibish writes at The Daily Beast.

TRUMP-RUSSIA

Trump’s former national security adviser Michael Flynn told a former business associate that one of the Trump administration’s first acts would be to rip up economic sanctions against Russia, a whistle-blower revealed yesterday in a letter written to Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.). Flynn has been under investigation by special counsel Robert Mueller as part of his probe into Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. election, Mark Mazzetti and Michael S. Schmidt report at the New York Times.

Cummings asked the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee chairman Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-S.C.) to issue a subpoena to the White House for documents related to Flynn, saying that the committee has “credible allegations” that Flynn “sought to manipulate the course of international nuclear policy” through the revelation that Flynn assured the associate that sanctions against Russia would be “ripped up.” Tom Hamburger reports at the Washington Post.

Gowdy said yesterday that his committee would not look into the whistleblower’s allegations as the Oversight Committee is not investigating Russia, the House Intelligence Committee chairman Rep. Mike Conaway (R-Texas) declined to say if they would investigate the matter. Manu Raju and Katelyn Polantz report at CNN.

Donald Trump Jr. testified before the House Intelligence Committee yesterday and refused to provide details of a telephone conversation with his father earlier this year about how to handle the fallout from the revelations that he met with Russian lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya at Trump Tower in July 2016, during the presidential campaign. Byron Tau reports at the Wall Street Journal.

Trump Jr. said the call with his father was protected under attorney-client privilege as lawyers for both men were on the call, the ranking Democrat on the committee Rep. Adam Schiff (Calif.) said that the “presence of counsel does not make communications between father and son a privilege” and that he would follow up with Trump’s lawyer about the legal basis for refusing to disclose details of the call. Sharon LaFraniere and Nicholas Fandos report at the New York Times.

The founder of private military contractor Blackwater, Erik Prince, said that his meeting with Russian banker Kirill Dmitriev on Jan. 11 in the Seychelles had nothing to do with his support for the Trump campaign, according to a transcript released yesterday of his interview before the House Intelligence Committee. Prince said that the meeting with Dmitriev was informal and that the real purpose of the trip was to meet with Emirati officials, Katie Bo Williams reports at the Hill.

Russian oligarch Oleg Deripaska dropped his libel suit against the Associated Press, which alleged that the AP had falsely implied that he was paying Trump’s former campaign chairman Paul Manafort for work advancing the Russian government’s interests. Josh Gerstein reports at POLITICO.

Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein is scheduled to appear before the House Judiciary Committee on Dec. 13 as part of the committee’s Russia investigation, Brett Samuels reports at the Hill.

The president and his allies have attacked Mueller’s investigation, highlighting possible bias in Mueller’s team and the F.B.I. in a possible attempt to discredit the special counsel and create the political support needed to dismiss him. Devlin Barrett and Sean Sullivan report at the Washington Post.

YEMEN

Trump yesterday called on Saudi Arabia to allow food, fuel, water and medicine to reach Yemeni civilians, making the statement after the second consecutive night of Saudi airstrikes on Yemen’s capital of Sana’a and intermittent blockades on the country by the Saudi-led coalition. Max Bearak reports at the Washington Post.

A White House official said that Trump’s statement on Yemen was not a retaliation for Saudi Arabia’s condemnation of Trump’s decision to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, saying that the statement was to do with “a serious humanitarian issue in Yemen and the Saudis should and can do more.” Steve Holland and Phil Stewart report at Reuters.

The Saudi-led coalition captured an area southwest of Sana’a, residents said today, marking the first significant gains by the coalition since the former Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh was killed on Monday. Reuters reports.

The death of Saleh has changed the dynamics of the war in Yemen, providing Saudi Arabia an opportunity to gain an advantage by bridging relations with Saleh supporters in opposition to the Iranian-backed Houthi rebels. Yaroslav Trofimov writes at the Wall Street Journal.

NORTH KOREA

The U.S.-South Korea large-scale military exercises and U.S. threats have made the outbreak of war “an established fact,” a spokesperson for North Korea’s foreign ministry said today. Soyoung Kim and Heekyong Yang report at Reuters.

The U.N. political affairs chief Jeffrey Feltman met with North Korea’s vice foreign minister in Pyongyang yesterday and discussed bilateral cooperation and other issues of mutual interest, according to North Korea’s K.C.N.A. news agency. Reuters reports.

A total of 49 countries violated U.N. sanctions on North Korea between March 2014 and September 2017, according to a report by a Washington-based think tank. Rishi Iyengar reports at CNN.

SYRIA

Approximately 2,000 U.S. troops are on the ground in Syria, the Defense Department acknowledged yesterday, a number four times greater than the figure provided a month ago. Ellen Mitchell reports at the Hill.

The updated figure does not reflect troops assigned to classified missions and some Special Operations personnel, Pentagon spokesperson Eric Pahon said yesterday, John Ismay reporting at the New York Times.

A delegation representing Syrian President Bashar al-Assad is expected to arrive in Geneva on Sunday to participate in U.N.-backed peace talks, according to Syria’s state S.A.N.A. news agency, the delegation had walked out last week and returned to the Syrian capital of Damascus. Reuters reports.

U.S.-led airstrikes continue. U.S. and coalition forces carried out 33 airstrikes against Islamic State targets in Syria and Iraq between December 1 and December 3. [Central Command]

OTHER DEVELOPMENTS

The Islamic State group’s “capacity to reach sympathizers around the world” means that its ability to inspire attacks remains potent, the acting director of intelligence at the National Counterterrorism Center, Lora Shiao, told senators yesterday. Doina Chiacu reporting at Reuters.

The Saudi merchant Mustafa al Hawasi said that he was “very happy to have been able to support the brothers” who carried out the 9/11 attack, former F.B.I. agent Abigail Perkins said of her 2007 interrogation of the former C.I.A. captive, describing the conversation in testimony meant to demonstrate that Hawasi is subject to trial before the Guantánamo Bay war court. Carol Rosenberg reports at the Miami Herald.

The House yesterday voted against advancing articles of impeachment against Donald Trump, Ben Jacobs and Lauren Gambino report at the Guardian.

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson is expected to visit Africa at the beginning of next year, amid speculation over his position and a plan to replace Tillerson with C.I.A. Director Mike Pompeo. Reuters reports. 

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About the Author(s)

Pouneh Ahari

Assistant News Editor at Just Security and Legal Researcher at JUSTICE, a law reform and human rights organization based in the UK