The Early Edition: December 8, 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.

ISRAEL-PALESTINE

Clashes broke out between Palestinian protestors and Israeli soldiers yesterday in a number of West Bank cities and near the Gaza Strip following President Trump’s decision to announce that the U.S. would recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and that the U.S. would begin moving its embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. According to the Palestinian Red Crescent, over 100 people were injured and larger demonstrations are expected today after Friday prayers, Loveday Morris and Ruth Eglash report at the Washington Post.

The Palestinian Hamas militant group have called for a “Day of Rage” today in protest of Trump’s decision, Friday prayers at the Al-Aqsa mosque in Jerusalem could be a flashpoint and there have also been concerns that Trump’s decision could disrupt the reconciliation efforts between the Palestinian Fatah Party, who control the West Bank, and Hamas, who control the Gaza Strip. Dan Williams and Nidal al-Mughrabi report at Reuters.

The State Department have ordered tight security restrictions for U.S. diplomatic staff and their families in preparation for violent protests at U.S. missions across the Middle East, confrontations took place yesterday in Ramallah, Bethlehem, Hebron and at the border between Israel and Gaza, and there were demonstrations across the region. Peter Beaumont reports at the Guardian.

“We support the call for a new Palestinian intifada (uprising) and escalating the resistance,” the leader of the Lebanese Shi’ite Hezbollah militant group, Hassan Nasrallah, said in a speech yesterday. Reuters reports.

A senior Palestinian official said that Vice President Mike Pence would not be welcome in the Palestinian territories during his visit to Israel later this month – the trip is expected to include a stop at the Palestinian city of Bethlehem, Al Jazeera reports.

Pence still intends to meet with Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas and Palestinian leaders and “any decision to pull out of the meeting would be counterproductive,” a White House official said in response to comments by the senior Palestinian official. The BBC reports.

Trump and the Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu have “managed to destroy” hope in the two-state solution, the secretary general of the Palestinian Liberation Organization (P.L.O.) Saed Erekat said yesterday, adding that Palestinians have no option but to focus on equal rights rather than the pursuit of a Palestinian state. Erekat’s comments may not translate into a change in Palestinian policy, however he has said he planned to push for a shift in strategy within the Palestinian National Council, Mark Landler, David M. Halbfinger and Isabel Kershner report at the New York Times.

The Yemen-based al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (A.Q.A.P.) called on militants to close ranks to be ready to support Palestinians and appealed to Muslims to help with money and weapons, Reuters reports.

Russian President Vladimir Putin and Turkish President Reçep Tayyip Erdoğan expressed “serious concerns” over Trump’s announcement on recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and to move the U.S. Embassy, the Kremlin said in a statement yesterday following a phone call between the two leaders. Reuters reports.

Netanyahu is headed to Brussels as part of an effort to rally European cooperation for curbing Iran’s influence in Lebanon and Syria and along the Israeli-Syrian border, according to Israel’s Minister of Public Security and Strategic Affairs. While Netanyahu may have been bolstered by Trump’s announcement on Jerusalem, it may also have made it harder to enlist European support because of their objection to the move, Laurence Norman observes at the Wall Street Journal.

Muslims in Asia have protested against Trump’s decision, including in Indonesia and Malaysia, Kanupriya Kapoor and Joseph Sipalan report at Reuters.

“Any changes to the status of the city without the consent of the Palestinians jeopardizes any prospect for peace,” former President Jimmy Carter said yesterday in a statement, warning that Trump’s decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital “exacerbates tensions.” Rebecca Savransky reports at the Hill.

Almost all former U.S. ambassadors to Israel disagree with Trump’s change in policy, a typical view among the diplomats being that the president’s announcement has isolated the U.S. and undermined its position as a broker in the peace process. Sewell Chan reports at the New York Times.

President Trump’s decision was symbolic, but has “very real, negative consequences” for the Israel-Palestine peace process, for the region, and has implications for the U.S.’s relationships with key Arab and Muslim allies; it raises the possibility of an enhanced Israeli military occupation and increased settlement in occupied Palestinian territories. Warhad Khalid writes at CNN.

Palestinians, Arabs and the rest of the world will interpret Trump’s decision as “a major provocation” and the president “should reconsider this decision immediately” as he has undermined international law, conventions and norms, given Israel the green light to continue expanding its settlements, and has potentially emboldened messianic Jewish extremists that could “easily ignite a major religious conflagration in the Middle East and beyond.” P.L.O. executive member and Palestinian lawmaker, Hanan Ashrawi, writes at the New York Times.

The recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital is not a disaster if the president and the White House are able to keep message discipline, crucially by maintaining the distinction between acknowledging Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and recognition that the boundaries of the city are yet to be resolved through negotiations. Dennis Ross and David Makovsky write at Foreign Policy.

TRUMP-RUSSIA

The British publicist Rob Goldstone sent emails to a Russian participant after the June 2016 meeting at Trump Tower between Donald Trump Jr. and Russian individuals, with one of the emails saying that a story about Russian hacking of the Democratic National Committee (D.N.C.) server was “eerily weird” considering what they had discussed at Trump Tower. Jim Sciutto, Manu Raju and Jeremy Herb report at CNN.

The executive of the Russian equivalent to Facebook emailed Donald Trump Jr. and Trump campaign social media director Dan Scavino during the 2016 presidential campaign offering help to promote the Trump campaign among Russian Americans and Russians, the revelations demonstrate a new point of direct contact between influential Russian individuals and Trump campaign officials. Rosalind S. Helderman, Anton Troianovski and Tom Hamburger report at the Washington Post.

An op-ed by the former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort on his work in Ukraine was not intended for a U.S. audience or to influence the forthcoming case against Manafort, his lawyer, Kevin Downing said yesterday, making the comments after special counsel Robert Mueller’s team – which is investigating ties between the Trump campaign and Russia – accused Manafort of violating a court gag order by ghost-writing the article with a “long-time Russian colleague of Manafort’s.” Darren Samuelsohn reports at POLITICO and the article published about Manafort’s consulting activities in Ukraine, published under the name of Oleg Voloshin, is available at the Kyiv Post.

Voloshin confirmed that the longtime Manafort colleague referred to by prosecutors was Konstantin Kilimnik, he said that allegations by Mueller’s team that Kilimnik had ties to Russian intelligence were “shocking.” Spencer S. Hsu reports at the Washington Post.

The F.B.I. Director Christopher A. Wray defended his agency during questioning by Republicans on the House Judiciary Committee yesterday, following revelations of alleged bias from top F.B.I. agent Peter Strzok, who was a senior member of Mueller’s team but removed in July from the investigation. Devlin Barrett and Ellen Nakashima report at the Washington Post.

Wray seemingly confirmed that the F.B.I. had applied for warrants under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (F.I.S.A.) as part of the investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election and possible collusion by the Trump campaign. Ken Dilanian reports at NBC News.

The judge presiding over the case of Trump’s former national security adviser Michael Flynn has recused himself, it remains unclear why Judge Rudolph Contreras took the decision not to hear the case which concerns a guilty plea by Flynn that he made a false statement to F.B.I. agents about his communications with former Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak during the presidential transition. Josh Gerstein reports at POLITICO.

RUSSIA

“We will never accept Russia’s occupation and attempted annexation of Crimea,” the Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said yesterday in a meeting with the Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, adding that Russia was arming and supporting antigovernment forces in Eastern Ukraine. Gardiner Harris reports at the New York Times.

Tillerson said that U.S. would find it “hard to look past or to reconcile” Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, saying that the issue “stands as the single most difficult obstacle to us re-normalizing a relationship with Russia.” Carol Morello reports at the Washington Post.

Russia is prepared to discuss the Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces (I.N.F.) treaty with the U.S., a statement by Russia’s foreign ministry said today, the treaty helped end the Cold War and banned all Soviet Union and American short and intermediate-range land-based nuclear and conventional missiles. Reuters reports.

NORTH KOREA

North Korea is open to direct talks with the U.S., the Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov said, who added that he had conveyed the message to Secretary of State Rex Tillerson when they met in Vienna yesterday. Julian Borger reports at the Guardian.

Lavrov accused the U.S. of escalating tensions on the Korean Peninsula and said the U.S. military maneuvers and aggressive rhetoric were “unacceptable,” according to a statement by the Russian foreign ministry describing the meeting with Tillerson. Reuters reports.

YEMEN

Intense conflict over six days in the Yemeni capital of Sana’a killed 230 people and injured over 400, according to the U.N. humanitarian coordinator, who noted that “an intense calm” had returned to Sana’a “in the last day or so.” Edith M. Lederer reports at the AP.

The White House stated that it believed Saudi Arabia were taking actions to open a port in Yemen after Trump called on the blockade to be lifted, Reuters reports.

SYRIA

The U.N. humanitarian coordinator for Syria yesterday reproached Russia and Iran for failing to support civilians seeking to evacuate from the rebel-held Eastern Ghouta area near the Syrian capital of Damascus, the BBC reports.

The U.N. envoy for Syria Staffan de Mistura said that he would assess the behavior of President Bashar al-Assad’s delegation and the opposition to see if they have tried to sabotage the peace process being held in Geneva. Tom Miles reports at Reuters.

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

LEBANON

Lebanon’s Prime Minister Saad Hariri called for international support for Lebanon at a summit in France today, following a political crisis that was triggered by Hariri’s unexpected resignation on Nov. 4, which was later rescinded, before the summit, the Secretary of State Rex Tillerson expressed the U.S. backing for Lebanon’s “sovereignty, stability and independence.” Josh Lederman and Philip Issa reports at the AP.

The summit in France is expected to send a message to Saudi Arabia and Iran to stop interfering in Lebanon, John Irish reports at Reuters, explaining the significance of Lebanon to the Saudi-Iran rivalry and the bizarre circumstances since Hariri’s Nov. 4 announcement.

OTHER DEVELOPMENTS

An Argentine federal judge is seeking to arrest the former Argentine President Cristina Fernández de Kirchener, accusing her of covering-up the alleged involvement of senior Iranian officials in a 1994 bomb against a Jewish center in Beunos Aires. The BBC reports.

The Libyan Foreign Ministry has sought to remove Libya from Trump’s travel ban, the ministry said in a statement yesterday, Reuters reporting. 

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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