Trump praises Kennedy after Chuck Todd links senator’s Ukraine remarks to Putin

President Trump on Monday praised Sen. John Kennedy (R-La.) for his appearance a day earlier on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” where anchor Chuck Todd questioned the senator for pushing the unsubstantiated claim that Ukraine meddled in the 2016 election.

“Thank you to Great Republican @SenJohnKennedy for the job he did in representing both the Republican Party and myself against Sleepy Eyes Chuck Todd on Meet the Depressed!” Trump tweeted.

The president tweeted his thanks as he flew to London for NATO meetings. He also praised two House Republicans for defending him against the impeachment inquiry in television interviews.

Kennedy has been part of controversial interviews each of the past two Sundays after making claims about Ukraine’s involvement in the 2016 election.

Kennedy last week suggested that there was still a possibility that Ukraine was responsible for the 2016 Democratic National Committee hack. He walked back those comments days later but has continued to insist Ukraine interfered in other ways. 

On “Meet the Press” on Sunday, Kennedy asserted that reporting in outlets such as Politico and The Economist indicated that the former Ukrainian president favored Clinton over Trump.

“The fact that Russia was so aggressive does not exclude the fact that President Poroshenko actively worked for Secretary Clinton,” he said.

Todd appeared exasperated with the senator and pushed back on his argument, suggesting Kennedy was furthering a narrative of Russian President Vladimir Putin.

“Are you at all concerned that you’ve been duped?” Todd asked. 

“No, just read the articles,” Kennedy said. 

The Intelligence Committee has concluded that Russia, not Ukraine, interfered in the 2016 election and was seeking to aid the Trump campaign. Former special counsel Robert Mueller determined he could not establish that the Trump campaign worked with Russia.

In the aftermath of that investigation, Trump and some of his allies have continued to claim Ukraine meddled in the 2016 race despite the insistence to the contrary of national security officials. 

[The Hill]

Trump wastes no time distorting Zelensky statement

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky delivered an unmistakable rebuke to President Trump in an interview published Monday by Time and three European news outlets. Then Trump, as is his wont, declared himself totally exonerated.

According to the partial transcript posted by Time, Zelensky mostly discussed the war with Russian-backed rebels along Ukraine’s eastern border. When he got onto the topic of the United States’ role, he started by saying he didn’t want Ukraine to be a pawn in a great-powers game of chess. But then he got into how Trump and other U.S. officials had been publicly labeling Ukraine a “corrupt country” and the difficulties that this causes with global investors and businesses.

”This is a hard signal,” Zelensky said. “For me it’s very important for the United States, with all they can do for us, for them really to understand that we are a different country, that we are different people. It’s not that those things don’t exist. They do. All branches of government were corrupted over many years, and we are working to clean that up. But that signal from them is very important.”

In other words, the chaff thrown up by Trump and his allies in defense of his attempt to persuade Zelensky to announce two investigations that could help Trump’s reelection bid — “Ukraine is corrupt, and Trump was just trying to protect taxpayers’ money” — is at least as harmful to Ukraine’s new housecleaning government as it is helpful to Trump.

But that comment wasn’t the one that got Trump’s attention. It was one at the end of the interview, when Zelensky was asked the $300-million question: “When did you first sense that there was a connection between Trump’s decision to block military aid to Ukraine this summer and the two investigations that Trump and his allies were asking for? Can you clarify this issue of the quid pro quo?”

There’s a great deal of confusion over this precise point. The White House froze nearly $300 million in security aid to Ukraine about two weeks before Trump spoke with Zelensky and asked for “a favor” in the form of those two investigations. But the hold on the aid didn’t become public until Politico broke the news in late August.

Here’s Zelensky’s response, according to Time’s transcript: “Look, I never talked to the president from the position of a quid pro quo. That’s not my thing.… I don’t want us to look like beggars. But you have to understand. We’re at war. If you’re our strategic partner, then you can’t go blocking anything for us. I think that’s just about fairness. It’s not about a quid pro quo. It just goes without saying.”

There are a million different ways to parse that, but the meaning seems clear: Zelensky really, really, really wants to get out of the middle of this controversy. Yet it’s also clear that he’s not forgiving Trump for delaying the aid approved by Congress, more than 10% of which is apparently still on hold.

Trump, though, offered a completely different read:

Nothing wrong? How about “If you’re our strategic partner, you can’t go blocking anything for us”? How about Zelensky imploring Trump to stop driving capital away from Kyiv?

But that’s how Trump operates, counting on people not to take the extra step and read the Zelensky interview for themselves.

It’s kind of like Trump’s fallback line, “Read the transcript.” If people actually read the reconstructed transcript that the White House released, they would see Trump telling Zelensky how dependent Ukraine is on the United States, then find him asking Zelensky to conduct two investigations that are clearly beneficial to Trump politically — including one specifically into the Democrat who’s leading the race to oppose Trump in 2020, former Vice President Joe Biden.

Granted, some folks may not be troubled by a president using the power of his office to try to persuade a foreign government to help him win reelection. But even they would have to concede it’s something less than “perfect.”

[Los Angeles Times]

Trump posted a picture of himself as Rocky, his campaign claims it isn’t edited.

People are used to seeing Donald Trump’s face transposed on to a lot of things: satsumas, the Queen, a giant floating baby flying across the US and the UK.

But this morning, the president himself posted a photo where his head was photoshopped on to something utterly surprising: the super-buff, bare body of the fictional boxer Rocky Balboa.

It was tweeted at 10.54am, with Trump offering exactly zero explanation – not even a caption. All we know is that the tweet was sent during a golf trip at one of Trump’s golf clubs in Florida, during his Thanksgiving holiday at Mar-a-Lago.

Who knows how we should interpret it? Perhaps the 45th president suffered a blow to the head this morning. Or perhaps he wants us to know he’s a fighter. Maybe he’s upset about of all the low blows thrown his way during his tenure, with people saying mean things like “why does he grab women by the pussy?”

Far-right, anti-Islam hate group plans to hold event at Mar-A-Lago hotel

A far-right group that alleges that Islamic extremists are infiltrating the U.S. government is set to hold a banquet this weekend at President Trump’s Mar-a-Lago Club, according to permits for the event obtained by The Washington Post.

The Center for Security Policy and its leaders have spread the lie that former President Barack Obama is a Muslim and have also falsely alleged that Muslim organizations in the United States have anti-American beliefs, according to the Post. It is labeled a designated hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center 

The group has rented a ballroom for Saturday at Trump’s club in Palm Beach, Fla., for its annual Freedom Flame Award dinner, according to the Post. This is the first time the event, which has previously been held in New York City and Washington, D.C., is being held in Palm Beach, according to the Post’s public records request.

The White House declined to comment to the Washington Post, and the Trump Organization did not respond to the newspaper’s request for comment.

The permit obtained by the Post says the event will cost approximately $53,000. The organization told the newspaper that it is “a private event.”

Fred Fleitz, a former Trump administration official who is the president and chief executive of the Center for Security Policy, told the newspaper after its initial report was published that the group is not prejudiced against Muslims.

“Muslims are part of our country and our society, this is a good thing,” Fleitz told PJ Media in January, which he cited to the Post. “But what we don’t welcome is the radical ideology that promotes violence.”

Trump cited the group’s research when he proposed “a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States” during his presidential campaign in 2015, the BBC reported.

According to the Post, Ibrahim Hooper of the Council on American-Islamic Relations alleged that former Reagan administration official Frank Gaffney – who is the founder of the Center for Security Policy and has ties to the Trump administration – is “one of the key figures in the Islamophobia industry.”

“They get the influence they seek by handing him money, and he gets the money,” Hooper told the Post.

Earlier this year, ACT for America, which has called Islam a “cancer,” was also set to hold a banquet at Mar-a-Lago but later canceled the event, the Washington Post reported.

The Hill has reached out to the White House, the Trump organization and the Center for Security Policy for comment.

[The Hill]

Trump repeats Ukraine conspiracy theory and more debunked lies on 53-minute “Fox & Friends” call

President Trump spent 53 minutes of his Friday morning on the phone with the hosts of “Fox & Friends” — his latest call-in to one of his favorite TV shows.

Driving the news: President Trump spent a chunk of the interview repeating a debunked conspiracy theory that Ukraine interfered in the 2016 presidential election. “That’s what the word is,” he claimed without evidence.

  • The debunked conspiracy theory — frequently referred to as CrowdStrike, the security firm at its center — is based on the idea that Ukraine was complicit in the 2016 hacking of the Democratic National Committee to create false electronic records that Russia was behind the hacking.
  • Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman, the National Security Council’s top Ukraine expert, said during his impeachment hearing that the Crowdstrike conspiracy theory is “a Russian narrative that President Putin has promoted.”
  • Fiona Hill, Trump’s former top Russia adviser, said during her impeachment hearing that the conspiracy theory is “a fictional narrative that has been perpetrated and propagated by the Russian security services themselves.”

Worth noting: Trump also said that Crowdstrike is owned by “a very wealthy Ukrainian,” but it’s actually a publicly-traded company. Its largest outside shareholder is Warburg Pincus, a New York City private equity firm from which Trump plucked one of his top economic advisors.

Impeachment-related highlights:

  • The president once again slammed former Ukraine Ambassador Marie Yovanovitch, claiming she was “not an angel.” During her impeachment testimony , she agreed that it was Trump’s prerogative to fire ambassadors at will, but asked, “What I do wonder is why was it necessary to smear my reputation also?”
  • Trump said that during a Senate impeachment trial he only wants House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) to testify more than Hunter Biden.
  • Trump said that he knows “exactly” who the Ukraine whistleblower is — and insinuated that the “Fox & Friends” hosts did as well — prompting them to attempt to steer the conversation away from the topic live on air.

Other highlights:

  • Trump predicted that Speaker Nancy Pelosi won’t pass the USMCA trade deal, despite it being a priority for some Democratic lawmakers ahead of 2020.
  • He tried to find a middle ground between supporting pro-democracy protestors in Hong Kong and not offending Chinese President Xi Jinping as the U.S. attempts to close a “phase one” trade deal with China. “We have to stand with Hong Kong, but I’m also standing with President Xi,” he said.
  • Trump denied rumors surrounding his health after a surprise visit to Walter Reed National Medical Center last weekend, calling it “fake, disgusting news.”

2020 lightning round:

  • Joe Biden: “I don’t know if Joe can make it mentally. He’s off.”
  • Pete Buttigieg: “I don’t see him dealing with President Xi. I don’t see him dealing with Kim Jong-un. But maybe he is.”
  • Elizabeth Warren: “I think Pocahontas has come up from the embers.”
  • Michael Bloomberg: “I think his time has come and gone.

[Axios]

Reality

There was multiple fact checks some could only refer to this call as “bananas.”

Media

Trump EPA to roll back Obama-era chemical rules

The Environmental Protection Agency is set to roll back a set of Obama-era standards outlining how companies must store dangerous chemicals, the Washington Post reports.

Where it stands: The rules were enacted following a 2013 explosion in Texas that killed 15 people. Officials blame arson for the deadly blast, but the fertilizer plant fire was fueled by 80,000–100,000 pounds of unsafely stored ammonium nitrate. Under the EPA’s newly weakened rules, companies will no longer have to provide public information on what chemicals they store onsite.

  • Companies will also be freed from several safety procedures, including obtaining a third-party audit following an accident or conducting an analysis after major chemical releases.

Between the lines: This is the latest rollback that shows how the broad reach of President Trump’s deregulatory push goes far beyond the climate change policies of his predecessor, Axios’ Amy Harder notes.

[Axios]

Trump attacks Fox News for interviewing Swalwell

President Trump on Thursday renewed his attacks against Fox News over its coverage of the impeachment inquiry, taking issue with the network’s decision to interview Democratic Rep. Eric Swalwell (Calif.) about the process. 

Trump singled out Fox News host Shannon Bream, asking why she would “waste airtime” by featuring a failed presidential candidate, referencing Swalwell’s short-lived 2020 campaign. 

“Fox should stay with the people that got them there, not losers!” he said. 

Beam interviewed Swalwell, a Democratic member of the House Intelligence Committee, following a day in which the panel heard testimony from three administration officials about the president’s dealings with Ukraine. 

The House impeachment inquiry has centered around allegations that the president pressured Ukraine to investigate 2020 presidential candidate Joe Biden and his son Hunter Biden over unfounded allegations of corruption. House Democrats are also probing whether Trump tied military aid to Ukraine publicly announcing the investigations. 

While speaking on Fox News, Swalwell adamantly pushed back against Republicans’ argument that a quid pro quo didn’t take place because Ukraine eventually received the security aid. 

“The president got caught. The only reason the aid was released was because the whistleblower came forward,” Swalwell said, referencing a government whistleblower complaint that led to the launch of the impeachment inquiry. 

Swalwell also emphasized new statements from Laura Cooper, the deputy assistant secretary of Defense for Russia and Ukraine, who testified that her staff received questions from the Ukraine Embassy about “security assistance” on July 25. That is the same day Trump urged Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky during a phone call to open investigations. 

Trump has repeatedly dismissed allegations of wrongdoing, often characterizing officials testifying in the impeachment inquiry as “Never Trumpers.” In a separate tweet early Thursday morning, he claimed the “fake” and “corrupt” news media weren’t covering the impeachment hearings fairly. 

While Trump has enjoyed a cordial relationship with many of Fox News’s opinion hosts, he’s also shown a willingness to target some of its news anchors. Earlier this week, he blasted “Fox News Sunday” host Chris Wallace as “nasty” and “obnoxious” over an interview in which he persistently grilled House Minority Whip Steve Scalise (R-La.) about the implications of the impeachment inquiry. 

Trump claimed that the “dumb and unfair interview would never have happened” in the past, prompting a rebuttal from Wallace’s colleague Neil Cavuto. 

“The best we can do as journalists is be fair to all, including you, Mr. President,” Cavuto said on Fox News on Monday. “That’s not fake doing that. What is fake is not doing that. What is fake is saying Fox never used to do that. Mr. President, we have always done that.”

[The Hill]

Trump lied about an Apple plant opening and Tim Cook didn’t correct him

Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg raised eyebrows this week after a new report that he had a private dinner with President Donald Trump in October, the second closed-door meeting between the pair in a month. But Zuckerberg is hardly the only tech executive trying to curry favor with the president: Apple’s Tim Cook is doing something similar, and unlike the Facebook executive, he’s doing it out in the open.

Remember Tim Apple — the alter ego Trump created for the Apple CEO earlier this year? Well, he’s struck again. And he’s letting the president blatantly lie about the goings-on at his company in order to use Apple as a marketing tool for his presidency.

On Wednesday, Cook accompanied Trump, Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin, and the president’s daughter, Ivanka Trump, on a tour of a manufacturing plant in Austin, Texas. Both at the plant and after, the president suggested that the plant had just opened and that it was the result of his presidency. No one at Apple corrected him, even though it’s not at all the case: The plant, which is run by a company called Flex, has been making Mac Pro computers there since 2013.

“For me, this is a very special day,” Trump said on the factory tour, apparently indicating the plant had just opened. Cook spoke after him and didn’t clarify what was going on, instead thanking the Trump administration, particularly those in attendance. “I’m grateful for their support and pulling today off and getting us to — this far. It would not be possible without them,” he said.

You could argue that Cook wasn’t quite sure that the president was saying the plant had just opened. Also on Wednesday, Apple announced the start of construction on a new office campus in Austin, so maybe Trump was referring to that. (Also, Apple building a new campus in Texas is good!)

But later in the day, it became abundantly clear that Trump was, in fact, making up a plant opening — and Apple still isn’t saying a word about it. On Wednesday evening, Trump tweeted out a campaign video of himself with Cook at the plant and wrote that he had “opened a major Apple Manufacturing plant in Texas” that day. But it’s just not true.

It’s not new for Trump to lie; he does it a lot. But for one of the most valuable companies in the world to allow itself to be used as part of a false marketing campaign from the president of the United States is, to put it lightly, not great.

Apple did not return multiple requests for comment on the matter and Cook hasn’t commented on it publicly. He could do so easily, even from his Twitter account, which he used to tout the plant’s launch when it first started shipping back in 2013.

Tariffs are why Tim Cook is letting this slide from Trump

Cook isn’t letting Trump make things up about Apple because he’s polite — it’s because, business-wise, it’s advantageous for him to do it, particularly in the context of the trade war with China.

Trump has consistently pushed Apple to manufacture more of its products in the US, even though some of his policies have made it harder for them to do. As Jack Nicas at the New York Times lays out, Apple and the White House have been going back and forth for months over where the company’s new Mac Pro will be made. Apple says it needs waivers on the tariffs to make it in Texas, and Trump initially said no but eventually gave in. And so, the computers are shipping from the US, complete with an “Assembled in USA” tag.

Cook knows that’s what matters to Trump — and was sure to emphasize it on the manufacturing tour on Wednesday.

“We cannot be more proud of the product,” he said. “It’s an example of American design, American manufacturing, and American ingenuity.”

Tim Cook sometimes criticizes the White House. Other times, he looks like its chief marketing officer.

Cook and Trump have at times had an adversarial relationship, but as time has gone on, they’ve leaned into the mutually beneficial parts of their dynamic instead.

On the 2016 campaign trail, Trump called for a boycott of Apple, and he has consistently pressured it to make more of its products in the United States. After Trump was elected, Cook sent a memo to Apple employees that didn’t directly mention the president but took a clear stance against his divisiveness. Cook has criticized Trump’s immigration policies and been vocal on family separation. Apple also warned early on that Trump’s tariffs might force it to raise prices.

But whatever their differences, they haven’t kept Cook from Trump’s orbit. He’s met with the president in the White House and done public events with Ivanka Trump and the president. He sits on a workforce policy advisory board to the president.

In one meeting at the White House earlier this year, the president mistakenly referred to Cook as “Tim Apple.” It was an admittedly funny moment, and afterward, Cook played along, changing his Twitter name to Tim and the Apple logo. (He’s since changed it back.) Trump, on the other hand, lied and insisted he hadn’t made the mistake.

Cook appears to have decided that while he might not agree with the more unsavory parts of Trump’s presidency, there’s a lot the company he runs has to gain from it.

The tax cut bill Trump signed in 2017 has been a huge windfall for Apple. It allowed the company to bring back billions of dollars in cash it had stashed abroad, save billions of dollars in taxes, and return billions of dollars in savings to its shareholders via stock buybacks. Apple has delivered public thank-yous to Trump with splashy announcements about investments in the US, which Trump name-checked during his 2018 State of the Union address. Call it some mutual free advertising.

So sure, it’s easy to be mad at Zuckerberg for having dinner with Trump (which is honestly not that big of a deal, especially in comparison to letting Trump lie in campaign ads, or, you know, having built a platform that’s being used to do enormous damage to democracy). But we shouldn’t just let Cook slide. He is at the helm of an iconic American brand in Apple, and he’s lending it to Trump, who’s using it to make false claims to boost his presidency.

[Vox]

Senior Trump admin official Mina Chang resigns after embellishing resumé

Senior Trump administration official Mina Chang resigned from her job at the State Department two and a half hours after NBC News went to her spokesperson to ask about newly discovered false claims she had made about her charity work.

NBC News had previously reported that Chang, the deputy assistant secretary in the State Department’s Bureau of Conflict and Stability Operations, had embellished her resume with misleading claims about her educational achievements and the scope of her nonprofit’s work — even posting a fake cover of Time magazine with her face on it.

“It is essential that my resignation be seen as a protest and not as surrender because I will not surrender my commitment to serve, my fidelity to the truth, or my love of country,” Chang wrote in her resignation letter to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. “Indeed, I intend to fight for those things as a citizen in the days and years to come.”

Chang said she had been “unfairly maligned, unprotected by my superiors, and exposed to a media with an insatiable desire for gossip and scandal, genuine or otherwise.”

NBC News had reported that Chang, who assumed her post in April, invented a role on a United Nations panel, claimed she had addressed both the Democratic and the Republican national conventions, and implied she had testified before Congress.

She was being considered for an even bigger government job, one with a budget of more than $1 billion, until Congress started asking questions about her resume.

The newly discovered false claims include misrepresenting a trip to Afghanistan as a humanitarian mission, listing an academic who says he never worked for her nonprofit as an employee, claiming a nonexistent degree from the University of Hawaii, inflating an award and claiming to be an “ambassador” for the United Nations’ cultural agency UNESCO.

Chang had portrayed the 2015 trip to Afghanistan as a humanitarian mission for her nonprofit, but a defense contractor footed the bill and no aid was delivered, according to documents from the company and a former employee.

After the Afghanistan trip, Chang posted photos of herself meeting a group of Afghan women in a room. In a video posted on her charity’s website, she refers to the photo and says the Afghan women are “in hiding” at a secret location.

“This is in Afghanistan, I am sitting with women in our program, they are living in hiding. I can only say they are right outside of the Kabul area,” Chang said in an interview posted on her nonprofit’s website.

But the women were not part of any program run by her charity, Linking the World. They were wives of local employees of the defense contractor that paid for her trip, Automotive Management Services, and they were not in hiding, a former employee said.

“They were photo-ops,” the former employee said of Chang’s trip to Afghanistan, and another to Iraq.

Company documents obtained by NBC News show Chang was asked to help the firm manage an association of Afghan wives, whose spouses worked for the company. The plan would free up AMS to “focus on our commercial prospects,” according to a document outlining the project. AMS, which helped Afghan security forces maintain a fleet of armored vehicles, paid for Chang’s airfare and accommodation, according to documents and the former employees.

On her charity’s website, Chang posted photos from the Afghanistan trip, without indicating that the defense contractor bankrolled the visit and that her NGO conducted no aid work during the trip.

In an email to NBC News, Chang said her organization was helping the defense contractor “create shared value” in Afghanistan. “Our work was not ‘humanitarian aid,’ it was to help a company with critical presence on the ground incorporate [creating shared value] into their business model.”

Chang also continued to claim the women were “in hiding,” saying “it’s irresponsible for anyone to share someone’s identity who says they’re hiding from the Taliban.” However, the pictures of the women Chang shared with an interviewer show the women’s faces.

Ian Dailey, Linking the World’s chief of staff, did not respond to a request for comment about the AMS sponsorship of Chang’s trip to Afghanistan.

The data scientist

In promotional material for Linking the World, under the heading “Who We Are,” the group lists a “chief data scientist,” Michel Leonard, an adjunct professor at New York University and Columbia University.

But Leonard told NBC News that “I was never an employee of this organization.” He said he had never seen the document touting his expertise, didn’t initially recognize the name of the charity and performed no work for it.

Dailey of Linking the World told NBC News in an email, “Linking the World is a volunteer-based organization, so no persons addressed on our site were employees. At the time, Mr. Leonard was employed by the United States Institute of Peace (USIP), and I was personally working with him on a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between the two organizations, to share data, skills and analyzes (sic). However, Mr. Leonard left USIP before that MOU was completed.”

In her email to NBC News, Chang also said that Leonard was a volunteer like other advisers.

In numerous bios, including one when she was a fellow at the New America think tank in Washington, Chang said she had served as a “cross cultural ambassador” for UNESCO.

But Chang does not appear on a list of ambassadors for UNESCO. Spokesman Roni Amelan said the organization does not have a “cross-cultural ambassador” category.


https://www.nbcnews.com/politics/donald-trump/senior-trump-admin-official-mina-chang-resigns-after-nbc-news-n1085186?cid=sm_npd_nn_fb_ma

Trump administration eases US stance toward Israeli settlements in West Bank

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced Monday that the U.S. government will ease its stance on Israeli settlements in the West Bank, in the latest move by the Trump administration to bolster Israel’s position and undermine Palestinian claims regarding land sought for a future state.

Pompeo essentially rejected a 1978 State Department legal opinion holding that civilian settlements in the occupied territories are “inconsistent with international law.” He also said the White House was reversing an Obama administration directive that allowed the U.N. Security Council to pass a resolution declaring the settlements a “flagrant violation” of international law.

“The Trump administration is reversing the Obama administration’s opposition to Israeli settlements in the West Bank,” Pompeo said. “The establishment of Israeli settlements in the West Bank is not inconsistent with international law.”

Pompeo added that the Trump administration believes that calling the Israeli settlements illegal under international law is not moving a peace process between the Israelis and Palestinians forward.

“Calling the establishment of civilian settlements inconsistent with international law has not advanced the cause of peace,” he said. “The hard truth is that there will never be a judicial resolution to the conflict, and arguments about who is right and who is wrong as a matter of international law will not bring peace.”

Pompeo added: “The vision of peace this administration has, we’ve created space for this.”

Trump already broke with his predecessors by deciding earlier to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, moving the U.S. Embassy to that city and closing the Palestinian diplomatic office in Washington.

Even though the decision is largely symbolic, it could give a boost to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who is fighting for his political survival after he was unable to form a coalition government following recent elections.

In addition, it could spell further trouble for the administration’s oft-promised peace plan, which is unlikely to gather much international support by endorsing a position contrary to the global consensus.

The Netanyahu government was dealt a blow on settlements just last week when the European Court of Justice ruled products made in Israeli settlements must be labeled as such.

The 1978 legal opinion on settlements is known as the Hansell Memorandum. It had been the basis for more than 40 years of carefully worded U.S. opposition to settlement construction that had varied in its tone and strength depending on the president’s position.

The international community overwhelmingly considers the settlements illegal. This is based in part on the Fourth Geneva Convention, which bars an occupying power from transferring parts of its own civilian population to occupied territory.

“It hasn’t worked,” Pompeo said about the Obama administration’s move. “It hasn’t advanced the cause of peace.”

Pompeo said that the U.S. would not take a position on the legality of specific settlements and that that the new policy would not extend beyond the West Bank and create a precedent for other territorial disputes. He added that the decision did not mean the administration was prejudging the status of the West Bank in any eventual Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement.

“This is only solved by negotiations between the Israeli and Palestinians,” he added. 

The anti-settlement monitoring group Peace Now, along with AP reporting, has found a sharp increase in settlement planning and construction since Trump took office.

Israel captured the West Bank and east Jerusalem in the 1967 Mideast war and quickly began settling the newly conquered territory. 

Today, some 700,000 Israeli settlers live in the two areas, which are both claimed by the Palestinians for their state. After the war, it immediately annexed east Jerusalem, home to the holy city’s most important religious sites, in a move that is not internationally recognized.

But Israel has never annexed the West Bank, even as it has dotted the territory with scores of settlements and tiny settlement outposts. While claiming the fate of the settlements is a subject for negotiations, it has steadily expanded them.

Some major settlements have over 30,000 residents, resembling small cities and serving as suburbs of Jerusalem and Tel Aviv. 

The Palestinians and supporters say the settlements undermine hopes for a two-state solution by gobbling up land sought by the Palestinians.

[Fox News]

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