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Trump says Netanyahu win gives US peace plan ‘better chance’

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Washington: President Donald Trump has said that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s election victory improved the chances of a forthcoming US peace plan, despite deep skepticism from the Palestinians.

Trump, who had enthusiastically backed the right-wing premier’s bid for a fifth mandate, said that he telephoned Netanyahu to offer congratulations as results gave Netanyahu a narrow parliamentary majority.

“The fact that Bibi won, I think we’ll see some pretty good action in terms of peace,” Trump told reporters, using Netanyahu’s nickname. “Everybody said you can’t have peace in the Middle East with Israel and Palestinians. I think we have a chance and I think we now have a better chance,” he added.

 

Centrist challenger Benny Gantz, a former military chief, conceded defeat with Netanyahu poised to form a coalition of hawkish and religious parties to become Israel’s longest-serving prime minister.

Trump had welcomed Netanyahu to the White House just two weeks before the election to offer his latest landmark gesture of support – US recognition of Israel’s sovereignty over the Golan Heights, captured from Syria in 1967.

Palestinian leaders are deeply skeptical of the US peace plan and have ruled out Trump as an honest broker after he recognized bitterly contested Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. The peace plan is being developed by Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner, an Orthodox Jew whose close family ties to Netanyahu have heightened Palestinian suspicions on whether the US administration can serve as an honest broker.

US officials have only revealed vague outlines of what the plan might propose, but Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has suggested it could break abruptly with precedent. In two days of testimony before Senate committees, Pompeo declined to say whether the United States stood by its longstanding support for an independent Palestinian state.

“For decades now, there have been all these wonderful experts that have tried to resolve this crisis in the Middle East, the conflict between Israel and the Palestinian people, and they have each failed,” Pompeo told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Wednesday.

“So the old set of ideas isn’t worth retreading. They have simply not succeeded,” he said. Pressed by Democratic Senator Tim Kaine – who described himself as “kind of shocked” that Pompeo would not reaffirm US support for a two-state solution — the top US diplomat said the United States wanted “good things” for the Palestinians but that a solution had to be acceptable to both sides.

“I would argue that millions of man-hours have been spent to try and build out a two-state solution. It hasn’t worked to date. It may work this afternoon, but it hasn’t worked yet,” Pompeo said.

Pompeo said the peace plan would come out “before too long” and also include ideas aimed at Gulf Arab states, which have found increasing common ground with Israel in their hostility to Iran. Pompeo repeatedly declined to weigh in on Netanyahu’s election-eve vow to annex Jewish settlements built in the Israeli-occupied West Bank – a move that would seek to formalise Israeli control over parts of the supposedly future Palestinian state.

Such a move would previously have been almost unthinkable, leaving Israel diplomatically isolated. But some analysts believe that Washington’s relatively less controversial Golan Heights recognition may have paved the way.

In another sign of Israel’s current feeling of strength, Netanyahu insisted last week that he would refuse removal of any Jewish settlements built inside occupied Palestinian land as part of any peace plan.

Netanyahu said he told Trump “there shouldn’t be the removal of even one settlement.” Since taking office, Trump has also closed the Palestinians’ office in Washington, pulled the United States from UN bodies accused of anti-Israel bias and cut off funding for the UN agency that provides schooling and other services to Palestinian refugees.

While Trump has rallied behind Netanyahu, the Israeli leader has seen growing disdain among Democrats. Beto O’Rourke, a Democratic candidate for president, called Netanyahu “a racist” for his alliance with a far-right party and for warning about voting by Israel’s Arab citizens.

Candidate Bernie Sanders, who is Jewish, has called Netanyahu “extreme right-wing” and said Trump needed to show “good faith” in brokering a peace deal.


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Will make sure no air conditioning, TV for Sharif’s in jail: Imran

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Washington: Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan, who is on a visit to the United States, addressed the Pakistani diaspora in Washington. During the address he said that former Pakistani prime minister Nawaz Sharif eats home-made food in his air-conditioned jail cell that has a television in it too.

His government will ensure that Sharif does not receive such treatment in jail.

“Nawaz Sharif wants food from home in jail, he wants air conditioning in jail. But in a country where half the population has no air conditioning or TV, what kind of punishment this is?” said Imran Khan in a 50-minute speech televised by Samaa TV.

 

“I am going to go back and make sure there is no air conditioning or TV for Nawaz Sharif, who is a criminal. I know (PML-N leader) Maryam Bibi will make some noise, but I say to her, return the money. It’s as simple as that,” he added.

The 69-year-old former Prime Minister has been convicted in the Al Azizia Steel Mills case and sentenced to seven years in jail. He is serving the sentence in Lahore’s Kot Lakhpat jail.

Imran Khan made these remarks while addressing the Pakistani diaspora at Capital One Arena Stadium, which was attended by 30,000 Pakistanis.

Continuing his attack against Nawaz Sharif, Pakistan’s Prime Minister alleged that the PML-N leader was “propped up” by a military dictator.

“Nawaz Sharif was propped up by military dictator. Shahbaz Sharif was propped up because he was his brother.” said Imran Khan.

Khan said that the government has started seizing their undeclared properties. He claimed that these leaders have looted the country when they were in power.

“We have started seizing their undeclared properties, the billions they have taken overseas. We are in talks with other governments to bring that looted wealth back to Pakistan. We will not let accountability go,” he said.

Meanwhile, Imran Khan is scheduled to meet US President Donald Trump at the White House. He will be accompanied by Pakistan Army chief and Lieutenant General Hameed.

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Abe claims victory in upper house election

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TOKYO: Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe claimed victory for his ruling coalition in the upper house election, vowing to keep alive plans to amend the nation’s pacifist constitution.

With the results, the 64-year-old Abe, who is on course to become Japan’s longest-serving prime minister, aims to shore up his mandate ahead of a crucial consumption tax hike later this year, along with trade negotiations with Washington.

“The ruling parties were given a majority … as people decided to urge us to firmly push for policies under the stable political base,” Abe told public broadcaster NHK.

 

“I want to meet their expectations soundly,” he said at the headquarters of his Liberal Democratic Party.

Abe’s LDP and its coalition partner Komeito are forecast to take between 67 and 77 of the 124 seats — about half the chamber — up for election on Sunday, according to NHK.

The two parties control 70 seats in the half of the 245-seat chamber that is not being contested, putting them on track to maintain their overall majority.

NHK’s projection and similar estimates by other media are based on exit polling and other analysis. Final numbers were not expected until Monday at the earliest.

“The results, which were within expectations, indicated that voters chose the status quo, not a change,” Shinichi Nishikawa, professor of political science at Meiji University in Tokyo, said.

Abe is almost certain to stay in power until November when he will break the record for the nation’s longest-serving premier held by Taro Katsura, a revered politician who served three times between 1901 and 1913.

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‘Window dressing, made no difference,’ says US on Hafiz Saeed’s previous arrest

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Washington: The Trump Administration expressed doubts over Pakistan’s intentions in arresting terrorist Hafiz Muhammed Saeed, the mastermind of the 2001 Parliament attack and the 2008 Mumbai attack, saying his previous arrests made no difference either to his activities or that of his outfit Lashkar-e-Taiba.

“We’ve seen this happen in the past. And we have been looking for sustained and concrete steps, not just window dressing,” a senior administration official told reporters Friday, ahead of Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan’s visit to the US next week.

Saeed, a UN-designated terrorist was arrested on Wednesday — the seventh times since December 2001, when he was nabbed in the immediate aftermath of the terrorist attack on the Indian Parliament.

 

“Let me reassure you, we are clear eyed about the history here. We’re under no illusions about the support that we could see from Pakistan’s military intelligence services to these groups. So we will look for concrete action,” the official said when asked about the actions that Pakistan has taken against terrorist group and if the US believes in them.

“I noticed that Pakistan has taken some initial steps such as pledging to seize assets of some of these terrorist groups. And, of course, they put under arrest yesterday Hafiz Muhammed Saeed, the leader of Lashkar-e-Taiba which is responsible for the 2008 Mumbai terrorist attacks,” said the official requesting anonymity.

But the official quickly noted that this was the seventh time that Saeed was arrested since 2001 attack on India’s Parliament when he was detained right after that attack and was subsequently released.

“That is why we are very clear eyed and realistic when you see him arrested” as he has been arrested and released in the past. “So we would look to see that Pakistan take sustained action in actually prosecuting these people,” the official said.

“Quite frankly, the previous arrest of Hafiz Muhammed Saeed hasn’t made a difference and the LeT has been has been able to operate. So we’re monitoring the situation,” said the senior administration official as reporters asked questions on the links between Pakistani intelligence services and terrorist groups.

The US “remains concerned” about terrorist groups that continue to operate in Pakistan, such as Jaish-e-Mohammed, Lashkar-e-Taiba, and Haqqani network. “We do have concerns about link between these groups and Pakistan intelligence services in military. That’s no secret,” the official said.

The US, the official said, welcomes Prime Minister Khan’s pledge that Pakistan will not allow its soil to be used by militant groups and its vocal leadership and the Trump Administration is pressing for a new direction in this regard.

According to the official, the US has seen some initial steps with Pakistan pledging to seize the assets of some of these terrorist leaders, pledged to reform the madrasa and has taken under administrative control some of the facilities owned by these groups.

Prime Minister Khan himself said that Pakistan cannot reach its full potential unless it has peace and stability in the region. Of course, peace and stability in the region would require it to crack down on the terrorist and militant groups that are creating the instability, the official said. Pakistan really needs to prove that this time they are something different, he said.

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