What would Donald Trump mean for the Middle East?

Property mogul and celebrity TV personality Donald Trump has fended off attacks from all sides to win big on Super Tuesday, reinforcing his lead in the race for his party’s nomination.

But what would a President Donald Trump mean for the Middle East? 

Well, Trump drew the anger of Muslims worldwide when he declared that he would impose a ban on Muslims entering the US. But he has also vowed to be “neutral” in negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians, a significant break from long-standing US foreign policy favouring Israel.

The pre-Super Tuesday attacks seemed to come from almost every direction. He was denounced by President Barack Obama, and by the Republican Speaker of the House, Paul Ryan. Fellow Republican candidate Marco Rubio criticised him for failing to renounce support from former Ku Klux Klan grand wizard David Duke and praise from Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan.

The Middle East: A US election battleground?

Donald Trump speaks at a Stop The Iran Nuclear Deal protest on September 9, 2015 [Linda Davidson/The Washington Post via Getty Images]

But Trump’s popularity seems to stem from his position as a political outsider among those dissatisfied with the political establishment’s handling of the economy and security.

If Hillary Clinton, the Democratic frontrunner, and Trump continue to hold on to their leads in the remaining 35 states and territories, voters may find themselves choosing not between a Democrat and a Republican, but between a veteran politician and political insider, and a successful businessman and political outsider.

The issue of Middle East peace may be pivotal in such a battle. And that could make Trump’s rise bittersweet to Muslims.

While Trump’s talk of a ban has undoubtedly angered Muslims, could his promise of neutrality in Israeli-Arab relations be enough to off-set this?

For the many American Muslims who are not Arab – and to whom Palestine is not such a central issue – this may mean little. But to Arab Muslim Americans, who have never experienced a US that seemed fair or balanced in its dealings with Israel, it could help to ameliorate some of that anger. 

Trump would, if he were to follow through on his campaign rhetoric, be challenging the US’ long-standing pro-Israel bias and rejecting the influence of Israel’s powerful AIPAC lobby. That would be unprecedented.

Until now, presidential election contests have seen candidates arguing about who is more pro-Israel.

Republican candidates Ted Cruz and Rubio have called Trump “weak” on Israel. And Rubio has reportedly received massive financial support from Sheldon Adelson, the super wealthy publisher of Israel’s largest newspaper, Israel Hayom. Adelson also owns the Las Vegas Review-Journal Newspaper, a casino and convention centre in Las Vegas, and casinos in Macau and Singapore.

Cruz has repeatedly said that anyone who criticises Israel is “un-American” and asserted at a conference of Christian Arabs that “those who hate Israel also hate America”.

Rubio, the son of Cuban immigrants who grew up watching Communist leader Fidel Castro repeatedly embrace the late Palestine Liberation Organisation leader Yasser Arafat, told a Houston rally that “the Palestinian Authority, which has strong links to terror, they teach little kids, five-year-olds, that it’s a glorious thing to kill Jews”.

Adelson’s support seemingly fuelled Rubio’s decision last week to attack Trump’s Middle East policies, calling him “anti-Israel”.

It is very possible that Trump’s Middle East positions may reflect his long-standing business rivalry with Adelson, whose Las Vegas hotel and casino is just a short distance from Trump’s. 

Trump and the Iraq war

Trump may also have appealed to Arab American voters when he criticised the Iraq war – saying that it destabilised the Middle East and fuelled the spread of al-Qaeda and the rise of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) – although his claim that he had opposed it before the invasion has been widely disputed. 

Saba Ahmed: Urging American Muslims to vote Republican

Still, Trump’s position on Iraq could put Clinton on the defensive. Despite criticising the Iraq War, as a senator at the time she voted in favour of the 2002 resolution introduced by President George W Bush to authorise the American invasion.

Bill Clinton and Yasser Arafat during the Camp David summit [David Scull/Newsmakers]

Trump’s views on the Middle East could pose a problem for Clinton in other ways. Her husband, President Bill Clinton, has been accused of undermining his pursuit of Israeli-Palestinian peace when he tried to force Arafat to abandon the right of return and claims to Arab East Jerusalem during negotiations at Camp David in 2000 with the Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak. Many believe the proposals were designed by Barak and pushed by Clinton.

It may be unorthodox, but Trump’s strategy of telling voters what he thinks in the moment seems to be appealing to those disenchanted with the country’s political elite. Polls have shown a record turnout for Republicans, while Democratic turnout has slumped compared with 2008, the party’s last competitive primary season. Trump is a big factor in that. 

But while many things can change before the primary election process comes to a close, Trump seems to have tapped into a public desire for change. Whether that will lead to a change in how the US views the Middle East remains to be seen. 

Ray Hanania is an award-winning Chicago political columnist and writer.

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and may not reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial policy. 

Source: Al Jazeera

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Israel 'closing in' on Palestinian village in Galilee

Ramya, Galilee – Abu Nazeeh’s home is a simple, one-floor, wood-covered structure with a corrugated iron roof. Amid the surrounding luxury apartment blocks built of pink-hued stone, it feels impermanent.

Inside, however, the overstuffed couches and kitschy knick-knacks conjure feelings of stability – as does Abu Nazeeh’s resolution to make this a home, despite the continuing threat of eviction.

To Israeli authorities, this home, located in the village of Ramya in northern Israel, should not exist. The Karmiel municipality does not provide any services here, and to get electricity, some residents buy their own generators and illegally connect to the city’s power lines.

The Israeli government wants Abu Nazeeh, 50, a construction worker, and approximately 150 other residents of Ramya to leave

INTERACTIVE: Building the occupation

Ramya lies inside the Israeli city of Karmiel, founded on lands expropriated in the 1950s from several Palestinian villages, including Ramya. The Karmiel municipality plans to build more apartment blocks on Ramya’s lands, swallowing what remains and forcing Palestinian villagers to relocate.

“They are choking and closing in on us,” Abu Nazeeh told Al Jazeera. “We’ve been in court for 40 years; it’s a very slow struggle. Every time, they take small bits and pieces.”

Last November, Israel’s High Court refused to hear an appeal filed by Ramya’s residents, ruling that they must sign a deal to relocate and accept the manner in which the proposed land was divided in 1995, or else be evicted by force. 

Residents are living on a thin edge as a deadline to sign a deal was extended for another month this week, after which they would be given a year to move out.

Residents say the land being offered in the deal is only a fraction of what they originally owned.

“Psychologically, the people of Ramya will not be able to sign this agreement without the solution that they need,” the lawyer, who is filing a new appeal on behalf of Ramya’s younger residents, told Al Jazeera.

A spokesperson for the Israel Land Administration (ILA), the government body in charge of administering public lands (93 percent of land in Israel is public), told Al Jazeera that they “expect the court verdict to be fulfilled”, noting that residents “will not be given additional land blocks”.

The ILA would not comment on the proposed use of the land, but residents say it is being seized for a multimillion-shekel development project. A spokesperson for the Karmiel municipality declined Al Jazeera’s request for comment.

The government has offered to relocate residents to a new site – what residents call a “segregated neighbourhood” – at the city’s edge.

“It’s a show,” Ramya resident Salah Sawaed told Al Jazeera, as he strolled down a dead-end street in the proposed site. “I knew every stone in this area. Down there, there was a well that has been destroyed. It’s a humiliation you cannot express in words.”

The Israeli government initially expropriated Ramya’s land in 1976 as part of a mass confiscation in the Galilee area, that triggered demonstrations and strikes throughout Palestinian towns and villages.

When six demonstrators were killed during a march, the day of their death became known as Land Day, which is still marked by Palestinians around the world.

About 1.8 million Palestinians, approximately a quarter of the Israeli population, live in Israel and carry Israeli citizenship, but since 1948, Israel has passed more than 50 laws that directly or indirectly discriminate against them.

READ MORE: Bulldozers flatten Bedouin village 49 times

Karmiel was built as part of a governmental plan to encourage Jewish settlement in the Galilee, a region where most Palestinian towns and villages in Israel are located.

Al Jazeera World – Jerusalem: Dividing al-Aqsa

The plan included financial incentives and the development of industrial areas and infrastructure.

“Plans to Judaise Galilee were later translated into plans to build Jewish communities and towns, most of them built in the late 70s and early 80s. These were handled through admission committees, which de-facto excluded Arabs,” Suhad Bishara, a lawyer specialising in land and planning with the rights group Adalah, told Al Jazeera. Admission committees determined who could reside in communities of fewer than 500 households.

Two cities, Karmiel and Nazareth Illit (upper Nazareth) were established as part of this plan, stifling the growth of Palestinian villages. Neither Karmiel nor Nazareth Illit have Arab schools, and children are sent to study in the nearest Palestinian town.

Sawaed maintains that, even if there is no law to prevent him from buying a home in Karmiel, in practice it would be difficult.

“Renting is not a problem, but buying is a problem. You have to find someone to buy on your behalf, through a back way,” he said. “They don’t sell to Arabs.”

Source: Al Jazeera

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GCC declares Lebanon's Hezbollah a 'terrorist' group

Member states of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) have classified Lebanese movement Hezbollah as a “terrorist” organisation, citing “hostile actions” by the armed group. 

GCC Secretary General Abdullatif al-Zayani said on Wednesday that the six Gulf monarchies undertook the move because “the [Hezbollah] militia recruited young people [of the Gulf] for terrorist acts,” which he said were threatening Arab security.

 Inside Story – Lebanon’s deepening crisis

Hezbollah, a Shia political organisation with an armed wing, fights in neighbouring Syria to support the government of President Bashar al-Assad. 

The Sunni-dominated GCC comprises Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.

In June, 2013, the council threatened to “take measures” against Hezbollah over the group’s involvement in Syria and alleged provocations in Bahrain, though the council did not formally label Hezbollah as a “terrorist” organisation at the time. 

At least one of the measures materialised last month when Saudi Arabia halted a $4bn programme funding French military supplies to Beirut.

Hezbollah is backed by Saudi Arabia’s regional rival Iran, with whom relations have worsened this year. The two nations are on opposing sides in conflicts in Syria and Yemen.

READ MORE: Lebanon and Saudi Arabia’s love and hate relationship

Announcing the military funding cut last month, a Saudi official said the kingdom had noticed “hostile Lebanese positions resulting from the stranglehold of Hezbollah on the state”.

Riyadh would be conducting “a comprehensive review of its relations with the Lebanese republic”, the unnamed official said.

He specifically cited Lebanon’s refusal to join the Arab League and the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation in condemning attacks on Saudi diplomatic missions in Iran in January.

Riyadh cut diplomatic ties with Tehran after demonstrators set fire to its embassy and a consulate following the Saudi execution of a prominent Shia cleric

Hezbollah Secretary General Hassan Nasrallah lashed out at Saudi Arabia during a televised speech on Tuesday. 

READ MORE: What’s to become of Lebanon?

“The kingdom is trying to put pressure on the Lebanese to try to silent us but we will not be silent on the crimes the Saudis are committing in Yemen and elsewhere,” Nasrallah said. 

“Does Saudi Arabia have the right to punish Lebanon, its state and its army because a certain party has decided to raise its voice?” he asked.

“If they have a problem with us, let them keep it with us, and let them spare Lebanon and the Lebanese,” Nasrallah added.

Last month, Kuwait, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Bahrain also called on their citizens to leave Lebanon or to avoid travelling there. 

Kuwait’s National Assembly on Wednesday announced a new law aimed at criminalising expressions of support for Hezbollah on social media.

“The law criminalises tweets that support or advocate the terrorist group Hezbollah, as a crime under the new cybercrime law of 2012,” the assembly announced.

Source: Al Jazeera and agencies

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Osama Bin Laden 'left $29m inheritance' for al-Qaeda

The United States has released what appears to be a hand-written will of the late al-Qaeda leader Osama Bin Laden.

In it, Bin Laden asked that the majority of his $29m fortune be spent on continuing al-Qaeda’s operations.

The letter was part of a cache of 113 documents taken in the 2011 US Special Forces raid that killed Bin Laden in Pakistan.

The documents were translated from Arabic and declassified by US intelligence agencies.

They were part of a second tranche of documents seized in the operation and have been declassified since May 2015. A large number have yet to be released.

One document, a hand-written note that US intelligence officials believe the late al-Qaeda leader composed in the late 1990s, laid out how he wanted to distribute about $29m he had in Sudan.

One percent of the $29mn, Bin Laden wrote, should go to Mahfouz Ould al-Walid, a senior al-Qaeda member who used the nom de guerre Abu Hafs al-Mauritani.

WATCH: The other Bin Laden story

Bin Laden lived in Sudan for five years as an official guest until he was asked to leave in May 1996 by the then-government under pressure from the United States.

Another one percent of the sum should be given to a second associate, Abu Ibrahim al-Iraqi Sa’ad, an engineer, for helping set up Bin Laden’s first company in Sudan, Wadi al-Aqiq Co, the document said.

Bin Laden urged his close relatives to use the rest of the funds to support al-Qaeda’s activities.

“I hope for my brothers, sisters and maternal aunts to obey my will and to spend all the money that I have left in Sudan on jihad, for the sake of Allah,” he wrote.

He set down specific amounts in Saudi riyals and gold that should be apportioned between his mother, a son, a daughter, an uncle, and his uncle’s children and maternal aunts.

In a letter dated August 15, 2008, and addressed “To my Precious Father,” Bin Laden asks that his wife and children be taken care of in the event he died first.

It was unclear to whom Bin Laden was writing, as his natural father, Mohammed bin Laden, died in a 1967 airplane crash. US intelligence officials were not immediately available to comment on whether he may have been referring to his step-father, Mohammad al-Attas.

READ MORE: What we learn from Osama bin Laden’s bookshelf

“My precious father: I entrust you well for my wife and children, and that you will always ask about them and follow up on their whereabouts and help them in their marriages and needs,” he wrote.

In a final wistful paragraph, he asks for forgiveness “if I have done what you did not like”.

Assassination fears

In a letter to his father dated August 8, 2008 Bin Laden wrote he was worried about being assassinated.

“If I am to be killed, pray for me a lot and give continuous charities in my name, as I will be in great need for support to reach the permanent home,” Bin Laden wrote.

A letter from Bin Laden to his “dear wife” provides a glimpse into the mindset of the most hunted man on the planet.

The wife had recently visited a dentist in Iran, and Bin Laden asks her if she is sure the physician did not insert a tiny tracking device into a filling.

“Please let me know in detail about anything that bothers you about any hospital in Iran or any suspicions that any of the brothers may have about chips planted in any way,” he wrote in a letter signed Abu Abdallah, Bin Laden’s nom de guerre.

“The size of the chip is about the length of a grain of wheat and the width of a fine piece of vermicelli.”

A first tranche of documents released last May showed Bin Laden was worried about drone strikes, and detailed his plans to groom a new cadre of leaders.

Bin Laden also warned that conflict with regimes in the Middle East would distract his group’s fighters from focusing the fight on what he considered was the the real enemy – America.

Source: Agencies

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Oman bus crash kills 18 people: state news agency


Published: 2016-03-02 13:22:06.0 BdST
Updated: 2016-03-02 13:22:06.0 BdST

Eighteen people were killed and 14 injured when the bus they were traveling in crashed into a truck in central Oman on Tuesday morning, state news agency ONA reported.

The collision occurred on a roundabout connecting the districts of Ibri and Fuhud and the victims came from several countries, the statement said.

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Laden feared his wife's tooth held a tracking device

By Matthew Rosenberg

WASHINGTON: US drones were devastating the upper ranks of al-Qaida, his men were killing suspected spies, and Osama bin Laden wondered: Could an Iranian dentist have planted a tracking device in his wife’s tooth?

“The size of the chip is about the length of a grain of wheat and the width of a fine piece of vermicelli,” he wrote, using the nom de guerre Abu Abdallah.

A few paragraphs later, bin Laden signs off and then adds, “Please destroy this letter after reading it.”

The letter was among thousands of pages of documents and other materials seized by Navy SEALs during the raid on bin Laden’s compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan, in May 2011, and it was declassified Tuesday with 112 other pieces of writings and letters found in the al-Qaida leader’s hideout.

US officials have said that the intelligence seized by the SEALs during the raid included letters, spreadsheets, books and pornography. Yet only a fraction of the materials have been made public — Tuesday’s release was the second set of documents from the raid to be declassified — and experts have cautioned against drawing broad conclusions until there is more.

The bulk of the materials released Tuesday come from the last decade of bin Laden’s life, and include letters to lieutenants and loved ones, drafts of speeches he was preparing to release and stray bits of operational minutia.

Though there do not appear to be any major revelations, the materials provide a glimpse of bin Laden’s thinking and his struggle to keep al-Qaida’s main branch and its offshoots in line as US drones killed the group’s senior leaders and demoralized its foot soldiers.

Bin Laden’s will
An undated will that bin Laden is believed to have written by hand in the late 1990s was included in the documents released Tuesday.

In it, Bin Laden reviewed his finances, saying he had received $12 million from one of his brothers and that he had $29 million in Sudan, where he lived from 1991 to 1996. If he was killed, he wrote, he hoped his family would “spend all the money that I have left in Sudan on Jihad.”

A senior intelligence official, who the CIA insisted speak on the condition of anonymity, said the agency did not know what became of the money, or if any of it remained at the time of bin Laden’s death. But the will, the official said, was probably important to bin Laden, because he carried it with him for years.

Fear of surveillance
The fixation on the possibility of his own premature death, and the fear of the US efforts to track him and kill him, is a theme that surfaces again and again. In one letter, bin Laden warns that a suitcase used to deliver a ransom could contain a tracking device.

Even people presenting themselves as friends were not trusted. In another letter, which does not appear to have been written by bin Laden, the author relates that a Qatari diplomat visited al-Qaida members in Jalalabad, Afghanistan, and brought gifts, including a “huge” watch.

But after the diplomat left, a militant identified by the pseudonym Abu Umamah took the watch and “smashed it with a hammer” because he was afraid of it.

Jihad 101
The latest documents include new details of bin Laden’s apparent struggle to impose bureaucratic uniformity across his terrorist network, including an educational syllabus for new fighters.

Titled a “Course of Islamic Study for Soldiers and Members,” it includes a list of subjects and skills to be taught. (No. 1 is reading and writing.) There is also a reading list of mostly books about Islam as well as lectures ranging from the history of jihad in the Horn of Africa to “a brief word on raising children.”

Bin Laden, who considered himself a student of history, tended to view events through a conspiratorial lens that often distorted his conclusions. The documents made clear, for example, that he believed the West, and the United States in particular, was controlled by a Jewish cabal.

But bin Laden did not reject all things Western. One document released Tuesday outlines the structure of a “chief of staff committee” replicating the structure of a military command staff that originated in 19th century France and is now used by almost all NATO members, including the United States.

The various branches of the staff are laid out numerically, much like the Pentagon. No. 1 is personnel, No. 2 is intelligence and No. 3 is operations. No. 4 is logistics, or what the al-Qaida document calls its “provisions and supplies wing.” The unidentified author added al-Qaida’s own No. 5 role, which could be translated as a morals branch.

The intelligence officials could not say whether the group ever tried to put the command staff structure into practice.

Tuesday’s release was at the insistence of Congress, which in 2014 directed the Office of the Director of National Intelligence to review the material seized in the raid and make as much of it public as possible. It has been a slow process. The review began in May 2014, and the first release, which included nearly 80 documents, books, news media clippings and other materials, did not occur until May 2015.

Most of the documents released in 2015 were notes from bin Laden and his top deputies, and they suggested that the al-Qaida leader spent his final years seeking to direct a terrorist network that appeared to have grown far beyond his control. There was talk of training recruits and of how to select the most talented to carry out major attacks in the West. There were discussions of whom to promote and how to deal with the group’s franchises in the Middle East and North Africa.

In the 2015 release, the intelligence director’s office also made public a list of books found in the compound. There were sober works of history and current affairs, such as “Obama’s Wars,” by Bob Woodward, and wild conspiracy theories, like “The Secrets of the Federal Reserve,” by Eustace Mullins, a Holocaust denier.

Then there was the application for new al-Qaida recruits, which was perhaps the oddest find in the first set of declassified materials. The application blended the mundanely bureaucratic with the frighteningly absurd, asking questions like “Do you wish to execute a suicide operation?” and “Who should we contact in case you become a martyr?”

Whether it was ever used is a question that US officials have not answered.

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