Archive for the ‘Vice President Pence’ category

USAID Shifts on Aid to Christians, Yazidis in Iraq

January 13, 2018

USAID Shifts on Aid to Christians, Yazidis in Iraq, Washington Free Beacon , January 12, 2018

Iraqi Christians attend a mass at the Church of the Immaculate Conception in the predominantly Christian Iraqi town of Qaraqosh (also known as Hamdaniya), some 30 kilometres from Mosul / Getty Images

USAID, responding to pressure late last year from Vice President Mike Pence, announced today that it is altering its policies in order to ensure that millions of dollars in U.S. aid appropriated by Congress reaches Iraqi religious minorities.

Pence, during an October speech at a dinner highlighting the plight of persecuted Christians, Yazidis, and other religious minorities in the Middle East and elsewhere, promised that the Trump administration would stop the State Department’s “ineffective” relief efforts that directed all the funds to United Nations, which has a religious-blind policy of disbursing the funds to all refugees in Iraq.

“The United States will work hand in hand from this day forward with faith-based groups and private organizations to help those who are persecuted for their faith,” he said. “This is the moment, now is the time, and America will support these people in their hour of need.”

Two months later, the U.S. Agency for International Development and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) agreed to increase assistance to religious and ethnic minorities in Iraq, to enable them to return to their homes in areas liberated by ISIS.

“Following Vice President Pence’s remarks in October of last year, USAID renegotiated the terms of its agreement with the UNDP Funding Facility for Stabilization (FFS) so that $55 million of a $75 million payment will address the needs of vulnerable religious and ethnic minority communities in Ninewa Province [also called Nineveh], especially those who have been victims of atrocities by ISIS,” USAID announced.

USAID said the modified agreement ensures that the U.S. contribution to the fund will help the populations in liberated areas in Nineveh province resume normal lives by restoring services such as water, electricity, sewage, health and education.

The $75 million is the first installment of the UNDP FFS fund. The rest of the pledge will depend on the UNDP’s success in “putting in place additional accountability, transparency, and due-diligence measures,” USAID said.

USAID also announced that it is soliciting “innovative” ideas agency-wide to support the resettlement of ethnic and religious minorities in their ancestral homes in Iraq and that the results of that competition will be announced in early Spring.

The USAID announcement is eight months in the making and comes after lawmakers and human rights activists repeatedly argued their case to top officials at the State Department and USAID, which had resisted any change to their “religion-blind” policy of channeling most of the aid money to the United Nations.

That prior policy was “needs-based” and did not give priority to Christian and other religious minorities in Iraq, even though both the Obama and the Trump administrations have declared that both groups, as well as Shiite Muslims and others, have suffered genocide at the hand of ISIS.

ISIS’s campaign of murder, kidnapping, and enslavement decimated the Christian population in Iraq, which numbered between 1.4 million in 2002 and is now below 250,000, according to human rights groups who worked to chronicle the ISIS genocide in Iraq.

Catholic charities and activists who have spent years urging the Obama administration and now Trump administration to better assist minority religious communities in Iraq applauded USAID’s policy change and the United Nation’s commitment to help these communities with the funds.

The Knights of Columbus, one of the largest Catholic charities, and Aid to the Church in Need, another global Catholic charity, have sent millions of dollars in donations to the Catholic archdiocese in Northern Iraq, one of the few groups on the ground working to house and feed displaced Christians and Yazidis and help rebuild their homes.

“Vice President Pence deserves great credit for turning the ship of state in order to help save Iraq’s besieged religious minorities,” said Nina Shea, an international human rights attorney who directs the Hudson Institute’s Center for Religious Freedom.

Shea said the policy change now requires USAID to undertake the difficult task of ensuring that the troubled UNDP, which she said “has long marginalized these Christians and Yazidis, finally applies some of our funding to assist them in a meaningful way.”

“All of us committed to seeing their communities survive the cradle of Christianity will be monitoring the implementation in the months ahead,” she said.

Stephen Rasche, an attorney for the Catholic archdiocese in Erbil and the director of internal displaced people resettlement programs, in early October accused the U.N. of squandering U.S. taxpayer aid for reconstruction projects.

The aid programs are so mismanaged that some U.S. dollars are going to benefit Iraqis who took over areas that persecuted Christians fled even though the United Nations says the project is aimed at helping Christians, Rasche testified before a House Foreign Affairs panel Oct. 4.

The Washington Free Beacon obtained photos of United Nations Development Program projects in Christian and Yazidi towns in northern Iraq, showing “completed” school-rehabilitation projects that amounted to a thin coat of paint on exterior walls with freshly stenciled UNICEF logos every 30 feet.

Inside the building, the rooms remained untouched and unusable, lacking running water, power, and furniture, Rasche testified.

Several lawmakers and human rights activists for months have argued that U.S. agencies have a responsibility to intervene more directly and effectively.

Republican Reps. Jeff Fortenberry of Nebraska, Robert Aderholt of Alabama, and Chris Smith of New Jersey, along with Democrat Rep. Anna Eshoo of California, last fall sent a letter to USAID Administrator Mark Green arguing that these communities now face “dire conditions where they desperately need assistance if they are to survive.”

The concern prompted USAID counselor Thomas Staal, one of the agency’s top officials, to visit Iraq in early December to see how the U.S. and Iraqi government could improve its support for minority communities following the defeat of ISIS.

Staal met with government officials in Baghdad and United Nations officials who are implementing U.S.-funded stabilization programs in Anbar, Nineveh, and Salah ad Din provinces. He also sat down with leaders of outside groups and representatives from Christian, Yazidi, Sabean-Mandea, Kakai, Baha’I, Zoroastrian, and Jewish communities to hear their concerns and needs in the post-ISIS rebuilding.

During visits to Erbil and Kirkuk, Staal met with the archbishops of the Syriac Catholic Church, the Syriac Orthodox Church, the Assyrian Church, and the Chaldean Church to discuss the aid the United States is providing. During a visit to Teleskof, he attended the rededication of the St. Gorgis Chaldean Church, a powerful symbol that survived ISIS attempts to eradicate Christian monuments and artifacts throughout Iraq.

Three and a half years ago, ISIS looted and burned the church and beheaded members of the congregation on its altar, Staal recalled in a blog post after his visit.

“I spoke to the congregation, and assured them that the United States stands with them. Americans stand with them in their hour of need, and we are committed to helping persecuted Iraqis continue to rebuild as they seek out that bright future,” he wrote.

White House ‘cannot envision situation’ where Western Wall is not part of Israel

December 15, 2017

White House ‘cannot envision situation’ where Western Wall is not part of Israel, Times of Israel,  Eric Cortellessa, December 15, 2017

US President Donald Trump visits the Western Wall, May 22, 2017, in Jerusalem. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

Friday’s statements marked an abrupt shift from US comments ahead of Trump’s visit to the Wall, when a US official was reported to have angrily rejected a request that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu accompany the president, and then sniped at his Israeli counterparts that the Western Wall is “not your territory. It’s part of the West Bank.”

The Western Wall, part of the retaining walls of the Second Temple compound, is the closest point of prayer for Jews to the site of the Temple itself and thus the Jewish people’s holiest place of prayer. It was captured along with the rest of the Old City and East Jerusalem in the 1967 war, and annexed by Israel as part of its united capital — a move not recognized internationally.

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WASHINGTON — A senior administration official told reporters on Friday that the White House “envisions” the Western Wall will remain part of Israel under any accord with the Palestinians.

The comments follow US President Donald Trump’s December 6 declaration that recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. They are certain to delight Israeli leaders — the Western Wall is the holiest place where Jews are allowed to pray — and infuriate the Palestinians, who claim East Jerusalem, including the Old City, as the capital of their intended independent state.

“We cannot envision any situation under which the Western Wall would not be part of Israel,” the official said, speaking ahead of US Vice President Mike Pence’s visit to Israel next week.

“But as the president said [in his speech last week on Jerusalem], the specific boundaries of sovereignty of Israel are going to be part of the final status agreement,” the official said.

Furthermore, the official added, “We note that we cannot imagine Israel would sign a peace agreement that didn’t include the Western Wall.”

The Israeli Foreign Ministry declined to comment on the remarks and there was no immediate reaction from the Palestinians.

Pence is due to arrive in Israel on Wednesday. His trip was delayed so that he could help push a tax reform bill through Congress that Trump heavily supports.

US Vice President Mike Pence speaks as he attends a Permanent Mission of Israel to the United Nations event celebrating the 70th anniversary of the UN vote calling for ‘the establishment of a Jewish State in the Land of Israel,’ at Queens Museum on November 28, 2017 in New York. (AFP/Timothy A. Clary)

While in Israel for three days, Pence will speak at the Knesset, visit Yad Vashem, and is slated to light a menorah at the Western Wall, which stands adjacent to the Temple Mount, the holiest place in Judaism and site of Al-Aqsa Mosque, Islam’s third holiest shrine.

Pence is likely to visit the Western Wall without accompanying Israeli officials, just as Trump did in May. Trump, who became the first ever serving president to go to the Wall, said that part of his trip to Israel was a private visit.

White House senior advisor Jared Kushner (L) watches as US President Donald Trump visits the Western Wall in Jerusalem’s Old City on May 22, 2017. (AFP Photo/Mandel Ngan)

Friday’s statements marked an abrupt shift from US comments ahead of Trump’s visit to the Wall, when a US official was reported to have angrily rejected a request that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu accompany the president, and then sniped at his Israeli counterparts that the Western Wall is “not your territory. It’s part of the West Bank.”

The Western Wall, part of the retaining walls of the Second Temple compound, is the closest point of prayer for Jews to the site of the Temple itself and thus the Jewish people’s holiest place of prayer. It was captured along with the rest of the Old City and East Jerusalem in the 1967 war, and annexed by Israel as part of its united capital — a move not recognized internationally.

Ivanka Trump, the daughter of US President Donald Trump, visits the Western Wall, the holiest site where Jews can pray, in Jerusalem’s Old City on May 22, 2017. (AFP/Pool/Ronen Zvulun)

Before Trump’s visit to the Wall, no serving US president had ever visited the Western Wall, because US policy has been that the final status of Jerusalem has yet to be resolved in Israeli-Palestinian negotiations.

Pence will not meet with  Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas or Palestinian officials on his visit — since they refused to see him in protest over Trump’s recent decision.

In his address from the White House last week, Trump defied worldwide warnings and insisted that after repeated failures to achieve peace, a new approach was long overdue, describing his move as a “recognition of reality” — based on Jerusalem’s status as the seat of Israel’s government.

His declaration, welcomed by Netanyahu and Israeli leaders across most of the political spectrum, prompted widespread violent protests in the region; four Palestinians died on Friday during clashes with Israeli forces in the West Bank and Gaza, including one who was shot after stabbing an Israeli Border Police officer.

Amid these developments, the White House also announced on Friday that it would deploy its top peace envoy Jason Greenblatt to the region next week to try and advance the administration’s peace efforts.

“As we have said since the Jerusalem announcement, we anticipated reactions like the ones going on in the region but are going to remain hard at work on our peace plan,” a senior administration official told The Times of Israel.

Palestinians: Arab Rulers are Traitors, Cowards

December 14, 2017

Palestinians: Arab Rulers are Traitors, Cowards, Gatestone InstituteKhaled Abu Toameh, December 14, 2017

Almost every Palestinian protester interviewed in the past few days about the Trump announcement spoke also of the “weakness” and “cowardice” of the Arab and Islamic heads of state.

Welcome to the Palestinian mindset, where an Arab leader who talks about peace with Israel is a traitor, while an Arab leader who talks about destroying Israel or launching rockets at it, like Saddam Hussein, is a “hero.”

Meanwhile, it seems that the Palestinians are disgusted not only with the Arab leaders, but also with their own president, Abbas. A Palestinian public opinion poll published this week showed that 70% of the Palestinians want Abbas to resign. Three months ago, 67% of the Palestinians interviewed for another poll said they wanted Abbas to resign. The latest poll found that Palestinians favor more hardline leaders such as Fatah’s imprisoned leader, Marwan Barghouti, and Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh.

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The decision to boycott a visit later this month by US Vice President Mike Pence comes in the context of absorbing the anger of the street. Abbas and his Palestinian Authority have also made it clear that they no longer consider the Trump administration an “honest” and “unbiased” broker in any peace process with Israel. As such, the Palestinian Authority leadership announced that it will reject any peace plan proposed by the Trump administration, even if the plan gains the support of Arab countries such as Saudi Arabia and Egypt.

The Palestinian strategy now is to work hard to thwart any peace plan coming from the Trump administration. The Palestinians are convinced that Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and other Arab leaders are cooking up a new “conspiracy” behind their backs — with the aim of “liquidating” the Palestinian cause by imposing an acceptable solution on them. This, of course, has nothing to do with Trump’s announcement on Jerusalem. This has been the Palestinian position even before Trump made his announcement, and it is unlikely to change after.

The question now is: How will the Arab regimes respond to this latest charge of fratricide leveled against them by their Palestinian brothers?

Once again, the Palestinians are disappointed with their Arab brothers.

A declaration of war on the US, in the Palestinians’ view, would have been the appropriate response to US President Donald Trump’s December 6 announcement recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.

For the Palestinians, the anti-US demonstrations that took place in some Arab countries such as Egypt, Jordan, Tunisia, Iraq and Lebanon were a welcome development.

But the protests have evidently failed to satisfy the appetite of the Palestinians, who were banking on the Arab heads of state and governments to take more drastic measures against the US.

The Palestinians are not expecting the Arab and Islamic armies to march on the White House or bomb New York and Los Angeles.

All they have gotten so far from the Arab and Islamic leaders and governments are demonstrations on the streets and statements of condemnations. Moreover, it does not look as if the Palestinians should be expecting more from their Arab and Muslim brothers.

The sense of let-down on the Palestinians’ part is large: the streets of the West Bank and Gaza Strip are rising with chants labeling the Arab and Muslim leaders and regimes as “traitors” and “puppets” in the hands of Israel and the US.

Almost every Palestinian protester interviewed in the past few days about the Trump announcement spoke also of the “weakness” and “cowardice” of the Arab and Islamic heads of state.

Welcome to the Palestinian mindset, where an Arab leader who talks about peace with Israel is a traitor, while an Arab leader who talks about destroying Israel or launching rockets at it, like Saddam Hussein, is a “hero.”

Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who is rumored to be working with the Trump administration on a new peace plan to solve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, is being dubbed a “traitor” and “collaborator” by many Palestinians. Likewise, Egypt’s President Abdel Fattah Sisi is being accused by many Palestinians of being too soft on Israel and the US and in collusion with the Trump administration.

Hassan Nasrallah, on the other hand, the secretary-general of the Iranian-backed Hezbollah, who has called for a new intifada against Israel, is being hailed as a “hero.” So are his Iranian masters.

A Bahraini Interfaith group that visited Israel with a message of peace and conciliation was met with Palestinian anger. The Palestinians accused the Bahraini delegation of promoting “normalization with the Zionist entity.”

When Palestinians heard that the members of the Bahraini group might visit the Gaza Strip, they waited for them with eggs and shoes to throw at them at the entrance to the Gaza Strip. The Bahraini delegates later denied that they had planned a visit to the Gaza Strip. However, this did not stop Palestinian protesters from condemning the Bahrainis.

Echoing the embitterment towards the Arab “impotence” and “weak” response to Trump’s announcement, Palestinian Authority (PA) President Mahmoud Abbas said that statements issued by governments and leaders were inadequate in the extreme. In a message to the Arab Parliament, Abbas expressed disappointment that the Arab and Islamic countries did not take tougher measures in response to Trump’s announcement.

For Abbas, the condemnations alone were “meaningless”. At a minimum, he stated, the Palestinians were expecting that Arabs and Muslims would throw the US ambassadors out of their countries, shut down US embassies, cut off their diplomatic relations with the US, or boycott US officials and delegations and goods.

“Rejecting or saying that the [Trump] decision is null and void is insufficient,” Abbas said. “We expect a series of measures and steps that would rise to the level of the event.”

The reaction of the Palestinian street to the Arab and Islamic “apathy” has been even stronger, especially after the meeting of the Arab League foreign ministers in Cairo to discuss the Trump announcement.

“As far as I’m concerned, all the Arabs are not worth two shekels,” commented a Palestinian interviewed in Ramallah.” Another Palestinian remarked: “There are no Arabs or Muslims left.” A third Palestinians said, “I find it strange that there are still some Arabs who expect anything good to come out of the Arab league. When will the Arabs wake up?”

“Anyone who expects the weary Arab regimes to defend Jerusalem is living under an illusion,” said Palestinian political analyst Mohammed Ismail Yassin. “All one should expect from these regimes is more failure. The Arab regimes are busy shedding the blood of their people.”

Meanwhile, it seems that the Palestinians are disgusted not only with the Arab leaders, but also with their own president, Abbas. A Palestinian public opinion poll published this week showed that 70% of the Palestinians want Abbas to resign. Three months ago, 67% of the Palestinians interviewed for another poll said they wanted Abbas to resign. The latest poll found that Palestinians favor more hardline leaders such as Fatah’s imprisoned leader, Marwan Barghouti, and Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh.

The Palestinians are fed up with Abbas because, among other things, they believe he is not being tough enough with Israel. Many would like to see Abbas cancel the Oslo Accords with Israel and openly endorse the “armed struggle.” They also want him to halt security coordination with Israel. In an attempt to appease the Palestinian street, Abbas and his top officials have resorted to inflammatory rhetoric against Israel and the Trump administration.

The decision to boycott a visit this month by US Vice President Mike Pence comes in the context of absorbing the anger of the street. Abbas and his Palestinian Authority have also made it clear that they no longer consider the Trump administration an “honest” and “unbiased” broker in any peace process with Israel. As such, the Palestinian Authority leadership announced that it will reject any peace plan proposed by the Trump administration, even if the plan gains the support of Arab countries such as Saudi Arabia and Egypt.

Mahmoud Abbas and his Palestinian Authority have made it clear that they will reject any peace plan proposed by the Trump administration. Pictured: Abbas speaks during the U.N. General Assembly on September 20, 2017. (Photo by Kevin Hagen/Getty Images)

The Palestinian strategy now is to work hard to thwart any peace plan coming from the Trump administration. The Palestinians are convinced that Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and other Arab leaders are cooking up a new “conspiracy” behind their backs — with the aim of “liquidating” the Palestinian cause by imposing an acceptable solution on them. This, of course, has nothing to do with Trump’s announcement on Jerusalem. This has been the Palestinian position even before Trump made his announcement, and it is unlikely to change after.

The Palestinians have placed themselves on a collision course not only with the US, but also with the Arab world. The question now is: How will the Arab regimes respond to this latest charge of fratricide leveled against them by their Palestinian brothers?

Khaled Abu Toameh, an award-winning journalist, is based in Jerusalem.