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Report details tight Israel-Gulf ties, chasm between US and Palestinians

President Donald Trump meets with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in the Oval Office of the White House, Monday, March 5, 2018, in Washington.
(AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

A burgeoning Israeli-Gulf alliance against Iran with deep ties to the White House and US President Donald Trump's topsy-turvy relationship with the Palestinian leadership were laid out in a magazine report published Monday. 

The exhaustive New Yorker report paints a fuller picture of the deep co-operation in recent years between Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the two top Gulf powerhouses -- Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates -- which fostered alongside an increasingly decaying Israel-US relationship in the last years of Barack Obama's administration. 

The details include a 2015 meeting in Cyprus between top Emirati and Israeli officials -- suspected to include Netanyahu himself -- that was kept hidden from the Obama administration, which according to the report Israel had written off by the beginning of that year. 

The UAE and Israel, who do not have public ties, coordinated a joint stance on how to tackle Iran in the face of Washington's imminent singing of a nuclear pact with Tehran. 

Israeli and Emirati diplomats also made a joint presentation to Obama officials on Iran in the first days of his term, according to the New Yorker, which surprised but did not dissuade the president from reaching out to the Islamic republic. 

Thomas COEX (AFP)

The report depicts the US and Israel under Obama as deeply distrustful of each other. Numerous unnamed US officials paint a picture of an administration that felt betrayed and undermined by Jerusalem. 

In 2014 one of Obama's aides was anonymously quoted as calling Netanyahu "chicken****" and a "coward", causing a diplomatic stink.  

“The only problem with the quote was that it wasn’t strong enough. It should have been ‘chickenshit motherf****r.,’” an Obama-era official told the New Yorker

The magazine's report said Israel was quick to recognize the possibility of Trump winning the 2016 presidential election, while most US allies tipped his Democratic rival Hilary Clinton to emerge as victor. 

Thus Netanyahu's team engaged with Trump's circle quickly, and were reportedly overjoyed to discover that their interlocutors knew little about the issues involved in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. 

A friend of Trump’s quoted by the magazine said the candidate’s team were a “blank canvas” and that “Israel just had their way with us.”

Media reports throughout 2017 painted a grim picture of the relationship between the White House and Palestinians, with reported angry exchanges and a Palestinian view that the Americans stuck closely to Israeli positions. 

Nicholas Kamm (AFP)

The report detailed how two phone calls between Trump and Abbas were bedeviled by connection problems, including the crucial call in which the US president planned to tell his Palestinian counterpart about the imminent recognition of Jerusalem as Israel's capital and pledge to relocate the US embassy to the city. 

After Trump went on a 15-minute "heartfelt" monologue he was told that Abbas may have missed the entire thing. It is not clear if he called back. 

Yet the report also suggests there is some hope left in the personal relationship between the two ageing leaders, which is set to be tested again when the US plan to renew Israeli-Palestinian peace talks is unveiled in coming months.

Trump had his advisers cut out a picture of Abbas from a highly critical New York Post column that detailed some of the Palestinian president's hostile remarks about Jews. He then sent it to Abbas with the handwritten note: “Mahmoud, Wow -- This is the real you? Best Wishes, Donald Trump.” 

Abbas reportedly laughed and replied: “No, that’s not the real me.”

After Trump's shift in US policy on Jerusalem, which was followed soon after by Guatemala and Paraguay, the Palestinians officially cut off all ties with Trump's peace team. 

Before that, many of the meetings between Trump's top Mideast peace aide Jared Kushner and the chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat were also punctured by barbs and arguments, according to the report. 

On Sunday Kushner's number two, Jason Greenblatt, publicly called on Palestinians to oust Erekat. The negotiations veteran responded that Kushner is merely an "spokesman for Israel."


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