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Jared Kushner facing accusations of profiteering from Middle East peace role as business ties to Israel deepen

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Last May, Jared Kushner accompanied President Donald Trump, his father-in-law, on the pair’s first diplomatic trip to Israel, part of Kushner’s White House assignment to achieve peace in the Middle East.

Shortly before, his family real estate company received a roughly $30 million investment from Menora Mivtachim, an insurer that is one of Israel’s largest financial institutions, according to a Menora executive.

The deal, which was not made public, pumped significant new equity into 10 Maryland apartment complexes controlled by Kushner’s firm. While Kushner has sold parts of his business since taking a White House job last year, he still has stakes in most of the family empire – including the apartment buildings in and around Baltimore.

The Menora transaction is the latest financial arrangement that has surfaced between Kushner’s family business and Israeli partners, including one of the country’s wealthiest families and a large Israeli bank that is the subject of a US criminal investigation.

The business dealings don’t appear to violate federal ethics laws, which require Kushner to recuse himself only from narrow government decisions that would have a “direct and predictable effect” on his financial interests. And no evidence has emerged that Kushner was personally involved in brokering the deal.

But the deal last spring illustrates how the Kushner Cos’ extensive financial ties to Israel continue to deepen, even with his prominent diplomatic role in the Middle East. The arrangement could undermine the ability of the United States to be seen as an independent broker in the region. The Trump administration already inflamed tensions there when it said last month that it recognised Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and would move the US Embassy there from Tel Aviv.

“I think it’s reasonable for people to ask whether his business interests are somehow affecting his judgment,” said Matthew T. Sanderson, a lawyer at Caplin & Drysdale in Washington who specialises in government ethics and was general counsel to Senator Rand Paul’s presidential campaign.

Raj Shah, a deputy White House Press Secretary, said the Trump administration has “tremendous confidence in the job Jared is doing leading our peace efforts, and he takes the ethics rules very seriously and would never compromise himself or the administration.”

Christine Taylor, a spokeswoman for Kushner Cos, said the company has partners around the world. It “does no business,” she said, “with foreign sovereigns or governments, and is not precluded from doing business with any foreign company simply because Jared is working in the government.”

Menora, which is also Israel’s largest manager of pension funds, has done numerous other real estate deals, including several in the United States, said the Menora executive, Ran Markman, who is the company’s head of real estate. He said he had never met Kushner. In negotiating the deal with Kushner Cos, Markman said, he worked with Laurent Morali, the firm’s president.

The deal was “not done because of the so-called connections of Jared Kushner or Donald Trump,” Markman said. “The connection to the president was not an issue. It didn’t make us do the deal, it didn’t make us not do the deal.”

Kushner resigned as chief executive of Kushner Cos when he joined the White House last January. But he remains the beneficiary of a series of trusts that own stakes in Kushner properties and other investments. Those are worth as much as $761 million, according to government ethics filings, and most likely much more: The estimate nets out the significant debt accumulated by the firm, which has done about $7 billion of deals in the past decade.

Abbe D. Lowell, a lawyer for Kushner, said in a statement: “Jared Kushner has not been involved in, nor spoken about any Kushner Companies’ activities or project, since shortly before the Inauguration. He has an ethics agreement, reviewed by lawyers, with which he is in full compliance. Connecting any of his well-publicised trips to the Middle East to anything to do with Kushner Companies or its businesses is nonsensical and is a stretch to write a story where none actually exists.”

But Sanderson, the lawyer who specialises in government ethics, said, “Their standard seems like some version of ‘It’s a conflict when I think it’s a conflict, and I’ll make that judgment myself.’”

 

One issue, said Robert Weissman, president of Public Citizen, a nonprofit government ethics group, is that “the ethics laws were not crafted by people who had the foresight to imagine a Donald Trump or a Jared Kushner.”

“No one could ever imagine this scale of ongoing business interests, not in a local peanut farm or a hardware store but sprawling global businesses that give the president and his top adviser personal economic stakes in an astounding number of policy interests,” Weissman added.

The New York Times

 

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Middle East

Mike Pence angers Palestinians by saying it is ‘an honour to be in Israel’s capital, Jerusalem’

- 1516636037 pence netanyahu 0 - Mike Pence angers Palestinians by saying it is ‘an honour to be in Israel’s capital, Jerusalem’


US Vice President Mike Pence sparked fresh anger at the beginning of a visit to Israel when he said it was an honour to be in “Israel’s capital, Jerusalem”. 

Mr Pence made the comment during a Monday meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that formed part of an exceptionally warm welcome for the American official.

The Israeli leader told Mr Pence it was the first time a visiting dignitary could say those words and thanked Mr Pence for President Donald Trump’s “historic” recognition of Jerusalem.

Mr Netanyahu also praised the American-Israeli alliance, saying it had “never been stronger.”

Mr Pence was greeted with the American national anthem and he spoke briefly with Israeli soldiers before beginning his meeting with Mr Netanyahu. 

He said he was grateful to be representing the US President and that his decision to designate Jerusalem as the Israeli capital would “create an opportunity to move on in good faith negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority.” 

He added that he hoped “we are at the dawn of a new era of renewed discussions to achieve a peaceful resolution to a decades-long conflict”.

But the move to recognise Jerusalem as the capital of Israel has drawn criticism from the Palestinians and from the Arab allies of the US.

After Mr Trump’s initial Jerusalem announcement, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas said he would not meet Trump administration officials and called off a meeting with Mr Pence that had been scheduled for mid-December. 

Mr Abbas again snubbed the US administration when he overlapped with Mr Pence in Jordan from Saturday evening to midday on Sunday.

The Palestinian leader was on his way to Brussels for a meeting with European Union foreign ministers. On Monday, Mr Abbas called on EU member states to recognise a state of Palestine in the pre-1967 war lines, saying state recognition would encourage the Palestinian people to hope and wait for peace.

The EU’s top diplomat Federica Mogherini assured Mr Abbas of the EU’s commitment to Jerusalem as the shared capital of Israel of Israel and a future Palestinian state.

Nabil Abu Rdeneh, an adviser to Mr Abbas, reiterated that the United States “is no longer acceptable as a mediator” in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. 

In Jerusalem, however, the Israeli Prime Minister called Mr Pence “a great friend of Israel” and said there was “no alternative for American leadership” in the peace process. “Whoever is not ready to talk with the Americans about peace — does not want peace.”

A small group of Palestinians in the West Bank town of Bethlehem protested Mr Pence’s arrival by burning posters with his image. 

Mr Pence delivered a speech to the Israeli Knesset after his meeting with Mr Netanyahu during which he said the US embassy would move to Jerusalem by the end of 2019.

The main Arab party in the Israeli parliament protested against Mr Pence’s speech by standing and holding signs, but they were swiftly ejected from the session.

The Knesset, which is accustomed to such high profile visits, had added a new layer of security ahead of Mr Pence’s appearance. 

Before the protest, Ayman Odeh, leader of the Joint Arab List, said the party will not provide a “silent backdrop” to a man he called a “dangerous racist”. 

AP contributed to this report

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Middle East

Jerusalem: EU assures Palestinian leader of its commitment to oppose Trump on capital city

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The EU remains committed to seeing Jerusalem as the shared capital of Israel and a proposed future Palestinian state, the bloc’s foreign policy chief has told the visiting Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas, despite Donald Trump’s shift of US policy on the city.

Federica Mogherini said leaders needed to “speak and act wisely”, and with a sense of responsibility, when discussing the Middle East peace process, and told Abbas the EU still believes that a two-state solution is the only viable way to meet both sides’ interests.

Last year, the US President announced that the US would recognise Jerusalem, as a whole, as the capital of Israel, and moved forward plans to relocate the US embassy to the city from Tel Aviv.

At the time, Ms Mogherini issued a statement on behalf of the EU expressing “serious concern” about the American decision and “the repercussions this may have on the prospect of peace”. 

Mr Abbas on Monday repeated his call for East Jerusalem as capital as he urged the EU member nations to recognise a state of Palestine immediately, arguing that this would not disrupt negotiations with Israel on a peace settlement for the region.

He made no reference to Mr Trump’s move on Jerusalem or to comments on the issue made, also on Monday, in Jerusalem by US Vice President Mike Pence.

Additional reporting by Reuters

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Middle East

Syria: Turkey warned US before strikes against US-backed Kurdish militia

- 1516628350 turkey syria - Syria: Turkey warned US before strikes against US-backed Kurdish militia


US Defence Secretary Jim Mattis has admitted that Turkey warned Washington it was going to carry out air strikes against Kurdish militia which are backed by his country. 

Washington remained in discussions with Ankara, he said, without disclosing his government’s reaction to the attacks. 

 “Turkey was candid,” he said. “They warned us before they launched the aircraft they were going to do it, in consultation with us. 

“And we are working now on the way ahead. We’ll work this out.”

Mr Mattis said Turkey’s military informed Washington of its air operation in a phone call to high levels of the US military. He said none of his country’s forces were currently at risk from the Turkish operations.

Asked whether he was concerned about the situation, Mr Mattis said: “We are very alert to it. Our top levels are engaged … And we’re working through it.”

The air strikes in Syria’s Afrin province open a new phase of the country’s seven-year war.

It pits the country against a Kurdish group known as the YPG, who form part of a US backed alliance battling Isis fighters in the region. 

Turkey regards the group as terrorists and has claimed it is linked to Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), which it has banned. 

The group has carried out a deadly, three-decade insurgency in Turkey’s mainly Kurdish southeast and the US’s support for the group in Syria has angered it. 

Mr Mattis acknowledged that Turkey had “legitimate security concerns” and noted that it was the only member of Nato with an active insurgency inside its borders.

He said that the US military was deployed in Syria in a way that meant it could ensure its weaponry was being used to battle insurgents, not Turkish forces. “That support has allowed the US-led coalition to crush Isis,” he added.

The Kurdish and other US-backed fighters “have proven their effectiveness,” he said adding that it had “cost them thousands of casualties.”

Turkey’s operation nonetheless comes at a time when ties between Ankara and Washington appear strained.

Relations between the countries are particularly crucial given their key roles in the coalition against Isis and in the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (Nato).

Turkey’s foreign minister Mevlut Cavusoglu held a phonecall over the weekend with his French counterpart, Jean-Yves Le Drian.

The French foreign ministry later said France had called a United Nations Security Council emergency meeting over the situation in Syria that will meet this week. 

Mr Cavusoglu was later reported to have said anyone who opposed his country’s Afrin operation will have taken the side of terrorists.

Ankara expected France to support Turkey, he added. 

Reuters contributed to this report

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