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Trump arrives in Israel amid fierce opposition among Palestinians

May 22, 2017 5:39 P.M. (Updated: May 23, 2017 9:52 A.M.)
BETHLEHEM (Ma’an) -- US President Donald Trump touched down at Israel’s Ben Gurion international airport midday Monday, ahead of a two-day visit to Israel and the occupied West Bank, amid fierce opposition among Palestinians to the far-right leader who has been accused of "complete bias" toward Israel and its decades-long occupation of the Palestinian territory, and is well known for his anti-Muslim rhetoric.

At the airport, Netanyahu thanked Trump for his visit, saying it represented the first time that the first foreign trip of a US president included a visit to Israel.

Netanyahu said that Israel and Trump shared a “commitment to peace,” touting that “We’ve already made peace with Egypt and with Jordan, and Israel’s hand is extended in peace to all our neighbors, including the Palestinians.”

Trump, for his part, praised Israel, saying it had “built one of the great civilizations: a strong, resilient, determined nation” that he said was “forged in the commitment that we can never allow the horrors and atrocities of the last century to be repeated.”

“We have before us a rare opportunity to bring security and stability and peace to this region and to its people,” Trump added. “But we can only get there working together. There is no other way.”

Trump is scheduled to make a controversial visit to the Western Wall -- reportedly to become the first sitting US president to visit the contested holy site that stands adjacent to the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound -- as well as to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, before holding separate meetings with Israeli President Reuvan Rivlin and Netanyahu.

On Tuesday, Trump will be received by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in the southern occupied West Bank city of Bethlehem.

Palestinians call for ‘Day of Rage’ to express opposition to Trump

As Trump arrived in Israel, Palestinians in both the occupied West Bank and inside Israel observed a general strike Monday, called for in part to express support for 1,300 Palestinians on hunger striker in Israeli prisons, and also to voice opposition to the resumption of peace talks between the Palestinian Authority and Israel under US sponsorship.

As of Monday afternoon, a number of protests erupted into violent clashes between Israeli forces and Palestinians.

Palestinians have also called for a “Day of Rage” on Tuesday to coincide with Trump’s arrival in Bethlehem, when confrontations between locals and Israeli forces are expected to take place across the occupied West Bank.

Hamas denounces Trump for ignoring ‘Zionist crimes’

Meanwhile, the Hamas movement said they condemned Trump for the “lies” told Sunday evening, referring remarks made in a speech delivered before leaders of Arab and Muslim-majority countries in the Saudi capital of Riyadh, when Trump included Hamas in a list of terrorist groups that he said posed a global threat of "epic proportions."

The designation “denies the Palestinian people's legitimate right to resistance to liberate their land and holy places,” Hamas, which identifies as a national resistance movement, said.

Hamas denounced Trump’s message at the summit -- which focused heavily on what he called “the crisis of Islamist extremism” -- for attempting to divide the Muslim world, as Trump meanwhile “ignores the Zionist crimes of killing children and women and demolishing the houses over their heads.”

“It was an aggressive message biased with the Zionist enemy. Thus, both Arabs and Muslims must close ranks in order to confront this new invasion and terrorism that the Trump administration wants to impose on the Arab and Islamic regions as political, economic, and financial blackmail.” Trump notably signed a $110 billion weapons deal with the Saudi regime upon his arrival to Saudi Arabia.

Trump's speech was also viewed as a calculated softening of his notorious anti-Muslim rhetoric. The US president, who had previously said that "Islam hates us" and called for a ban on all Muslims entering the United States, told the Muslim and Arab leaders that Islam is one of the world's greatest religions.

Palestinian MK offers tips to Trump as a newcomer to the region

Meanwhile, Ayman Odeh, leader of the Join List coalition that represents Palestinian citizens of Israel at Israel’s parliament, the Knesset, issued a message to Trump, in which he offered three “basic truths” about Israel and the occupied territory “that every first-time visitor should know."

“I know you appreciate alternative facts. Well, you came to the right place,” Odeh said in the video, published by Israeli news site Haaretz on Saturday.

Odeh first mocked Netanyahu for publicly claiming to support the two-state solution, in spite of being a staunch supporter of illegal Israeli settlements in the occupied territory. “For Bibi, when it comes to occupation, the best deal is no deal,” Odeh said, using a nickname for the Israeli prime minister.

He also recommended that Trump visit the Negev region, "where 100,000 Palestinian citizens of Israel live with no infrastructure for water or electricity, no paved roads, and no healthcare system.”

Referring to the third “basic fact” -- that “Israel is number one" -- Odeh pointed out that Israel has one of the highest poverty rates in the OECD.

“So, while you two are trading tips for racist campaigns and legislation, know this: We, the Palestinian minority in Israel, together with many Jewish partners, will continue fighting for a future of peace, equality, and democracy.”

Israeli economic relief measures for Palestinians dismissed as ‘propaganda’ to appease Trump

Meanwhile, a day ahead of Trump’s visit, the Israeli security cabinet approved a package of economic measures, purportedly to support Palestinians in the occupied West Bank, including building permits for thousands of homes in Area C -- the more than 60 percent of the West Bank under full Israeli civil and military control.

The package also reportedly included easing passage at Israeli military checkpoints between the West Bank and Israel, as part of Israel’s widely-condemned permit regime to which Palestinians are subjected.

Keeping the Allenby Bridge crossing between the West Bank and Jordan opened 24 hours a day was also proposed.

The cabinet also called for the expansion of the Tarqumiya industrial zone in the impoverished and heavily restricted South Hebron Hills region -- as industrial zones in the West Bank have been previously described as an attempt to further entrench Israeli military control.

These and other "upgrades" are scheduled to be fully implemented by the summer of 2018.

A senior Israeli official admitted to Israeli daily Haaretz that the move was intended as a gesture ahead of Trump's visit to Israel and would not harm “Israeli interests" --
"These steps do not change the status of the West Bank territories," he said.

The Trump administration said Saturday that it welcomed the gesture, reiterating in a statement that Trump was “personally committed to doing everything he can to achieve a comprehensive Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement.”

However, prominent Palestinian human rights activist based in Hebron Issa Amro dismissed the plan as “propaganda” to make Israel look better in light of the Trump visit, he told Ma’an ahead of the the package’s approval on Sunday.

“They (Israeli forces) raid, assault, and expel us in the middle of the night, and tell the world they will help the Palestinians the next day,” he said.

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