Political News

Heard on Twitter: Trump Chides Palestine, North Korea and Clinton Aide

Posted January 2, 2018 9:47 p.m. EST

WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump weighed in Tuesday on the stalled Middle East peace process, saying that the Palestinian Authority was taking “hundreds of millions of dollars” in assistance from the United States while showing no “appreciation or respect,” a blunt, harsh criticism likely to escalate tensions.

Trump’s comments represented a tougher tone toward the Palestinians than he has generally taken, suggesting that he is moving toward pressuring them to come to the table by threatening punishment rather than enticing them with promises of a deal that would benefit them.

He also chided the Palestinians for not trying to strike a peace agreement with Israel.

Last month, Trump formally declared Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and said that he still supported a two-state solution between Israel and the Palestinians. But the Palestinians have said that Trump’s move did severe damage to the peace process.

“With the Palestinians no longer willing to talk peace, why should we make any of these massive future payments to them?” Trump said in Twitter messages on Tuesday evening.

In threatening to cut off aid to the Palestinians, Trump seemed to suggest that the U.S. has invested that money for future consideration at peace talks. But past administrations viewed aid to the Palestinians — more than $5 billion since the mid-1990s — as a way to keep the volatile situation from blowing up further, as it has in the past during two intifadas, or violent uprisings.

For all their tension, the Palestinians and Israelis cooperate on security to an extent, and the Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas, could curtail that in response to an aid cutoff, as he has periodically threatened to do. Such a move could complicate Israel’s ability to combat terrorism.

Experts on the region have long expressed concern that allowing economic and social conditions in the West Bank to worsen by cutting off aid would encourage violence.

In saying that he has “taken Jerusalem, the toughest part of the negotiation, off the table,” Trump has made it harder, not easier, for the Palestinians to bargain. To them, he seems to have pre-emptively ruled out one of their most important conditions for a final peace deal before negotiations even begin, that East Jerusalem would be their capital alongside the Israeli capital in West Jerusalem.

Until recently, even many Israeli officials assumed that a permanent resolution of the conflict would involve some sort of compromise on Jerusalem. Palestinian leaders fear a popular backlash if they agreed to talks in which Jerusalem was no longer even an issue for discussion.

“It’s more frustration, it seems to me, than any effective policy with a clear goal, and like so many of his foreign policy decisions, it is driven by domestic politics,” said Aaron David Miller, a scholar at the Woodrow Wilson International Center in Washington. “Beating up on the U.N. or defunding the Palestinians played extremely well with his base constituency. He loses very little.”

By offering such direct criticism, the president again broke with the practice of his predecessors by conducting foreign policy in a one-way conversation on social media. Earlier in the day, he had again mocked North Korea’s leader, Kim Jong Un, as “Rocket man” and added that U.S. sanctions and “other” pressure was beginning to hurt that isolated nation.

He also used Twitter to threaten to withhold financial assistance to Pakistan and to weigh in on the unrest in Iran. “The people of Iran are finally acting against the brutal and corrupt Iranian regime,” he said. “All of the money that President Obama so foolishly gave them went into terrorism and into their ‘pockets.'”

Earlier Tuesday, Trump took aim at an old target, trying to revive interest in investigating Hillary Clinton and members of her 2016 presidential campaign.

His Twitter message accused a former Clinton aide of “disregarding basic security protocols” and calling his own Justice Department a “deep state.”

Attacking Clinton and taking aim at his own Justice Department struck familiar tones for the new year. Almost 14 months after the election, Trump has kept up a regular drumbeat of attacks on her. Last year, Trump also criticized the Justice Department and Attorney General Jeff Sessions for not pursuing investigations of his political opponents.

Tuesday morning’s tweet followed an article in The Daily Caller, a conservative publication that Trump closely monitors. The article said the aide, Huma Abedin, forwarded some government passwords to her private Yahoo email account in 2009, when Clinton was secretary of state. Yahoo was hacked in 2013, which affected all 3 billion of its accounts. After the breach, the data was offered for sale by a hacking collective based in Eastern Europe.

Trump also implored his administration to investigate Abedin.

The term “deep state” typically refers to a shadow government of agency officials who secretly plot to influence policy. It is usually associated with countries that have authoritarian elements that undercut democratically elected leaders.

On Friday, the State Department released about 3,000 of Abedin’s work-related emails. The emails were found on the laptop of Abedin’s now estranged husband, Anthony D. Weiner, and were released as part of a public records request.

The emails found on Weiner’s computer are a sore spot for Clinton. James B. Comey, the former FBI director, had notified Congress shortly before the 2016 election about the existence of newly discovered emails that could be relevant to the closed investigation into Clinton’s use of a private email server while secretary of state.

Clinton, in a book released last year, said Comey’s October 2016 disclosure hurt her campaign’s momentum and helped Trump win the election.

In his Twitter post, Trump also referred to the case of a Navy sailor who was jailed for taking pictures inside a military submarine. According to a report in Fox News, the sailor had hoped to receive a pardon from the president, but has not.