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Yes, it is historic, but it is only an illusion of the peace President Trump vowed he’d deliver.

Back in January this year Trump announced the contours of what he called his Vision for Peace — officially known as Peace for Prosperity. Palestinians boycotted it denouncing it as money for land, in their view giving up territory in return for promises of improved business prospects, while Israel threatened to take the land regardless.

In recent years, Trump had raised expectations of a breakthrough Palestinian-Israeli deal, and with it, the prospect of an even more precipitous fall if it failed.

The new agreement is implicit recognition that Trump’s original peace plan is dead, yet it revives Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s political fortunes.

Netanyahu gets what he wants, decades of Arab intransigence to a deal on Israel’s terms is crumbling, at little or no cost.

The Israeli PM’s impulse to annex swaths of Israeli occupied West Bank land could have been the match to ignite tinder dry tensions, torching Palestinian aspirations for their own viable state. For now, the UAE appears to have dampened that prospect.

The joint statement states “As a result of this diplomatic breakthrough and at the request of President Trump with the support of the United Arab Emirates, Israel will suspend declaring sovereignty over areas outlined in the President’s Vision for Peace and focus its efforts now on expanding ties with other countries in the Arab and Muslim world.”

Anwar Gargash, the UAE’s erudite Minister of State for Foreign Affairs defines the agreement’s success, in part, as “Israel’s commitment to stop the annexation of Palestinian lands, which will preserve the two-state solution.”

At first read, the agreement sounds rock-solid, but kick the tires and the threat of escalation has only been moved down the road a little. The clue is in the word “suspend.”

The architect of the agreement, Kushner, described it thus, “I believe they [Israel] will not take action to move forward unless we have an understanding between America and Israel that it’s the right action at the right time.”

When asked when that might be his reply could as well have been, how long is a piece of string? Saying, “Somewhere between a long time and a short time, that’s what temporary means.”

Netanyahu has no doubts, temporary means temporary.

“We received a request to wait temporarily from President Trump. It is a temporary postponement. It is not removed from the table, I am telling you that,” he said. He is also a skilled political operator playing to a domestic audience, annexation is less an immediate goal, more a manipulation to turn negotiations in his favor.

Gargash appears to hint that the UAE is playing for time, possibly calculating if temporary runs to the November US elections, “we think there is a never a right time, never a right moment, but at the same time if we really get this commitment it will be like diffusing a time bomb on the two state solution.”

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has no doubts that temporary means temporary.

So the timing works for the UAE — kind of — but why now for the others?

Both Trump and maybe Netanyahu face elections and need votes. And both are running out of time to cement a legacy, to shore up their otherwise relatively controversial records in office. Netanyahu has a corruption trial hanging over his head, Trump’s legal troubles are likely coming too.

In the deal Trump, and the UAE, have handed Netanyahu the means to bury his misdemeanors under a veneer of success opening the lucrative Arab market to Israel’s high tech and security.

Look no further than the second paragraph of the joint statement for the mutual back slapping and clues to the hyping of the event, “This historic diplomatic breakthrough will advance peace in the Middle East region and is a testament to the bold diplomacy and vision of the three leaders and the courage of the United Arab Emirates and Israel to chart a new path that will unlock the great potential in the region.”

It was only yesterday one of Trump’s National Security advisors, Robert O’Brien, opined Trump deserved a Nobel Peace Prize.

Well why not, his predecessor Barack Obama got one and this is one piece of Obama’s legacy that Trump hasn’t been able to deconstruct — the next best thing is to get one himself.

Israel and the UAE establish 'full normalization of relations'

And what about the OTHER party whom if they were at the table could make this a truly historic moment of profound regional significance, the Palestinians.

In short, they feel sold out, again. Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas labeling the deal “an aggression on the Palestinian people” and “a betrayal of Jerusalem.”

His hard-line Palestinian rivals Hamas are equally dismissive, saying: “We strongly condemn, in all possible ways, normalization with Israel, which is considered a stab in the back to the Palestinian cause”.

The reality though, even while Gargash says they’ve kept alive the possibility of a Palestinian state that would have been extinguished had Netanyahu followed through on his threat to annex chunks of the West Bank, the Emirates has re-bolded the writing on the Arab wall. Palestinians don’t conjure the regional support they once did and that means the Gulf states — who help bank roll the Palestinians — are running out of patience.

This deal reaffirms a Gulf view that Palestinian leaders are perceived as the problem, or rather their failure to clean corruption, and negotiate is the problem, albeit their counterpart for talks for the past decade, Netanyahu is not a palatable negotiating partner. Even when they play by the rules, the perception in Palestinian homes is that the deck is always stacked against them, precisely what this agreement amply reinforces.

Progressively weakened by division and radicalism, the Palestinians’ standing is shakier than it used to be. So when they cry foul they may be right, the UAE has kicked them in the shins.

What remains to be seen, is whether it’s a “pay attention” kick, as in wake up and smell the coffee, or if it is designed to fell this generation of Palestinian leaders.

Gargash isn’t talking about turning off the money tap, but he is hinting at it.

“We are committed to seeing an independent Palestinian state with Jerusalem as the capital of that, that is our political commitment. But on the other hand, I think we as part of our world we have been a big supporter historically of the Palestinians politically financially and otherwise,” he said.

So is it a good deal?

Gargash’s “time bomb” was ticking on them too. Witness the near calamitous backlash to Trump’s killing of Iran’s top general Qasem Soleimani in January this year.

The stakes in the region are high, Iraq is less than stable, there is a war in Syria, Lebanon is in political freefall, Yemen’s war grinds on and infused in all of it an Iranian foreign policy that seeks to scuttle stability and push already sky-high tensions with the US further towards crisis.

If all that weren’t enough to encourage the UAE towards compromise on what is a monumental step for them, then the threat of economic carnage in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic ratcheting regional fragility to even greater heights certainly is.

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For Trump, who lives by short-term political sells, the agreement is still only intent, nothing but hot political air until the signing in three weeks.

The test will be traction on the promise of bilateral deals to be signed on “investment, tourism, direct flights, security, telecommunications, technology, energy, healthcare, culture, the environment” turning in to tangible results.

Netanyahu has fewer worries now, the hitherto immovable object of Arab opposition to Israel’s terms has shifted, and Trump says more Arab states will come on board.

Even if you are Palestinian, the agreement is better than drowning, but only marginally.

And how long can all sides keep treading water? That could depend on the American electorate and a president with the acumen, energy and passion to make a real difference, and if that’s lacking, then treading water will work out just fine for Netanyahu.

Does anyone come out ahead?

The UAE has certainly diplomatically upstaged its bigger regional partner Saudi Arabia. And has gained some, albeit temporary, leverage over regional security, while maintaining some independence of Trump’s hawkish policies on Iran.

And whatever opprobrium the UAE gets from Palestinians the Arab street isn’t in firmament so costs on that are low.

Ultimately the deal is only as strong as the benefits all parties get, and yet again with Trump in office, Netanyahu appears to have bagged the lion’s share of those.

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Nearly 100 whales die in mass stranding in New Zealand

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Some 97 whales and three dolphins died in the stranding, which conservation department staff were alerted to around midday local time on Sunday.

A power outage and the remote location of New Zealand’s most eastern islands, around 500 miles east off the country’s South Island, meant Department of Conservation rangers did not arrive at Waitangi West Beach until 3 p.m., officials said.

“Only 26 of the whales were still alive at this point, the majority of them appearing very weak, and were euthanized due to the rough sea conditions and almost certainty of there being great white sharks in the water which are brought in by a stranding like this,” biodiversity ranger Jemma Welch said in a statement.

Pilot whales — small, toothed whales with a bulging forehead, a short snout and pointed flippers — are sociable creatures, and live in groups of dozens, hundreds or even thousands.

Two more whales were stranded on Monday and also had to be euthanized, the Department of Conservation said, adding that the whales will be left to decompose naturally.

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Representatives from the Indigenous Hokotehi Moriori Trust and Ngāti Mutunga o Wharekauri Iwi Trust performed a karakii/karakia — a prayer, or incantation — to honor the spirit of the whales on Sunday, the department added.

Mass strandings are common on the Chatham Islands, according to the department, which said that up to 1,000 animals died in a stranding in 1918.

In September, more than 450 pilot whales beached in Tasmania, Australia, in that state’s largest ever beaching. At least a third died during rescue attempts.

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Rubio calls Biden’s national security team ‘polite & orderly caretakers of America’s decline’

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In recent days Biden has announced plans to nominate Antony Blinken as secretary of State and Linda Thomas-Greenfield as U.S. ambassador to the United Nations — jobs whose occupants require Senate confirmation. The president-elect has also named Jake Sullivan as his national security adviser, a White House role on which the Senate has no say.

Blinken, Thomas-Greenfield and Sullivan join a handful of other high-profile nominees — former Secretary of State John Kerry among them — who have thus far been light on surprises and heavy on experienced hands and veterans of the Obama administration. Biden has not yet announced his pick for Defense secretary, a centerpiece of the national security apparatus, despite widespread speculation that the job would go to Michèle Flournoy.

Rubio ran for president in 2016 and remains one of the GOP’s highest-profile lawmakers. The Florida senator, a child of Cuban immigrants, has been especially vocal on issues related to foreign policy, and his concern about the U.S. relationship with China dovetails with one of the Trump administration’s basic international relations tenets.

Biden has vowed to counter China’s growing influence on the world stage while breaking from President Donald Trump’s unconventional approach to foreign affairs — especially with regard to the United States’ traditional allies, whom Trump at times has alienated and cajoled.

But the president-elect has to walk a fine line with his choices for administration posts that need Senate approval given the razor-thin margins in the chamber and the likelihood that nominees will need to garner Republican support to win confirmation. Some Republican senators have recently indicated a willingness to sign off on Biden’s Cabinet selections — while warning they will sink nominees they believe to be out of the political mainstream — potentially defusing what would be an early standoff in Biden’s presidency.

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The Finance Watchdog Says There’s “Evidence” Neither Ministers Or Businesses Are “Fully Prepared” For Brexit

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Chancellor Rishi Sunak made no mention of Brexit in his economic update

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The Office for Budget Responsibility has warned there is “evidence” that ministers and businesses are not prepared for “imminent changes” to the economy from Brexit.

Chancellor Rishi Sunak has come under fire for failing to mention the potential impact of Brexit on the nation’s finances during the spending review, despite the OBR warning a no-deal outcome was a “material risk”.

The watchdog, which modelled a 11.3% contraction of the economy, said the figures were based on a presumption that ministers would strike a free trade deal with Brussels ahead of the 31 December deadline.

But it said the “unresolved nature” of the talks meant that “other outcomes are possible, including that no agreement is reached and the UK defaults to trading with the EU on World Trade Organization (WTO) terms from 1 January 2021.”

The finance watchdog concluded that under that scenario the UK’s GDP would be reduced by a further 2% in 2021, “due to various temporary disruptions to cross-border trade and the knock-on impacts”.

It added: “As these abate, the longer-term effects of lower trade instensity continue to build such that output is 1.5% lower than our central forecast after five years, and 2% lower in the long run…”

The analysis also found that a no-deal scenario would see borrowing likely rise by a further 0.5% of GDP from 2021-22.

And under its worst case scenario, which would also see vaccines failing to control the pandemic, the OBR predicted the additional impacts of a no-deal would lead to national debt reaching 126.3% of GDP by 2025-26.

“The degree of near-term disruption to economic activity associated with defaulting to WTO terms depend in part upon the preparedness of the Government and businesses to manage any additional administrative, regulatory, and customs requirements,” the report said.

“While both have had more time to prepare than when we last considered these issues in our [earlier report], they have also been distracted by the need to deal with the disruption caused by the virus.

“This is likely to have taken up personnel and resources at some businesses that would have otherwise been used to prepare for a no deal Brexit, while also running down cash reserves and inventories making them more vulnerable to shocks,” it went on.

Meanwhile, pointing to work carried out by business groups, the OBR said there was “evidence” that ministers and businesses were still not prepared for Brexit related disruption, even if a deal is signed.

The watchdog added: “We continue to assume that the UK and EU conclude a free-trade agreement (FTA) and that there is a smooth transition to the new trading relationship after the transition period ends on 31 December 2020. However, there is evidence that neither the government nor businesses are fully prepared for the imminent changes even if a deal is agreed.”

Hitting out at Mr Sunak’s failure to address Brexit during his economic update, shadow chancellor Anneliesse Dodds, said: “In less than 40 days, we’re due to leave the transition period. Yet the chancellor didn’t even mention that in his speech.

“There’s still no trade deal. So does the chancellor truly believe that his government is prepared and that he’s done enough to help those businesses that will be heavily affected?”

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