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By Andrea Mitchell

JERUSALEM — President Donald Trump is again making a major Middle East policy change on Twitter — announcing that the U.S. is recognizing Israel’s sovereignty of the Golan Heights, along the contested border with Syria — a huge military and political prize for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu only three weeks before his tough re-election bid.

Trump tweeted that it is “of critical strategic and security importance to the State of Israel and Regional Stability!”

The president’s enthusiasm was topped by an ebullient Netanyahu, with the Israeli leader calling the White House to thank Trump while the prime minister was hosting Secretary of State Pompeo for dinner at his Jerusalem residence. Netanyahu told reporters, “President Trump has just made history. I called him. I thanked him on behalf of the people of Israel. He did it again!…The message that President Trump has given the world is that America stands by Israel.”

Netanyahu ended with a hug for Pompeo, whom the prime minister pressed this week for the policy change. Pompeo has been brushing off suggestions of any connection between U.S support for the Israeli leader’s foreign policy goals and his re-election bid, but the Golan move is expected to be wildly popular across a broad swath of Israelis — left, right and center.

The Golan Heights has been a major military concern for Israel over the last year as Syrian regime forces have retaken control of some of the territory, bringing with them Iranian-backed militants. But Trump’s unilateral decision to recognize Israel’s right to the area violates a long-standing U.N. resolution and international law, which held that sovereignty should eventually be resolved through negotiations.

In an interview on Fox Business Network with Maria Bartiromo, Trump denied that his position on the Golan Heights had anything to do with the upcoming Israeli election.

“I wouldn’t even know about that,” Trump said. “I have no idea — I hear he’s doing okay, I don’t know if he’s doing great right now, but I hear he’s doing okay. But I would imagine the other side, whoever’s against him, is also in favor of what I just did. Every president has said, ‘Do that.’ I’m the one that gets it done.”

But the advantage for Israel’s embattled prime minister, who is facing a poplar former Army chief of staff, Benny Gantz, in the April 9 election, are unmistakable.

Netanyahu was elated as he cited the White House decision to move the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem, recognizing the contested city as Israel’s capital; withdrawal from the Iran nuclear deal; and, now, awarding Israel sole custody — in the U.S. view — of the Golan Heights.

Earlier, Pompeo made his first visit to the new U.S. embassy in Jerusalem, formerly a consulate but now being expanded. He also was the highest-ranking U.S. official to visit Israel’s sacred Western Wall alongside Netanyahu, placing a prayer in the cracks of the wall as is Jewish tradition. It signified further acceptance of Israel’s control of the disputed city, containing holy sites of Jewish, Christian and Muslim religions.

They even went to an underground synagogue, built under the Muslim quarter within ancient Roman tunnels.

In response to Trump’s Golan Heights decision, Palestinian official Saeb Erekat tweeted, “What shall tomorrow bring? Certain destabilization and bloodshed in our region.”

Richard Haass, president of the Council on Foreign Relations, wrote that he strongly disagreed with Trump, and that the move would prevent Arab governments from making peace with Israel.

Next week, Netanyahu gets another boost from Trump, an invitation to the White House, only two weeks before the election.



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Politics

Pentagon says visits to Trump’s Scotland resort cost nearly $200,000

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WASHINGTON — The U.S. military spent almost $200,000 at Trump Turnberry between 2017 to 2019, according to documents that the Pentagon sent to Congress.

In a letter dated Sept. 12 to the House Oversight Committee, which is investigating military spending at Turnberry, the Pentagon acknowledged it had spent just over $184,000 at the president’s Scottish resort. That sum included $124,579 in lodging and $59,730 in unidentified additional expenditures between August 9, 2017 to July 26, 2019. The average cost of a room was $189 a night, the Pentagon said.

In the two years prior, the Air Force spent about $64,000 at the hotel, according to the Pentagon.

House Oversight Committee Chairman Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., and Rep. Jamie Raskin, D-Md., responded to the revelations in a statement on Wednesday, saying “it appears that U.S. taxpayer funds were used to purchase the equivalent of more than 650 rooms at the Trump Turnberry just since August 2017— or the equivalent of one room every night for more than one-and-a-half years.”

The lawmakers called the Pentagon’s disclosures “woefully inadequate,” noting they failed to produce “any underlying invoices or travel records relating to spending” at the resort or at the local airport.

The committee first asked for the information in June. News of Air Force stays at the resort were first reported by Politico earlier this month.

According to the Washington Post, Trump’s Scottish resort lost around $4.5 million in 2017. But as Politico reported, the resort’s revenue increased by $3.1 million the following year.

The Pentagon also acknowledged that the Air Force had spent $16 million on fuel expenditures at Prestwick Airport between Jan. 20, 2017 and June 21, 2019.

“Although the Department asserted that it paid $3.38 per gallon for fuel, it did not provide any information on contemporaneous fuel rates at non-commercial sites, such as military bases elsewhere in Europe,” Cummings and Raskin said.

The Democratic lawmakers have said that the airport has lost millions of dollars in revenue in recent years, and its existence is crucial to the golf resort’s survival. The airport has also offered discounts and free rounds of golf to members of the U.S. military, they said, citing the Guardian.

The Oversight Committee is investigating whether the arrangement violates a clause in the Constitution which bars an office holder from profiting from their positions. The panel set a new deadline of Sept. 27 for the Pentagon to produce all invoices, contracts, agreements, and internal and external communications involving the arrangement.



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Election 2019 polls tracker: Tories hold strong lead as Lib Dems take out Labour

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TORIES hold a strong lead as the Liberal Democrats take out Labour as the second biggest party, a voting intention poll has revealed.

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Trump’s border visit draws few spectators, for or against his wall

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SAN DIEGO – President Donald Trump’s visit to the border with Mexico here was attended by only a handful of supporters and protesters, some saying a border wall would protect the nation and others that it won’t address the area’s real problem of smuggling tunnels.

Trump’s stop in the Otay Mesa community was announced Monday night, leaving little time to plan organized events for his 3 p.m. arrival. The first time he came to this neighborhood, in early 2018, dozens of anti-Trump protesters shouted at the president from both sides of the border.

A few die-hard Trump fans were there Wednesday wearing red and donning “Make America Great Again” and “USA” baseball caps.

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Supporter Danny Duran had an American flag draped over his shoulders as the president’s motorcade of armored Chevrolet Suburban SUVs rolled by en route to a dirt road that would take him to a section of upgraded border barriers, unveiled last month.

The wall, Duran said, is “good for his campaign, but it’s good for America.”

Though the barrier is part of a long-planned fence replacement, Duran was convinced this was Trump’s wall.

“We need the wall,” he said. “Why not protect our country? I got a fence on my property.”

The Trump well-wishers were confined to a neighborhood of industrial parks about a half mile from the president’s appearance at the border.

Some of the Trump supporters there didn’t want to talk to reporters for fear of having their words misconstrued — one called a reporter “fake news” — or because they believed it would endanger their families.

Duran, a Latino who speaks Spanish, was proud to speak out. “I don’g agree with everything Trump says,” he said, “but he’s doing a good job.”

Luis Garcia, who owns a packaging supplies business nearby, wasn’t as enthused. He said the president’s past threats to shut down the border and place tariffs on some Mexican goods has been bad news for a border economy dependent on trade between both nations.

“I’m from the border,” he said. “I deal with both countries. People here don’t like the president.”

A border wall won’t stop legitimate trade, he said, but neither would it protect the Otay Mesa community from its true scourge — tunnels that run from Mexico to warehouses here and attract cartel traffic — he said. They’ve been used to ship drugs wholesale into the United States.

“It makes no sense,” Garcia said of Trump’s wall. “The wall doesn’t work. It’s a campaign tactic.”

Trump wrapped up a two-day trip to California that included campaign fundraisers in San Francisco, Beverly Hills and San Diego.

The $147-million replacement barrier he observed Wednesday runs for 14 miles from Imperial Beach to Otay Mesa.

Trump plans to use $3.6 billion earmarked for the Pentagon to help construct 175 miles of wall along the southern border.

Last year Trump vowed that a new border wall would stop 99 percent of unauthorized crossings along the border at San Diego.

“Now we have a world class security system at the border,” Trump said Wednesday.

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