Trump’s son-in-law meets with Netanyahu to push for peace deal with Palestinians

Jared Kushner’s return to Israel this week bolsters White House efforts to broker a peace deal, as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu examines what he needs to give Palestinians to bring ties with the broader Arab world out of the shadows, diplomats and Israeli government officials said.

Kushner, President Donald Trump’s son-in-law and designated chief for Mideast diplomacy, met Netanyahu on Wednesday afternoon and was to meet Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas in the evening. In his own trip to the region last month, Trump said nurturing relations between Israel and Saudi Arabia could help produce the wider Mideast pact that former US President Barack Obama and his predecessors failed to deliver.

Kushner’s presence, weeks after Trump made the Israeli-Palestinian peace track a centrepiece of his first foreign trip as president, raises the stakes for everybody, according to Dan Shapiro, the Obama-era ambassador to Israel.

While both Netanyahu and Abbas say they’re eager to revive talks under the new administration, any conciliatory tone evident during Trump’s visit has evaporated.

Israel starts work on new settlement amid US peace push

Netanyahu said in a Facebook post on Tuesday he was proud to break ground on Israel’s first new West Bank settlement in decades, fulfilling a pledge to resettle residents evacuated from an illegal settlement outpost earlier this year. Israeli officials criticised Abbas’ government for continuing to name buildings and streets after militants who kill Israeli civilians.

Cabinet allies say Netanyahu’s primary focus now is on building relations with Arab states in the Persian Gulf, which already are cooperating quietly with Israel, primarily on security matters involving shared foes.

There’s a very good chance that we will soon have relations with what we call the Saudi coalition, said Communications Minister Ayoob Kara, the Israeli cabinet’s only Arab member. The Palestinian issue is No 3 on the agenda today, he said, behind security concerns about Iran and terrorism that Israel and Saudi Arabia have in common.

Kushner and Trump diplomatic envoy Jason Greenblatt, who accompanied the US president to Saudi Arabia, Israel and the West Bank last month, are returning to ask Netanyahu and Abbas about their priorities and potential next steps, the White House said in a statement on Sunday.

Saudi Arabia and its Gulf neighbours have indicated a willingness to upgrade unofficial ties with Israel, but veteran diplomats say that will depend on Israel’s willingness to withdraw from West Bank territory and commit to Palestinian statehood, as spelled out in the 2002 Arab Peace Initiative. That initiative also alluded to a right of return to Israel for millions of Palestinian refugees and their descendants, a demand rejected across the Israeli political spectrum.

Kushner and Greenblatt are wary of proceeding too quickly and want to make sure that both Israelis and Palestinians are willing to make substantial compromises, said Nimrod Novik, a longtime envoy for former Israeli President Shimon Peres who still undertakes diplomatic tasks.

Neither side trusts the other, so you have an orchestra conductor in Washington to make sure that nobody feels like a sucker when they do something constructive and see that it’s not reciprocated, said Novik, an adviser to the US-based Israel Policy Forum.

Analysis: Netanyahu, at odds with the world over settlements, is pinning his hopes on Trump

Others say Trump needs to act quickly to sew up the deal before investigations entangling him eat away at his presidential power. After hosting Abbas and Netanyahu separately at the White House and visiting them in the Middle East, Trump has maximal leverage right now, Shapiro said in a conference call with reporters on Monday.

It’s very difficult for any party in the region to say no to Trump, said Shapiro, now a visiting fellow at the Institute for National Security Studies in Tel Aviv. If the investigations drag on for a long period of time and there begin to be questions raised about the future of his administration, that will contribute to a lessening of his leverage.

Abbas, who previously said he would not enter peace negotiations unless Netanyahu froze all settlement construction, recently indicated he would drop the condition. Still, Netanyahu’s announcement of a new settlement on the eve of Kushner’s arrival drew a sharp Palestinian rebuke.

This is a serious escalation, Abbas spokesman Nabil Abu Rudeineh said in an email. It’s an attempt to undermine the efforts of the American administration.

Through US mediators, Israel and Saudi Arabia have discussed a variety of potential actions that would show their intention to develop open diplomatic relations once the conflict with the Palestinians is resolved, Kara said. On Wednesday, he suggested the naming of reformer Mohammed bin Salman as Saudi crown prince could speed peace and normalisation between the kingdom and Israel.

The two countries have a long history of covert defence cooperation, and Saudi Arabia has expressed interest in Israeli technology connected to cybersecurity, desalination and agriculture. Gestures being discussed include allowing Israeli businesses to operate in Saudi Arabia and authorising Israeli planes to fly over the kingdom, which would shave up to three hours off flights to Asia, Kara said.

Saudi Arabia won’t take such actions, though, unless Israel offers significant steps that allow its leaders to say they won significant concessions for the Palestinians, such as releasing prisoners, expanding construction rights in the West Bank or easing conditions in Gaza, said Joshua Teitelbaum, a senior research associate at Bar Ilan University’s Begin-Sadat Centre for Strategic Studies.

There’s no benefit to the Saudis to allow overflights or low-level economic stuff when they can basically get what they want from Israel without that, he said. Why buy the cow when you can get the milk for free?

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Barbie’s boyfriend Ken gets a makeover: man bun, beefy bod

He’s been overshadowed by Barbie for decades, but now Ken is finally getting some attention.

Mattel is introducing 15 new looks for the male doll, including different skin tones, body shapes and hair styles. Barbie had a similar makeover more than a year ago, both part of the toy company’s plan to make its dolls more diverse and appealing to today’s kids.

Ken hadn’t changed much since he was introduced 56 years ago as Barbie’s blue-eyed, chiselled boyfriend. Now he’ll be sold in three body shapes: slim, broad and original.

He’ll have modern hairdos, such as cornrows and man buns, and come in seven skin tones. And he’ll also be sporting new fashions: think skinny ties, plaid shirts and graphic tees.

We are redefining what a Barbie or Ken doll looks like to this generation, said Mattel’s Lisa McKnight, who oversees the Barbie line.

Mattel is trying to fight falling sales of its iconic doll line at a time when many kids would rather play with an iPad. Barbie sales were down 13 per cent in the first three months of the year compared with the same period a year ago. A live-action Barbie film is in the works for next year, with hopes that the big-screen flick will spur doll sales as well.

Ken was in need of a makeover, said Jim Silver, the editor-in-chief of toy review website TTPM. He said kids who play with the revamped Barbie dolls don’t want an outdated Ken.

He’s part of the storyline and he has to fit in with the picture, Silver said, or you would lose sales.

Some of the new US$10 Ken dolls were being rolled out to shops and online stores on Tuesday, Mattel said, and all of them will be on store shelves by the holidays.

The El Segundo, California-based company also announced new Barbie looks on Tuesday, including one with a nearly shaved head and another with an Afro. Mattel has been tinkering with other lines to be more inclusive, such as adding its first boy doll for the American Girl brand.

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Cosby’s lawyers demand mistrial in rape case as judge orders jury to keep working

Lawyers for Bill Cosby demanded that a judge declare a mistrial in the entertainer’s sexual assault case on Friday, complaining that jurors were essentially rehearing the entire week of trial testimony as their deliberations passed the 45-hour mark.

Montgomery County Court of Common Pleas Judge Steven O’Neill rebuffed the argument, saying he could not stop the jury as long as it was willing to continue mulling whether the 79-year-old comedian was guilty of drugging and sexually assaulting Andrea Constand at his suburban Philadelphia home in 2004.

I have no ability to do anything other than what I’ve done in this case, O’Neill told Cosby’s lawyer, Brian McMonagle.

The judge also appeared angered by what he called a public misperception that there was a time limit on deliberations, which he suggested was fueled by statements from Cosby’s spokesman, Andrew Wyatt, on Thursday night urging O’Neill to end the trial.

The star of the 1980s TV hit family comedy The Cosby Show faces similar allegations from dozens of women, though only Constand’s led to criminal charges. Cosby has denied all of the claims.

The jurors told O’Neill on Thursday morning they were having trouble reaching a verdict on any of the three counts he faces, prompting the judge to give a standard instruction that they should keep working.

McMonagle has made at least five mistrial motions based on the length of the jury deliberations, according to O’Neill, who until Friday afternoon had held all discussions with the attorneys out of public view.

O’Neill told the defence that until the jury says it is still deadlocked, there was little he could do but provide them with any evidence they request.

The jury’s latest note, the ninth they have sent since deliberations began Monday evening, asked to rehear trial testimony from both Constand and her mother, Gianna.

‘I go into the area between permission and rejection’: Cosby’s lurid testimony read to jury

Earlier on Friday, the jurors reviewed portions of the sworn depositions Cosby gave during Constand’s civil lawsuit in 2005 and 2006, when he described the night in question.

Cosby did not testify at the trial, but the jury heard a police interview with him from 2005 as well as his depositions.

A hung jury could represent a clear victory for Cosby, allowing him to avoid what might have been years in prison for three counts of aggravated indecent assault.

But O’Neill asked the comedian on Friday whether he understood that a hung jury could also allow prosecutors to retry him.

Yes, Cosby replied.

Constand was the prosecution’s key witness, telling jurors that Cosby gave her three unidentified pills before taking advantage when she was disoriented to sexually assault her.

Cosby’s lawyers sought to discredit her by pointing to discrepancies between her testimony and statements to law enforcement in 2005, when she first reported the incident a year after it allegedly occurred.

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Tom Cruise confirms there will be sequel to cult action film Top Gun

Tom Cruise, still feeling the need for speed, said in an interview that a sequel to his 1986 military action film Top Gun is definitely happening.

Cruise, currently promoting his latest film The Mummy, was speaking on the Wednesday edition of Australia’s morning TV show Sunrise when he was asked by the host if rumours of Top Gun 2 were true.

It’s true, it’s true, he said, grinning as he added, I’m going to start filming it probably in the next year. It’s happening.

Cruise played the cocky pilot Maverick in Top Gun, one of the top students in an US training camp for elite military fighter pilots and engaged in a bitter rivalry with a fellow pilot played by Val Kilmer.

Watch: Top Gun’s ‘you can be my wingman anytime’ scene

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The Paramount Pictures film launched Cruise’s career as a global action star and grossed more than $350 million globally, according to film tracker BoxOfficeMojo.com.

Representatives for Paramount Pictures declined to comment on whether the studio is involved with the sequel.

Top Gun producer Jerry Bruckheimer tweeted a photo with Cruise last week, captioning it as the 31st anniversary of the opening day of Top Gun.

In January 2016, Bruckheimer teased Top Gun fans by tweeting Just got back from a weekend in New Orleans to see my old friend @TomCruise and discuss a little Top Gun 2.

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Donald Trump invites ridicule by referring to non-existent terrorist attack in Sweden

Bowling Green, Atlanta and now … Sweden?

US President Donald Trump was speaking to supporters on Saturday when he apparently referred to the Scandinavian country as the site of a terror incident – the latest example of his administration naming a non-existent attack.

The Republican was addressing a campaign-style rally in Florida when he launched into a list of places that have been targeted by terrorists.

You look at what’s happening in Germany, you look at what’s happening last night in Sweden

U.S. president Donald Trump

“You look at what’s happening in Germany, you look at what’s happening last night in Sweden. Sweden, who would believe this? Sweden. They took in large numbers. They’re having problems like they never thought possible,” he said in an energetic stream-of-consciousness speech, defending his order last month that blocked refugees and travellers from seven majority-Muslim countries from entering the United States.

The order has been suspended by a federal appeals court, and Trump vowed to introduce a new order this week as a means of protecting Americans at home. He went on to name Brussels, Nice and Paris – European cities that have been struck by deadly terror attacks.

A Trump spokeswoman did not immediately respond to a request early on Sunday for clarification on the president’s comment.

Users on Twitter, Trump’s favourite communication platform, cracked jokes about the apparent miscue using the hashtags #lastnightinSweden and #SwedenIncident.

Former Swedish prime minister Carl Bildt asked: “Sweden? Terror attack? What has he been smoking? Questions abound.”

Gunnar Hokmark, a Swedish member of the European Parliament, retweeted a post that said “#lastnightinSweden my son dropped his hotdog in the campfire. So sad!”

Hokmark added his own comment: “How could he know?”

Numerous internet wags responded with Ikea-themed tweets. Some posted photos of the impossible-to-understand instructions for assembling Ikea furniture, calling it “Secret Plans for the #SwedenIncident.”

Posts flooded into @sweden, the country’s official Twitter account which is run by a different Swede each week.

This week’s curator, Emma, who describes herself as a school librarian and mother, said the account had received 800 mentions in four hours.

“No. Nothing has happened here in Sweden. There has not [been] any terrorist attacks here. At all. The main news right now is about Melfest,” she said, referring to the competition to pick the performer who will represent Sweden at the Eurovision singing contest.

Top Trump aides in his month-old administration have faced criticism and ridicule after speaking publicly about massacres that never took place.

White House counsellor Kellyanne Conway – who famously coined the term “alternative facts” – referred to a “Bowling Green massacre” during an interview.

She later tweeted that she meant to say “Bowling Green terrorists” – referring to two Iraqi men who were indicted in 2011 for trying to send money and weapons to al-Qaeda, and using improvised explosive devices against US soldiers in Iraq.

And White House spokesman Sean Spicer made three separate references in one week to an attack in Atlanta.

He later said he meant to say Orlando, the Florida city where an American of Afghan origin gunned down 49 people at a gay nightclub last year.

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Trump slams ‘so-called judge’ for blocking immigration ban

A federal judge on Friday put a nationwide block on US President Donald Trump’s week-old executive order temporarily barring refugees and nationals from seven countries from entering the United States.

The Seattle judge’s temporary restraining order represents a major setback for Trump’s action, although his administration could still have the policy put back into effect with an appeal.

The White House said late on Friday it believed the ban to be “lawful and appropriate” and said the US Department of Justice would file an emergency motion to stop the judge’s order taking effect.

How Trump’s abrupt immigration ban sowed confusion at airports and agencies

The ruling by US District Judge James Robart in Seattle is the most comprehensive legal admonishment of Trump’s January 27 executive order prohibiting immigrants from Iran, Iraq, Syria and four other nations from entering the US for 90 days. Judges in Brooklyn, New York, Los Angeles and Alexandria, Virginia, have issued orders that are less sweeping.

“It is not the loudest voice that prevails on the Constitution,” Washington State Attorney General Bob Ferguson said outside the courthouse. “We are a nation of laws, not even the president can violate the Constitution.”

Shortly after the ruling, US Customs and Border Protection told airlines to board travellers affected by the ban. The US State Department is working with the Department of Homeland Security to work out how Friday’s ruling affects its operations, a spokesman said, and will announce any changes affecting travellers as soon as information is available.

White House spokesman Sean Spicer released a statement late Friday saying they “will file an emergency stay of this outrageous order and defend the executive order of the President, which we believe is lawful and appropriate.” Soon after, the White House sent out a new statement that removed the word “outrageous”.

“The president’s order is intended to protect the homeland and he has the constitutional authority and responsibility to protect the American people,” the statement said.

Robart’s ruling followed an earlier decision by a federal judge in Boston declining to extend a temporary restraining order allowing some immigrants into the United States from countries affected by Trump’s three-month ban.

The Seattle judge’s ruling takes effect because it considered the broad constitutionality of Trump’s order. Robart also explicitly made his ruling apply across the country, while other judges facing similar cases have so far issued orders concerning only specific individuals.

Trump originally asked for ‘Muslim ban’ and he wanted a way to do it ‘legally’

Washington Governor Jay Inslee celebrated the decision as a victory for the state, adding: “no person – not even the president – is above the law.”

The state’s attorney general, Bob Ferguson, said: “This decision shuts down the executive order right now.” He said he expected the federal government to honor the ruling.

The challenge in Seattle court was brought by the state of Washington and later joined by the state of Minnesota. The judge ruled that the states have legal standing to sue, which could help Democratic attorneys general take on Trump in court on issues beyond immigration.

Trump’s edict, signed without advance notice, threw airports across America into turmoil as travellers from the affected countries who were already en route to the US learned upon landing that they couldn’t leave the airport. Some of those people were lawful US residents holding green cards and work visas. Some travellers were required to return to their points of origin, generating spontaneous protests at international terminals.

The US has provisionally revoked tens of thousands of visas of people from the seven countries, which also include Libya, Yemen, Sudan and Somalia. A provisional revocation means the US has invalidated a visa for use to travel to the US, the state department said. The US may restore the visa’s validity later without requiring a new application.

Who can save the world from being trampled by Trump?

Trump has argued the order is needed to protect Americans from terrorists. He tweeted on Friday, after referring to an attack by a knife-wielding man at the Louvre museum in Paris, “We must keep evil out of our country!”

The decision came on a day that attorneys from four states were in courts challenging Trump’s executive order. The Trump administration justified the action on national security grounds, but opponents labelled it an unconstitutional order targeting people based on religious beliefs.

Earlier on Friday in Virginia, US District Judge Leonie Brinkema extended to February 10 a temporary restraining order barring the federal government from enforcing the president’s ban as it might apply to legal permanent US residents. The judge deferred ruling on state Attorney General Mark Herring’s request that she issue an order requiring the Trump administration to account for what the Democrat contends was a failure to immediately obey court orders putting the measure on hold.

Also on Friday, Hawaii’s Doug Chin became the sixth state attorney general to sue or support lawsuits seeking to block Trump’s order.

Additional reporting by Bloomberg, Associated Press

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