The Trump card peace in the Middle East?

President Donald Trump is starting his visit to the Middle East in Saudi Arabia this weekend (he has arrived in Saudi Arabia). One of his aims is to encourage and help Israel and Arab countries work towards more peaceful relationships. If Trump achieves this he will have done very well, because peace in the Middle East has been long sought after but unattainable.

Obviously this is peace involving Israel, but I presume civil wars in Syria and Yemen and the ongoing problems, especially with ISIS and Al Qaeda, in Iraq and Afghanistan, will also be on the agenda.

A different approach to Israel-Arab peace is certainly worthwhile, a lot has been tried and failed already.

Wall Street Journal: Trip to Test Trump’s Ambition for Middle East Peace

President is exploring a solution that is based on cooperation between Israel and Arab countries

President Donald Trump faces a set of early challenges to his aspirations for a regional solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as he begins his first international trip.

Typically Trump is confident.

The Atlantic: Trump: Middle East Peace Is ‘Not as Difficult as People Have Thought’

One of Donald Trump’s great strengths is his ability to project confidence and bravado nearly constantly. The president is sometimes peevish, and he sometimes lashes out, but he seldom seems glumly resigned.

Who else, in the middle of a rough stretch of his presidency (one that, arguably, has persisted since Inauguration Day) could blithely assert that he would solve the most famously unsolvable problem in international diplomacy? Yet there was Trump Wednesday afternoon, appearing with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and promising to bring peace in the Middle East.

“We want to create peace between Israel and the Palestinians. We will get it done,” Trump said. “We will be working so hard to get it done. I think there is a very good chance and I think we will.”

At a lunch later on, he was even bolder: “It is something that I think is frankly, maybe, not as difficult as people have thought over the years.”

Haaretz: Trump’s Plan for Middle East Peace Is to Do the Opposite of Everything Obama Did

Crazy as it may sound, Trump’s haphazard approach to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict may succeed where Obama’s by-the-book route failed.

Here’s one thing Barack Obama and Donald Trump have in common. Both of them believed early in their presidency that they would be the U.S. president to bring peace to Middle East. In his United Nations General Assembly address in September 2010, Obama felt confident enough to say that “when we come back here next year, we can have an agreement that will lead to a new member of the United Nations – an independent, sovereign state of Palestine, living in peace with Israel.”

We all know how that ended. But Trump of course is not deterred. In an interview with The Wall Street Journal on the day after his election victory, he called Israel-Palestinian peace “the ultimate deal,” and said that “as a deal maker, I’d like to do … the deal that can’t be made. And do it for humanity’s sake.”

But here’s where all similarities end. The two presidents may have shared the same goal, but so far, Trump is going about achieving it in exactly the opposite way that Obama did. And as crazy as it may sound, on this issue at least, Trump’s haphazard approach may actually have more chance of success than Obama’s.

After decades of fruitless engagement, all the American by-the-book diplomacy in the region has failed to yield results. Trump’s unique style of diplomacy will at least make a change.

That’s not to say, of course, that there’s anywhere near a good chance of an Israel-Palestine peace treaty being reached. The issues on the ground remain as intractable as ever and ultimately it will be the two sides who have to bridge their wide differences – no outsider, not even the president of the United States can do it for them. And besides, Trump is very likely to be totally sucked in soon by the political turmoil at home and have no time for any foreign policy whatsoever.

But in the meantime, before yet another president calls time on the peace process, it’s worthwhile to consider how this new and unorthodox approach may actually be better.

Trump sees it as a glittering prize

Obama wanted an Israeli-Palestinian agreement for the best reasons in the world, he wanted an end to hatred and bloodshed and to bring peace, prosperity and justice to all sides in the region. He dealt with the process rationally, reaching the conclusion toward the end of his administration that the U.S. couldn’t want a deal more than the Israelis and the Palestinians.

Trump’s approach to the conflict, like to many other thorny issues that he is only now beginning to grasp, is visceral. He hasn’t weighed the pros and cons and won’t think through his chances of success. He wants the glittering prize, to prove that the master deal maker can deliver the “ultimate deal” that has eluded everyone else. It will probably blow up in his face – but he could also be the one to go the extra mile.

Trump won’t play by the rules

Despite all his frustration with Netanyahu, Obama never broke the unwritten rules of the U.S.-Israel relationship. He didn’t threaten Israel that it would lose America’s financial, diplomatic or military support, and signed the largest aid deal ever with Jerusalem just before he left office. Just like every president in the last three-and-a-half decades. He also vetoed every UN Security Council resolution criticizing Israel, except the last one of his administration. Previous presidents did so much earlier in their term.

Trump has no rule book. He may still move the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem, he may abandon the two-state solution, and – in a fit of anger over Israeli intransigence – he may just threaten to withhold aid. The last president who seriously pressured Israel to make concessions was Jimmy Carter, who, for all his many faults, delivered the peace deal with Egypt. Maybe Trump will break the rules again?

A different approach may work, and may be worth trying, but there are risks in a volatile region.

Trump will be here for only 24 hours but he’s going all out to create a lasting impression. There will be the first visit of a serving U.S. president to the Western Wall, which is certain to create a thousand headlines and tweets on “Trump’s Wall.” And then, of course, there’s the backdrop he chose for his signature speech: From the cliffs of Masada it really doesn’t matter what he’ll say. We won’t forget it.

At the end of the day, once Air Force One takes off into the sunset, it will probably change nothing for us remaining behind, but this is a region where grand gestures sometimes work better than quiet and patient behind-the-scenes diplomacy.

But some Israeli hope and optimism that something different is at least worth a try it won’t be easy.

AlJazeera: Palestinians expect nothing good from Trump

As President Trump and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas met on May 3, Palestinians held their breath, but not because we expectеd any progress towards just and comprehensive peace to emerge from the meeting. Quite the opposite.

First, Trump’s bias towards Israel’s far-right regime of occupation and apartheid does not bode well for bringing about respect for international law and human rights principles.

The US has been arming Israel’s wars on Palestinians and Arabs, and generously funding and protecting Israel’s system of oppression, well before Trump. Obama, after all, has committed a record $38bn in military aid to Israel over ten years, even as domestic health, education and employment programmes face severe cuts across the US.

But Trump takes this decades-old US complicity to the next level.

Take Israel’s settlements built on occupied Palestinian and Syrian land as an example. Despite recent rhetoric to the contrary, Trump stands out in politically and financially supporting them, when almost the whole world considers them as flagrantly illegal under international law and as a fatal obstacle to “peace”.

Trump also frequently refers to Israel’s policies to justify his own, whether on ethnic profiling, the refugee and Muslim ban, or the racist wall with Mexico, which Benjamin Netanyahu openly champions.

Trump’s Middle East team must be the most dishonest broker in the history of US “peacemaking”. Jared Kushner, Jason Greenblatt and David Friedman explicitly support Israel’s fanatical, settler-influenced government, with Kushner and Friedman deeply invested in financing extremist settlement groups.

One has to be clinically delusional or irreparably opportunistic to expect any good to come out of this administration in the pursuit of freedom, justice and equal rights for Palestinians.

Bringing Israel and the Palestinians together in a peaceful solution has huge challenges for the very inexperienced Trump and his inexperienced administration, but perhaps it will prove to be easier than achieving peace and progress at home in US politics.

One of Trump’s first big Middle East publicity events is a curious way to kick off a peace mission.

Fox News: Trump in Saudi Arabia signs $110B arms deal with Persian Gulf ally

President Trump in Saudi Arabia on Saturday signed a nearly $110 billion arms deal to help the Persian Gulf ally with its military-defense system.

“That was a tremendous day,” Trump said after signing the deal with Saudi leader King Salman. “Tremendous investments in the United States. Hundreds of billions of dollars of investments into the United States and jobs, jobs, jobs.”

The White House says the package includes defense equipment and other support to help the Arab nation and the rest of the Gulf region fight again terrorism and the threat of a nuclear-armed Iran, according to the White House.

Multitasking on a foreign trip is fine, but major military backing of an US ally (a country complicit in 911 and influencing conflicts through the Middle East) might not go down well with everyone.

Shouldn’t Iran be a part of any peace process?

10 Comments

  1. Gezza

     /  May 21, 2017

    “Shouldn’t Iran be a part of any peace process?”

    If Trump manages to pull off any kind of Israeli-Palestinian ceasefire agreement, I think they eventually could well be part of a peace process. Russia expects it. Rouhani has just been re-elected, Iran’s economy is struggling, their highly qualified young people have high unemployment & want jobs & the country needs investment.

    Let’s see see how it goes. Trump can’t really do any worse than be another President who fails to secure peace between Israel & the Palestinians. And he’s just rolled over the 5-Nations deal with Iran for another 120 days.

  2. Bill Brown

     /  May 21, 2017

    Peace my ass. $110B in arms deal will make sure the war keeps going

  3. Will it Bill? I wonder, I think Trump is trying to seek a strategic balance Arabs versus Persians. Iran has for a long time enjoyed, on paper at least, a superiority in combat power. With the rearmament of Saudi Arabia, that will be redressed and the chances of peace will be enhanced.

    • Gezza

       /  May 21, 2017

      That’s what I’m pondering Bj. Peace in the Middle East seems to me to depend on:

      1. A fair settlement between Israel & Palestinians. That means halting the Zionist expansion & Israel fully equal rights to Palestinians in Israel OR a separate Palestinian state.
      2. Commitment of all Sunni majority states to support a genuine Palestinian peace process.
      3. Hamas has to recognise A state of Israel. Otherwise no support from Arabs.
      4. Everybody stop threatening Iran. Iran is expanding its reach to protect itself & other Shia minorities. Negotiate & guarantee their borders.
      5. Kurds their own state – at least where they have carved one out.
      6. Keep an eye on Israel & Saudi Arabia. They are being given the means to overwhelmingly attack Iran. That will not end well.
      7. Keep an eye on Turkey. Looks to me like Erdogan is untrustworthy.

      • Gezza

         /  May 21, 2017

        PS: Bj – if you haven’t watched that full four-part Wesley Clark interview I posted the link to here – please do, & tell me what you think?
        https://yournz.org/2017/05/21/prevent-harm-to-others/#comment-188338

      • Yes, Erdogan is going ape and is determined to wipe out Mustafa Kemal Ataturk’s secular legacy. Turkey is being subjected to a Stalinist style purge that will change the face of the Iran Arab conflict or if you like, Sunni Shia divide.

  4. Kitty Catkin

     /  May 21, 2017

    If it was as easy as Trump seems to think, it would have been done. I can’t see him as a diplomatic genius. My stepfather used to quote a verse that was a parody of one of those feel-good ditties…

    They said the thing just couldn’t be done,
    They said ‘ You’ll never do it,’
    So he tried the thing that couldn’t be done…

    And he couldn’t bloody well do it.

  1. The Trump card peace in the Middle East? – NZ Conservative Coalition