Trump’s visit to the Mid­dle East: much ado about no thing?

While an op­u­lent af­fair, Trump said lit­tle of sub­stance dur­ing his visit to the Mid­dle East, writes ALON BENMEIR

The Witness - - FRONT PAGE - • Dr Alon BenMeir is a pr ofes­sor o f in­ter­na­tional r ela­tions at the Centr e for Gl obal A ffairs at Ne w Y ork Univer­sity, U .S.

“Un­til the Ira­nian regime is will­ing to be a part­ner for peace, all na­tions of con­science must work to­gether to iso­late Iran, deny it fund­ing for ter­ror­ism, and pray for the day when the Ira­nian peo­ple have the just and right­eous govern­ment they so richly de­serve .”

SADLY, U.S. Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump’s visit to the Mid­dle East only con­firmed my scep­ti­cism about what might come out of it.

Trump went to the re­gion with noth­ing to of­fer to mit­i­gate the Is­raeli Pales­tinian con­flict and re­ceived no com­mit­ment from ei­ther Is­raeli or Pales­tinian lead­ers to re­sume the peace ne­go­ti­a­tions in earnest, but he re­ceived lots of plat­i­tudes and empty good­will ges­tures.

In his meet­ing with Saudi King Sal­man and there st of the heads of Arab states, he heard the chant­ing against the Ira­nian threat and joined the cho­rus with­out of­fer­ing any spe­cific idea as to how he might ad­dress Iran’s sup­port of vi­o­lent ex­trem­ists and its hege­monic am­bi­tions.

To be sure, how­ever, there were many photo ops. Is­raeli and Arab of­fi­cials alike clam­oured to take a photo with a be­sieged pres­i­dent who rev­elled in the ac­co­lades of the mo­ment and did his best not to think about the dark clouds await­ing him back home.

That said, there is no doubt that the United States re­mains the in­dis­pens­able power in the Mid­dle East, and just about ev­ery state in the re­gion re­lies heav­ily on the U .S.’s po­lit­i­cal sup­port and pro­tec­tion. This, how­ever, does not sug­gest that the U.S. has a magic wand and can sim­ply wave it and change overnight the dy­nam­ics of the mul­ti­ple con­flicts sweep­ing and con­sum­ing the re­gion. None of Trump’s pre­de­ces­sors has had that kind of power and Trump has even less.

Dur­ing his meet­ings with Saudi of­fi­cials, he said noth­ing about their gross vi­o­la­tion of hu­man rights and the king­dom’ s pro­mo­tion of Is­lamic Wah­habi ex­trem­ism. On the con­trary, he was de­lighted to con­clude an arms deal worth over $110 bil­lion, bec om­ing more like a merchant of death rather than a mes­sen­ger of peac e.

On the re­la­tion­ship be­tween the Arab states and Is­rael, Trump of­fered no recipe as to how they can reach a com­pre­hen­sive peace agree­ment. He stated that “King Sal­man feels very strongly and, I can tell you, would love to see peace with I srael and the P ales­tini­ans.”

The fact is that the Arab states want peace be­tween Is­rael and the Pales­tini­ans based on a twostate so­lu­tion, and con­di­tioned nor­mal­i­sa­tion of re­la­tions with Is­rael based on that premise, which was ar­tic­u­lated in the Arab Peace Ini­tia­tive in­tro­duced by the Arab League in 2002.

On the Is­raeli-Pales­tinian con­flict, Trump seems to have re­alised that the con­flict is far more intr actable than when he stated be­fore his trip: “There is no rea­son there’s not peace be­tween Is­rael and the Pales­tini­ans, none what­so­ever.”

But once he lis tened to the Is­raelis and Pales­tini­ans, he stated: “I’ve heard it’s one of the tough­est deals of all. ”

Whereas he took no ini­tia­tive to ad­vance the Is­raeli P-ales­tinian peac e process, to the cha­grin of Ben­jamin Ne­tanyahu and his co­horts, Trump back­tracked on his pr omise to re­lo­cate the U.S. emb assy to J erusalem and ask ed Ne­tanyahu to slow down the build­ing and ex­pan­sion of set­tle­ments. To the dis­ap­point­ment of many in Is­rael, he re­fused to al­low any Is­raeli of­fi­cials to ac­com­pany him dur­ing his his toric visit to the West­ern Wall.

The state­ments made by Ne­tanyahu and Pales­tinian pres­i­dent Mah moud Ab­bas that the y are ready and will­ing to re­sume ne­go­ti­a­tions are old, tired, and in con­se­quen­tial. Both sides have been ex­press­ing such a sen­ti­ment f or years, and noth­ing that Trump has said or done will change the po­si­tions of ei­ther Ab­bas or N etanyahu.

Net any ahui snot com­mit­ted to a twostate so­lu­tion and Ab­bas is un­able to make any con­ces­sion and po­lit­i­cally (if not phys­i­cally) sur­vive. Trump could have chal­lenged both lead­er­sto take some mea­sures to demon­strate their com­mit­ment to peace and cre­ate a con­ducive at­mos­phere that would pave the way for se­ri­ous ne­go­ti­a­tions, but he did not even at tempt to do that.

Among other mea­sures, Trump could have asked Ne­tanyahu to re­lease some Pales­tini­ans pris­on­ers, al­low for freer move­ment of Pales­tini­ans and open the door for mu­tual tourism. Trump could have also leaned on Ab­bas to stop pub­lic in­cite­ments and ac­ri­mo­nious pub­lic nar­ra­tives, and end fi­nan­cial aid t o the f am­i­lies of t er­ror­ists.

Al­though Trump does want a deal, he as­signed his son in law Jared Kush­ner and former Trump Or­gan­i­sa­tion at­tor­ney Ja­son Green­blatt, two novice in­di­vid­u­als who know even less about the com­plex­ity of the con­flict than he does, to find a so­lu­tion that has eluded sveeral pres­i­dents be­fore him.

Notwith­stand­ing their de­sire to end the Is­raeli-Pales­tinian con­flict, the Ira­nian threat as­sumes greater ur­gency for both I srael and the Ar ab s tates. B oth sides ha ve long since con­cluded that Iran is a com­mon en­emy and poses a real danger to their national se­cu­rity. As they see it, al­though the Iran deal has de­layed its pur­suit of nu­clear weapons, Tehran is still com­mit­ted to be­com­ing a nu­clear power.

Re­gard­ing the con­cern over the Ira­nian threat, Trump said noth­ing that was not known be­fore: “There is a grow­ing re­al­i­sa­tion among your[ Is­rael] Arab neigh­bours that they have com­mon cause with you in the threat posed by Iran, and it is in­deed a threat, there’ s no ques­tion about that.”

It is true that Tehran is de­lib­er­ately desta­bil­is­ing the re­gion by its sup­port of ter­ror­ist or­gan­i­sa­tions and by med­dling in the Arabs’ do­mes­tic af­fairs (Syria, Le­banon, and Ye­men) to serve its hege­monic am­bi­tion. Is­rael and the Arab states have for sev­eral years been col­lab­o­rat­ing strate­gic ally by shar­ing in­tel­li­gence and de­vel­op­ing clan­des­tine se­cu­rity co­op­er­a­tion to stop Iran from re­al­is­ing its re­gional ob­jec­tives.

Other than boast­ing by stat­ing: “We are telling you right now that Iran will not have nu­clear weapons”, Trump of­fered no con­crete steps as to how to deal with the Ira­nian men­ace. In­stead, he en­cour­aged the Sunni Arab states to ally against Shi’ite Iran, which can only fur­ther heighten ten­sions be­tween the two sides and fur­ther desta­bilise the re­gion.

Trump ig­nores the ba­sic fact that re­gard­less of Iran’ s mis­chiefs and trans­gres­sions, it is here to stay. Tehran has been com­ply­ing with all the pro­vi­sions of the nu­clear deal and it has just re­elected Pres­i­dent Hassan Rouhani, who is a mod­er­ate and ex­pressed on many oc­ca­sions that he wants im­prove re­la­tions with the U.S. and the Arab states.

How­ever, Trump’s state­ment to the Sunni lead­ers was: “Un­til the Ira­nian regime is will­ing to be a part­ner for peace, all na­tions of con­science must work to­gether to iso­late Iran, deny it fund­ing for ter­ror­ism, and pray for the day when the Ir anian peo­ple ha ve the jus t and right­eous govern­ment they so richly de­serve.”

In­deed, re­gard­less of the in­tense ob­jec­tion of the Is­raelis and the Arab states to the Iran deal, Trump did not tear it up as he promised dur­ing his cam­paign for pr es­i­dent, and his ad­mi­nis tra­tion con­tin­ues to com­ply fully with the deals’ re­quire­ments by lift­ing the sanc­tions as stip­u­lated in the ac cord.

Wis­dom dic­tates that the U.S. should build on the Ir an deal and w ork with Iran to help bring an end to the hor­ri­fy­ing civil war in Syria and stop the sense­less proxy war be­tween Iran and Saudi Ara­bia in Ye­men and Iraq, from which nei­ther side can emer ge vic­to­ri­ous.

Trump’s visit to the r egion was full of op­u­lence and sym­bol­ism, with lit­tle or no sub­stance. There was no progress in the search for a so­lu­tion to the Is­raeli-Pales­tinian con­flict. The Arabs tates con­tinue to refuse t o nor­malise r ela­tions with Is­rael be­fore re­solv­ing the Is­raeli-Pales­tinian con­flict, and they have re­ceived no as­sur­ance that the U.S. will deal with Ir an with an ir on fis t.

The onl y thing that came out of Trump’s visit was that he got a respite from the po­lit­i­cal tur­moil in w hich he is mired back home. Oth­er­wise, the trip was much ado about noth­ing .

U.S. P res­i­dent Donal d T rump (l eft) and Isr aeli P res­i­dent Ben­jamin Ne tanyahu cl asp hands dur­ing a visit t o the Y ad V ashem Hol ocaust Me­mo­rial Mus eum in Jer us­alem on Ma y 23. T rump and his c ontin­gent w ere on a visit t o Isr ael and the P ales­tinian A uthor­ity ar eas on his fir st f or­eign trip sinc e tak­ing o ffice in Jan­uary . PHOTO: EP A

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