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
“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