Terry H. Schwadron
Sept. 20, 2020
The developments in the Middle East celebrated at the White House this week are good news, of course, if well short of Peace.
Launching more open relations between the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain with Israel definitely is a positive step, but it has left out dealing with any concerns of the Palestinians at the heart of the Mideast’s roiled history — which may be among the real points of the deal, along with the promise of sales of F-35 jets to the Arab nations.
This week’s announcements, just before the Jewish New Year, have the feel of being too pat, too manufactured, too much a public expression of what-already-was that is being exploited for political re-election efforts. It seems pretty clear that most of what was agreed has been in place tacitly for a decade.
Simply put, does any Israeli or the world at large feel safer today as a result of this announced deal opening travel, trade and formal exchange of embassies? On the day of the announcement, missiles were being lobbed into Israel from Gaza. Do Palestinians feel more secure or feel less victim of occupation? Is Iran now ready to lay down its militias, or anti-Semitism on all sides reduced in intensity?
Declaring peaceful relations with nations not attacking hardly seems to solve the problem.
One can easily see the announcements as benefitting unsteady political fortunes for Donald Trump and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, while the Arab leaders involved have no such election woes in their authoritarian regimes. Trump, in particular, wants the kind of attention, as his obsession with misplaced Nobel Prize nominations tell us, that might accompany such announcements.
And Netanyahu, who faces fractious politics himself, remains coy about agreeing to what looks to be a temporary withdrawal from promises to grab all of West Bank lands.
Trump — and son-in-law Jared Kushner — are openly hinting that there could be more to come, unsubtly suggesting that Saudi Arabia could make such an agreement with Israel as well — buttressing a Sunni alliance among Arab nations, perhaps including Oman and Sudan next, to confront a Shiite Iran.
From all I read, it has been the Israelis and those two Arab nations themselves, not the White House, that has brought about this agreement, making it questionable why the signing ceremony was at the White House other than for perceived, common, short-term political gains and for the emirates to get U.S. approval to buy the newest, fiercest warplanes Ito deploy against whom, exactly?)
What sealed it for me was hearing from would-be peace architect Kushner, whose smugness about the signing could hardly be contained on the television screen. He referred deferentially and repeatedly to the overarching Donald Trump strategy in the Middle East, which, as far as anyone looking can tell is giving the conservative Netanyahu government anything it wants and dangling $50 billion in foreign investments to participating Arab countries.
If you wanted to be at least diplomatic about the deal, it should have been Secretary of State Mike Pompeo doing the official curtsies, not the Trump crown prince.
It has been Kushner who has pushed for relocating the U.S. embassy in Jerusalem to recognize that disputed capital, it has been Kushner who organized the meetings with Arab potentates, and it has been Kushner who has maintained relationships with Saudi leader Muhammad bin Salman, despite the killing of U.S. journalist Jared Khashoggi by Saudi thugs.
So, the U.S. effectively has bought the agreements it displayed this week.
Maybe that is good deal-making; Kushner said as much in television interviews. In lieu of big-think philosophy, what can an administration do in the short-run to bring about changes it wants?
It is that nonconformist, almost practical thinking that drives the daily Trump.
And that practice seems to be exactly what Trump fans like — the penchant to punch a sharp stick into protocol and gain the advantage for today — and exactly why the rest of the world hates Trump. They see someone untrustworthy whose word lasts only while the television spotlight is on.
Beneath the politics here is an overt drive for Trump domestic support for white, Christian, evangelical support. It is no more about support for Jewish causes than it is for any reduction of tensions among Arab residents of the West Bank or even over the protection of the sole democracy in the Middle East. This is raw turn-out-the-vote stuff.
I’m pleased that Israel is the beneficiary this time, but left unsatisfied that fulfillment of a Trump foreign policy is not to make daily life safer or actually engage and resolve outstanding problems that are growing worse. Inviting U.S. investment in Dubai is not going to feed Gazans or make getting around in an Israeli military occupation of the West Bank more humane or, to use the Kushner word, practical.
Thanks, White House for whatever you did in this instance, but please, don’t believe that you’ve solved the actual problem.