Creating new perspectives since 2009

Beyond free normalisation with Israel

May 21, 2018 at 2:33 pm

US President Donald Trump (R) poses for a photo with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman Al Saud (L) in Washington, US on 20 March 2018 [Bandar Algaloud/Saudi Kingdom Council/ Anadolu Agency]

During their visits to the White House to meet with President Donald Trump, some Arab leaders apparently expressed their support for Trump’s vision for peace in the Middle East. It is not clear if Trump has informed them of the details of the so called Deal of the Century.

During his long visit to the United States, Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad Bin Salman told prominent American Jewish figures that Palestinians have only two choices: either to accept the peace process within Trump’s Deal of the Century or to remain silent and stop complaining.

A few months earlier, during his own visit to the White House, Egyptian President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi also stressed his support for Trump in his quest to resolve the issue of the century. “We will stand firmly by the solutions that will be put forward to solve the issue of the century in this deal of the century, which I am sure the US president will be able to accomplish,” declared Sisi. “Certainly we will,” Trump replied.

The Arabs and an Israel-Iran war

Indeed, Trump took practical steps towards achieving his objective when he announced in December that his country would transfer its embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. That was done last Monday. On the same day, 60 unarmed Palestinian demonstrators were killed by Israeli soldiers.

What did the Arabs do in response? Did Arab countries react violently or angrily to the transfer of the embassy? No. Was there a strong condemnation? No. Have Arab ambassadors been summoned from Washington? No. Have ambassadors of countries with diplomatic relations been withdrawn from Israel? No. Did the Arab countries cut diplomatic relations with Washington? No.

Instead, Arab rulers have adopted Trump’s view of removing the issue of Jerusalem from the negotiation table because it was obstructing progress. Trump chose to remove the issue of Jerusalem by giving it all to Israel.

Over 20 years ago, in 1995, the US Congress recognised Jerusalem as the united and historic capital of Israel, but no American president has ever dared to implement that decision. Citing national interests, US presidents were allowed to freeze the move. Democrat President Bill Clinton (1995-2001), Republican George W Bush (2001-2009) and Democrat Barack Obama (2009-2017) all used that get out clause, and so did Republican President Trump twice before he went ahead with the transfer of the embassy to Jerusalem.

Israel envoy: Saudi, Israel share united vision of Middle East

So what is new? What allowed Trump to take such an escalatory step that none of his predecessors had taken, especially as there was no need or pressure to do so?

I think the answer is the absence of any political or diplomatic cost for Washington in relation to Arab and Islamic countries. Efforts have been made to create the right atmosphere in the Middle East for the Palestinian cause, including the future of Jerusalem, to become irrelevant to Arab rulers.

The ruling Arab elites have been convinced that the one and only danger at this time is Iran, and that Israel can stand with the Arabs against the Iranians. It was no surprise that many Arab countries, including Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, rejoiced at Washington’s withdrawal from the nuclear deal with Tehran.

Trump was encouraged to take the step by Arab states’ rush towards free and public normalisation with Israel while demanding nothing in return. The US President realised that the Arab rulers would accept America’s recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and the embassy transfer; and that they would have no serious reactions. He went beyond traditional policy and rid himself of any constraints.

The identity of Trump’s advisers on the Arab-Israeli conflict shows the clear intention to take US-Israel relations to a new level and push for a unique coalition between Arabs and Israelis. To achieve this goal, Trump is using a group of Jews with the most hard-line religious and political views. Step forward David Friedman, the current US Ambassador to Israel; Jason Greenblatt, the head of the US negotiating team and Trump’s most important adviser; and his son-in-law, Jared Kushner. His daughter’s husband is another hard-liner who has met with a number of Arab rulers, including Mohammad Bin Salman and Mohammed Bin Zayed, and persuaded them to take on the president’s vision to resolve the conflict at the expense of the Palestinians.

The Saudi-Israeli embrace will doom both regimes

It is no longer a secret that Arab rulers and officials meet frequently with their counterparts from Israel, even in the absence of diplomatic relations. It is also no longer a secret that some Arab rulers seriously believe that the new US administration must exploit the unprecedented Arab weakness and Palestinian division in order to put an end to the Palestinian cause.

These rulers are using the fact that the Arab regimes and people are preoccupied with their own narrow domestic issues, including the consequences of the Arab Spring and the emergence and expansion of various terrorist organisations. This has allowed for a reduction in public and official interest in the Palestinian cause and the future of Jerusalem. However, the Arab peoples, although weak, will not accept this proposition, even though their rulers want them to.

Arabs are normalising relations with Israel for nothing in return. I cannot imagine the size of Arab concessions after they have practically given up the most basic of Palestinian rights and their rights in Jerusalem itself.

At the same time, Washington, Tel Aviv and Arab countries are preoccupied with talking about various details that take the conflict away from its core. This has seen the new Iranian enemy take centre stage, and they avoid talking about the essence of the conflict, namely Israel’s military occupation.

This group believes that we must not wait to resolve the issue of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict in order to solve the rest of the Middle East’s many problems. They believe that the origin of the conflict and the heart of the problem is the Palestinians’ lack of recognition of Israel as an independent Jewish state. They also believe that the peace process has been ongoing since Camp David, four decades ago, without success. Right now, it seems that the main goal has become full recognition of Israel, and accepting that there is no conflict with it to begin with.

This article first appeared in Arabic on The New Khaleej on 20 May 2018

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.