Is Trump Right About Middle-East Peace?
by Gérard Araud–PARIS – By withdrawing American troops from northern Syria, US President Donald Trump has once again signaled that his administration recognizes only two national interests in the Middle East: containment of Iran and Israel’s security.
Regarding the former, the United States recently sent more troops to Saudi Arabia, Iran’s main regional adversary. As for the latter, Trump has repeatedly said that he will present a plan for peace between Israel and the Palestinians. Because such an initiative could become a factor in the 2020 US presidential election campaign, Trump will have to decide soon whether to fulfill this commitment once a new Israeli government takes office following the country’s parliamentary election last month.
Trump has tasked his son-in-law, Jared Kushner, with developing a detailed peace plan. While that represents a departure from previous US diplomatic efforts, which had always aimed to lead Israelis and Palestinians to negotiate a peace treaty between themselves under American auspices, this new approach is not necessarily a bad idea, because both sides seem incapable of moving forward on their own. The Palestinian Authority – disavowed at the ballot box in Gaza in 2006, run by aging leaders, and undermined by corruption – has lost the legitimacy that it would need to make concessions. Israel, meanwhile, has drifted so far to the right that no government could propose to the Knesset a peace plan acceptable to both sides.
An arbitrator could, in theory, overcome these obstacles. Moreover, Kushner’s close ties to Israel may paradoxically be a further asset.
History shows that winners of geopolitical confrontations almost never voluntarily give up the fruits of their victory. Israel, a regional superpower with a post-industrial economy, nuclear weapons, and an unwavering alliance with the US, clearly has the means to impose its will on a weak Palestinian adversary.
No Israeli-Palestinian peace settlement could fail to reflect this power imbalance. Moreover, no external party, whether the major European powers or even Arab governments, will affect that balance: the Europeans are divided on the subject, and the Arab Gulf states have largely become de facto allies of Israel against Iran.
Israel therefore holds the key to resolving the conflict. But that means persuading the Israeli public to accept the establishment of a foreign country, possibly an enemy, just 15 kilometers (9.3 miles) from its capital.
These considerations help to explain the Trump administration’s numerous recent favors to Israel, including the transfer of the US embassy in the country from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, and US recognition of Israel’s annexation of the Golan Heights. Kushner’s goal is to show the Israelis that they can trust Trump when he puts peace proposals on the table. To the extent that Trump is now more popular in Israel than Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, the US approach has clearly worked.