The preparatory visit to Washington now underway by a Palestinian delegation, headed by Saeb Erekat, underscores the importance attached to the forthcoming visit early next month by Mahmoud Abbas. The indications that Abbas is now willing to contemplate a meeting with Prime Minister Netanyahu under Trump’s auspices may seem surprising, given the latter’s firm stand on issues important to Israel. But it should be considered in the context of the broader consolidation of the pro-western forces in the region, who felt on unstable ground during the Obama years.
The understandings reached between the Trump administration and the Netanyahu government, and approved by the Israeli Security Cabinet (despite some protests), show that a reasonable program of settlement construction is not the root of all evil in the region. In fact, a peace deal is more likely if space is given to the mainstream settler community. The new understandings overturn the language of UNSCR 2334 and the “purist” interpretation of “international legitimacy.” Such a return to the recognition of existing realities – which was granted in the exchange of letters between Bush and Sharon in April 2004 – would help all sides come closer to a realistic compromise.
One cannot blame Israelis for their sense of euphoria following the change of government in the US, but a less simplistic view of events in the US reveals a more complex picture. It is in Israel’s interest to approach the new administration with a degree of restraint.
To fight an enemy effectively, that enemy must be clearly defined. George W. Bush spoke of a war on terror, but conducted a crusade against tyranny. Barack Obama gave lip service to the freedom agenda, but employed a “realist”, non-interventionist policy on most issues, was reluctant to speak of “enemies” beyond al-Qaida and IS, and never called the enemy by name. The Trump administration is reportedly planning to scrap the conceptual framework of Obama’s “CVE” – Countering Violent Extremism – and focus more explicitly on the Islamist threat, but it remains to be seen just how he defines that threat.
In contrast to the recent “Stop Trump” conference in Paris, a decision by the next US administration to move the US embassy to Jerusalem might be conducive to the cause of peace. It will remove the air of delusional unreality surrounding all aspects of the Jerusalem question, and modify what the Palestinians should legitimately expect to achieve at the negotiating table. It will send a message of credibility and of stern refusal to bow to threats of violence. It would still need to be packaged carefully, above all in terms of policies the key Arab players now hope to see instituted; such as the restoration of US support for traditional allies and the willingness to back them against the Iranian and Islamist threats.
Overshadowed by the Syrian tragedy, the collapse of the Libyan state had dangerous consequences for Mediterranean security. It also demonstrated the cost of a hastily organized intervention followed by disastrous neglect and the rise of Islamist forces. Still, its latest chapter – the successful campaign to eradicate IS in Sirte – proves that when carefully chosen, limited military means can achieve strategic goals: and in that basis, measures should be taken to satisfy General Hiftar and his Egyptian backers.
Widespread moral revulsion at the horrors of the battle for Aleppo, and the aftershocks of the assassination of the Russian ambassador in Turkey, should not blind us to the dark strategic implications of the recent turn of events in Syria.
A dangerous rift has developed in Saudi-Egyptian relations on two fronts. The Saudis, for whom the Iranian-backed Houthi uprising in Yemen has become an existential issue, are aggrieved that Egypt is not pulling its full weight in that campaign. The Egyptian leadership fears that Saudi policies in Syria play into the hands of the Muslim Brotherhood (and the Brotherhood ally in Ankara), as well as other Islamist radicals.
The attempt to impose a solution to the Israel-Palestinian conflict is worse than a crime; it is a mistake. Even the whiff of coercion deludes the Palestinian leadership and feeds their hope that they can avoid the hard decisions that are necessary for compromise. It also stiffens resistance within Israel to concessions, undermines the legitimacy of any negotiated outcome, and makes implementation all but impossible.