Trump’s Middle East visit
May has virtually become Palestine month, even though the same month brought the Arab defeat of 1948 and the establishment of State of Israel on the land of Palestine. It is not certain whether US President Trump, who will arrive in the Middle East 22 May, will bring solutions to the Palestinian question and for a people who have been under occupation for 69 years. However, official circles in the Arab world are cheering the forthcoming visit as though it were the magic wand that will solve all their problems against the backdrop of current Arab weakness, the disintegration of some Arab states, and the growing strength and confidence of Israel that enjoys more powerful US backing than ever, and which rests on the belief that the Arabs are prepared to accept any international proposal for a solution to the Palestinian cause.
The Arabs have been distracted from Palestine by other wars. Egypt is fighting terrorism in the Sinai. Syria has been decimated by war. Iraq is fragmented between its sectarian and ethnic factions, Libya is at war against IS that has spread like cancer through the Arab region, and Saudi Arabia and the other Gulf countries are preoccupied with their war in Yemen where the majority of the population is destitute, displaced or dead or wounded.
The UN Envoy for Peace in the Middle East Nikolay Mladenov has described the two-state solution as the best solution for ending the Palestinian-Israeli conflict and the Palestinians and all other Arab countries agree. But Israel sees the two-state solution differently. A prominent Israeli commentator, Amir Oron, who has his ear to the ground in Zionist decision-making circles, speaks of rumours of a “deal of the century” that is being promoted by US President Donald Trump as the formula for resolving the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. Although Oron does not discuss the nature of the deal, itself, he believes that Trump will propose a solution that will involve Saudi Arabia, Egypt and the Palestinian Authority. The proposal, itself, would be influenced by the fact that Trump is a businessman with experience in real estate. Oron also suggest that Trump might try to take advantage of Saudi Deputy Crown Prince Mohamed Bin Salman’s eagerness to confront Iran. Trump would offer the prince, “who is ambitious to sit on the throne”, the US’s services in exchange for playing a role in securing the deal (the nature of that role was also left unstated).
According to the vision related by Oron, the “deal” would include a land exchange package, in whereby Israel would annex the major settlements in the West Bank in exchange for granting the Palestinian state a piece of land that is equivalent to the area occupied by those settlements. Oron added that it would be Tel Aviv that decided which lands it concedes as part of the land exchange deal and that the PA would simply have to accept whatever was offered.
The Jordanian political analysed Majid Asfour warned of such a prospect and urged Arab governments to sustain pressure on Washington to lean on Israel which, with every passing day, undertakes new measures intended to put paid to the two-state solution. Asfour explained that the situation in the occupied territory was extremely dangerous due to Israel’s steps to impose the law on the Jewishness of the state and its efforts to get the US embassy moved to Jerusalem. He also cautioned against caving in to Israeli demands that the Arabs normalise relations with Israel before the establishment of an independent Palestinian state. Israel is advancing bit-by-bit without budging from the occupied areas, he said.
In spite of all the US support for Israel, it appears that Education Minister and head of the ultra-right Jewish Home Party Naftali Bennett is unhappy. Tensions erupted between him and Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu because of designs to kick start the peace process again. Israel should be very wary of Trump’s intentions, Bennett warned. Trump has started to talk about the Palestinian right to self-determination which means the determination of Israel’s fate will be done by others, he said. He appealed to Netanyahu to abandon the two-state solution, according to a rebut in Haaretz.
Bennett added that if Netanyahu persists in his approval of the two-state solution, a Palestinian state will arise alongside the “Gaza state” that already exists. This would lead to Israel’s political deterioration, more bloodshed and a “demographic catastrophe” for Israel. In his opinion, Tel Aviv needed to advocate a vision of preventing the establishment of a fully sovereign Palestinian state and sufficing with the Gaza state. It should begin to impose Israeli sovereignty on the West Bank and strengthen Tel Aviv’s strength militarily, politically and economically among the countries of the Middle East.
A spokesperson for the ruling Likud Party countered, “Bennett can’t prevent the funding of the extreme left or incitement against Israel in the schools in Jerusalem. He can’t stand up to the pressures of the left on him. He should not appoint himself executioner of the prime minister.”
The Israeli occupation government is worried by Trump’s impending visit. They fear that he might actually declare the right of Palestinians to self-determination and independent statehood during his visit and that he may actually impose a timeframe for peace talks between the PA and Israel that should end in the creation of a Palestinian state. He might even force Israel to make concessions before the talks resume, such as a freeze on settlement construction or the release of a number of Palestinian prisoners, writes The Times of Israel.
According to Trump’s aides, the president’s first tour abroad is intended as a “symbolic display of resolve” for Washington’s close allies, which the Trump administration would like to see double their efforts to fight extremism and fanaticism in the world.
Sources familiar with the itinerary of the tour, which includes Saudi Arabia, Israel and the Vatican, state that its purpose is to mark a “new era” in US foreign policies. They said that Trump will meet all the members of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) during his first visit to Saudi Arabia that follows through on the “magnificent efforts on the part of Deputy Crown Prince Mohamed Bin Salman”. Trump’s next stop after Riyadh will be Israel after which he will call in on the Vatican, concluding his tour with a meeting with Pope Francis. “He will thereby have met with authorities of the three divinely religions, Islam, Judaism and Christianity, paving the way for peace to prevail throughout all parts of the world!” one source put it enthusiastically.
According to an official who took part in arranging the first leg of Trump’s tour (to Saudi Arabia), the visit is intended to refute impressions that Trump is anti-Muslim. Trump’s campaign remarks about banning Muslims from entering the US and the decrees he issued after becoming president to ban citizens from several Islamic states from entering the US triggered widespread outrage in the Islamic world.
On the whole, analysts do not anticipate any significant change in the circumstances surrounding the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. They note that Trump espouses all of Netanyahu’s positions, dismissed the two-state solution and insists on the recognition of the “Jewishness” of the State of Israel. This was evident in the joint press conference that Trump held with Netanyahu at the end of the latter’s recent visit to Washington. The two sides conformed so closely on every issue of the Middle East that it was almost impossible to discern a difference between their terminology and phrasing. It was as though there were two Netanyahus responding to journalists’ questions.
Information from Washington confirms that the most important points agreed upon between Netanyahu and Trump are to revive the Sunni Arab alliance against Iran and to hold an international conference attended by moderate Arab states and Israel in order to find a solution to the Palestinian question. That, of course, is the stated purpose. The actual purpose is to set into motion the process of normalisation between the Israeli occupying power and “Sunni” Arab Gulf states, in particular.
Sources in the region maintain that Netanyahu got everything he wanted and more from his US host. Above all he won a green light to bury the two-state solution, a license to intensify settlement expansion in the occupied territories and promises that Washington will pressure the Palestinians to recognise Israel as a Jewish state. The sources add that Trump has brought the entire region to the edge of a volcano of extremism, violence and terrorism because of his bias in favour the viewpoints of the architects and executors of Israeli expansionist policies. They expect the PA to collapse together with the end of the two state solution, becoming no more than a branch of Israeli security tasked with protecting the occupation, settlements and settlers.
According to some analysts, Hamas anticipated the terrifying brink at which the Palestinian cause now stands. This is what led it to elect a more hardline leadership in Gaza, headed by Yahya Al-Sinwar. Hamas officials urged Fatah members to do the same so as to rise to the level of the responsibility that falls on their shoulders in the face of this “absolute American bias in favour of the most extreme and racist government in the history of the occupation power” by “returning to their honourable struggle and abandoning the chain of surrender, deception and selling illusions in the name of a fraudulent and illusionary peace”.