First published in Hebrew on Haaretz
President Trump is not a visionary. Neither he defines goals and conduct an orderly planning process and hones strategies. His decisions and actions are akin to a cowboy shooting from the hip at any target that pops up along his route. The only difference is that Trump’s weapon is Twitter. A cursory review of his policy vis a vis Israel will prove the above: any of his decisions, statements or actions stood alone and was not a part of a comprehensive vision, strategy or an overall plan. This was definitely not part of the long history of the US-Israeli relationship that are based on common values and the US’ historic commitment to Israel.
Establishing the diplomatic relationship between Israel and the UAE and Bahrain was a spur of the moment, a whim if you will that was meant to be the reward awarded to Israel in return for the latter relinquishing the idea of annexation. The Israeli prime minister agreed – as if he could refuse Trump – and immediately took credit for himself by stating that false “peace for peace” statement. Trump obviously gained a few points with his evangelical base on the way to November 2020’s elections.
And still, how does one leverage such an episode to a real strategic change in the middle east. First, one must define the goal which is to establish a new middle east, including a resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Second, one must gain the support of no more than half a dozen people of Trump’s inner circle and partner up with them regarding the above goal. Third, the inner circle partners will convince Trump that the end game for the whole maneuver is to get him the Nobel prize and this will serve as the “cover” for the entire process. One can also say that the maneuver is also meant to block the Chinese in the region. That said, the above is not a figment of my imagination. Everyone who has read the former National Security Adviser, John Bolton’s, book “The Room Where it Happened” will immediately identify Trump’s close advisors work methodology: when the want to promote an American interest they look for Trump’s personal interest and uses the latter as a cover to promote the national interest.
What are the necessary conditions for the success of the idea of a new middle east, including the resolution for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict? First, the US must lead it. Egypt and Jordan, who has peace agreements with Israel will join such an initiative. Israel is obviously required and if the US will apply pressure Israel will join. The Gulf states, two of which have arrived at a peace agreement with Israel, will likely join. Respectfully they are important but not really required, whereas KSA is. This coalition needs to prioritize getting the Saudis on board and the chances of that happening are good.
The current Saudi ruler is conservative and old. His son, the heir to the throne, was eager to join the peace initiative (he has the credit for letting Israeli aircraft to fly over Saudi territory). When Iran and Turkey, neither an Arab state, compete for hegemony in the middle east it is imperative to position an Arab regional power. KSA, backed by the US and Israel, could be that regional power standing up to Iran and Turkey. KSA will have a hard time refusing the above especially if their 2002 initiative, who was backed by all Arab League members, will serve as the draft for the resolution of the Israeli- Palestinian conflict.
Most Israelis barely know the Saudi peace initiative. Summarizing it, the demands from Israel are, and I quote:
In return the Arab countries declare that they have ended their conflicts with Israel, sign peace agreements with Israel and normalize their relationship with Israel. The agreement binds all Arab league members, 22 states. Additionally, it is safe to assume that some 30 more Muslim states around the world will join this peace as well.
The three demands from Israel seem prima facie harsh however in the various negotiation rounds that took place among the parties since 2002 many elements of the above have softened, on all points. It seems like the current gaps among the parties can be bridged.
The more the reconciliation process between Israel and the Arab countries progresses, it will create a dynamic that the Palestinian Authority will find hard to resist. An American pressure coupled with a financial pressure from Arab states will weigh the PA down, whether during Mahmoud Abbas’ tenure or his successor’s. one must also consider that pressure will be applied to Israel to do its part in bridging the gaps but a strong Israel that seeks peace has a wide berth.
The above scenario addresses a US where Trump is its president however with minor changes it is achievable even if Biden wins the November 2020 elections. If such a maneuver, that is likely to take a two-three years, succeeds, we will be facing a new middle east where the leading super power is the US and the members of its coalition are the moderate Arab states and Israel, a small country but with a great potential to contribute for peace and the economic prosperity of the entire region.