Wednesday, December 30, 2020

Middle East peace deals were Trump’s "mission impossible" made possible

by Michael Goodwin

Donald Trump’s legacy, like the man himself, will be complicated, but the one certainty will be his record of achieving what conventional wisdom said couldn’t be done. His world-shocking victory in the 2016 election is the best example, and commanding the development and approval of COVID-19 vaccines in just nine months is another. 

The Abraham Accords are a third stunning achievement. When Trump took office, just two Arab nations, Egypt and Jordan, had treaties with Israel, a situation that had existed without change since 1994. There are now six regional nations with diplomatic relations with the Jewish state. 

“We’re making it look easy,” joked Jared Kushner, whose persistent and tireless diplomacy helped secure the historic breakthroughs. 


Of course, there was nothing easy about adding the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Morocco and Sudan to the list of those recognizing Israel’s right to existand opening trade and tourism routes, which should give an economic boost to all of the participants. Had it been easy, the deals could have been signed anytime in the last 75 years. 

That they were signed with Trump (shown with Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu, Bahrain Foreign Minister Abdullatif al-Zayani and UAE Foreign Minister Abdullah bin Zayed Al-Nahyan) in the White House was a direct result of his policies. Foremost among them was his position on two fundamental issues: He would move America closer to Israel, and treat Iran as the dangerous pariah it is. 

Both positions represented a reversal of the policies of the Obama-Biden administration, which had treated Israel like a problem and Iran like an opportunity. The result was eight years of uninterrupted failure — a freeze in talks between Israel and the Palestinians and an emboldened Iran aggressively spreading mayhem and terror. 

Trump, on the other hand, “was unbound by what had come before and pushed people out of their comfort zone,” Kushner said in an interview. “We were transactional and he gave us a lot of room to maneuver.” 

The “comfort zone” Trump faced included decades of received wisdom in the American State Department and in foreign ministries throughout the world. They insisted progress would come after America pushed Israel to make peace with the Palestinians, which might eventually lead to a gradual warming of relations between Israel and Arab states. 

Conventional wisdom also assumed that the Iran nuclear pact, which Obama engineered, would tame the mad mullahs’ quest for dominance. 

All those assumptions were wrong. 

Trump, Kushner, David Friedman — America’s ambassador to Israel — and others had another approach. They believed embracing Israel and isolating Iran by withdrawing from the nuclear deal and reimposing sanctions would reshape the region. They were right. 

The first test was deciding in 2017 to move the American Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, which, instead of leading to widespread Arab riots, produced only minor grumbling. Similarly, recognizing Israel’s annexation of the Golan Heights caused no explosions. 

This “fusing with Israel” as Kushner calls it, while taking on Iran served as a rallying cry for Arab nations tired of Palestinian rejectionism and afraid of Iran’s military intentions. They increasingly saw Israel, with its mighty military, as an ally against Iran. 

“Everyone who takes a flight between Israel and any of these countries becomes an ambassador for the Abraham Accords,” Kushner said. “It just shows that all the old thinking about what was possible was past its time.” 

One American involved in the process noted that events unthinkable only months ago, such as kosher restaurants opening in Dubai and Arabs asking visiting Israelis to take pictures together, are happening so fast and often that they are not even newsworthy. 

While this is not yet the lion laying down with the lamb, the opportunity is there for expanding the alliance. Saudi Arabia has added to its unofficial ties with Israel, and the crown prince recently met with Netanyahu. 

The Palestinians, who foolishly cursed Trump and refused to negotiate with Kushner, have said since the election they will resume talking to Israel and Washington. As always, expect them to overplay their hands and reject every offer that could make lives better for their citizens. 

Kushner, who has endured many brickbats as Trump’s son-in-law and special adviser, is ever the diplomat when asked what he thinks Biden will do. 

“My hope is that people will take a moment and see that what we’ve been doing is built on a logical basis,” he says, adding that he would like to see “the next administration follow the pathway.” 

That would be sensible and smart to recognize the accords as a gift. Instead, Biden already said he hopes to rejoin the Iran deal, which would undercut the new alliance and create nervousness about Iran’s aggression. He also plans to resume payments to Palestinians, which Trump ended because the money was used to pay “salaries” to the families of terrorists who killed Israelis. 

Moreover, many of Biden’s fellow Democrats are openly hostile to Israel, especially under Netanyahu, and some, including Rep. Ilan Omar (D-Minn.), routinely use anti-Semitic tropes

All of which suggests the opportunity for historic stability and regional economic growth that Trump created is endangered by Biden’s backwards thinking. 

What a waste, what a tragic waste.


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