Lessons from the Middle East

Middle East

Photo Credit: Asher Schwartz

{Reposted from the Gatestone Institute website}

Far from the memory of the too numerous wars that have marked the Middle East, the temptation is strong to think that diplomacy should replace force, and that a good negotiation, even if it means coming out a loser, is better than a conflict. This is more or less the philosophy that seems to inspire the “not so new” American administration, such as that for former US President Barack Obama.

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Former President Donald J. Trump, for his part, had no doubt learned some lessons from British Prime Minister Winston Churchill and more from the miserable double-cross offered by Hitler to British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain and the French Prime Minister Édouard Daladier, which would lead, a year later, to the Second World War. Daladier and Chamberlain were so opposed to the use of force that they preferred to sacrifice Czechoslovakia to Nazi appetites rather than stand firm while there was still time. The rest, unfortunately, is well known.

Other have been inspired by the Roman general, Publius Flavius Vegetius Renatus: “Si vis pacem, para bellum” — If you want peace, prepare for war.

President Trump, after seeing decades of stagnation in the seemingly hopeless Israeli-Palestinian conflict, adopted a similar philosophy by deciding to turn the problem upside down and listen to an alternate version of the facts. He saw that Israel had made diplomatic concessions, by withdrawing from every inch of Egypt that had been overrun in the 1967 War, and Gaza in 2005, only to win in exchange, three wars, tens of thousands of rockets aimed at its civilian population, and a terrorist group, Hamas, elected by a landslide to Gaza. It did not take long for members of Hamas to throw Palestinian Authority loyalists from the top floors of tall buildings, and expel the rest.

Previous administrations, such as that of President Obama, were clinging to the idea that the conflicts can only be resolved through negotiation. Trump and his advisers preferred to turn to the Arab world, worried about Iranian hegemonic expansion, and to try to reach a comprehensive agreement, that would ultimately include the Palestinians.

These consultations swiftly led to the Abraham Accords — a peace between Israel and four countries, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Sudan and Morocco. It was a spectacular breakthrough never before seen in the region.

For four years, it looked as if President Trump were rewarding only one side, Israel. Although his administration’s decisions provoked an outcry from Mahmoud Abbas, his entourage, European governments and the United Nations, curiously enough, there was hardly any objection from the Arab world. Instead, they stated they were weary of the unproductive Palestinian “cause” and alarmed by the Iranian threat. It was also a period during which Palestinian terrorism reached one of its lowest levels.

The international media were on fire to warn Trump of the catastrophic outcome that would result from recognizing Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and relocating the US embassy there.

The European Union and the United Nations rose to the brink of panic when the American president recognized the Golan Heights — taken in 1967 after years of being attacked from there by Syria — as part of Israel.

Other gestures, as important, punctuated Trump’s vision: stopping financial aid to the Palestinian Authority as long as it continued to incite terrorism and distribute salaries to criminals imprisoned in Israel; reducing American funding to UNRWA, a United Nations organization seemingly designed to perpetuate the refugee status — as well as the conflict — for descendants of Palestinian Arabs who fled during wars to destroy Israel in 1948 and again 1967; closing the PLO office in Washington; but, above all, establishing a realistic peace plan, taking into account the interests of two peoples and not their leaders. Trump’s plan offered the Palestinians a state in the areas populated by them, an administrative capital to be defined, and $50 billion in aid to develop their economy. The plan was rejected by the Palestinian Authority before it was even drawn up.

All this in no way prevented the Abraham Accords from seeing the light of day. According to Jared Kushner, Saudi Arabia was also considering recognizing Israel if the Trump administration had been elected to a second term.

The same Saudis are now worrying about a possible return to the JCPOA, the “Iran nuclear deal” promoted by members of the Obama administration — John Kerry, Wendy Sherman and then-Vice President Joe Biden – that would enable the Ayatollahs to obtain nuclear bombs. The JCPOA agreement, sometimes compared to “Swiss cheese” for its many flaws, among which were a “sunset clause” authorizing the Iranian government to enrich uranium and obtain nuclear bombs after a few years, as well as that it has no obligation to submit to “anywhere and anytime” inspections by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).

Unfortunately, President Biden’s initial announcements concerning Iran and Saudi Arabia are not likely to reassure the Saudis or America’s other allies in the Gulf. In spite of Iran’s malign activity abroad — aid to terrorist movements such as the Lebanese Hezbollah and the Houthis in Yemen; its accelerated enrichment of uranium; developing intercontinental ballistic missiles to carry nuclear warheads, and the difficulties encountered by IAEA inspectors in trying to inspect Iran’s nuclear sites — Biden said of the JCPOA: “It was working. It was being held tightly. There was no movement on the part of the Iranian government to get closer to a nuclear weapon.”

Unfortunately, that is not true. In 2017, a team of Israelis broke into an Iranian warehouse and left with “tens of thousands of secret files” that document significant cheating.

Confronted with President Trump’s decision to withdraw from the agreement as long as Iran did not behave less aggressively, Biden replied, again incorrectly:

“The historic Iran nuclear deal we negotiated blocked Iran from gaining nuclear weapons… Yet Trump cast it aside, prompting Iran to restart its nuclear program…”

Unfortunately, on the contrary, the JCPOA permits Iran to make as many nuclear bombs as it wishes in a few years.

If appointing Antony Blinken as Secretary of State was enough to reassure Israelis and Saudis, the designation of Robert Malley as special representative for Iran only rekindled their concerns. Malley was not only involved in the conception of JCPOA, he was “kicked off of Obama’s first presidential campaign after reports emerged he had met with members of the Hamas terror group,” and has reportedly asked that Hamas be included in talks in the future. Senator Tom Cotton tweeted:

“It’s deeply troubling that President Biden would consider appointing Rob Malley to direct Iran policy. Malley has a long track record of sympathy for the Iranian regime & animus towards Israel. The ayatollahs wouldn’t believe their luck if he is selected.”

Reuel Marc Gerecht wrote in 2018:

“At the moment, the clerical regime may have a clandestine centrifuge site in Mashhad, in northeastern Iran, and we wouldn’t know about it… There is nothing in the JCPOA that could help us discover this or any other possible secret facility.”

The Israeli government, whose secret service has managed to demonstrate Iran’s willingness to acquire nuclear weapons, also warned:

“The deal gave Iran a highway paved with gold to build the critical infrastructure for an entire arsenal of nuclear bombs. That deal gave Iran the resources to significantly escalate its aggression and terror across the Middle East.”

Biden’s statements about peace with the Palestinians are also not likely to reassure America’s allies in the Middle East. His vision seems not far from that of Obama and Kerry.

Biden summarized his position last fall:

“A two-state solution is the only way to ensure Israel’s long-term security while sustaining its Jewish and democratic identity. I don’t know how they do it without a two-state solution. And it’s also the only way to ensure Palestinian rights to a state of their own.”

What he seems to be forgetting is that these attempts at engagement never led to any result, apart from refueling the conflict.

The question is, what will President Biden do if it turns out that once again the Palestinian Authority decides that it must obtain all possible concessions before it even begins negotiations?

(Pierre Rehov, born and raised in North Africa, is a reporter, author and the director of “Hostages of Hatred” and “Silent Exodus”, documentary films about Palestinian and Jewish refugees)

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