Opinion by Daniel Azaria
President Trump has landed in Israel after a successful trip to Saudi Arabia. He is arriving after much tough talk about himself as the great negotiator with a unique ability to make a deal. What would be ‘The Greatest Deal of our Time’, the ‘Holy Grail of Deals’, a regional Israel-Arab peace deal. Now, I don’t find it likely that he will be able to follow through, but the optimist within me hopes that I am wrong.
The strategy is not one that hasn’t been proposed before, it has however not been pursued with much gusto. The strategy is to unite Saudi Arabia and the Sunni Crescent with Israel in the battle against Iran. A geo-political strategy driven by ‘the enemy of your enemy is your friend’. Until now the common wisdom has been that Sunni and Shia Muslims hate Israel most. So the ‘enemy of your enemy’ theorem worked to Israel’s disadvantage, but finally it seems to have switched.
This development has not come about overnight. The first time it saw the light of day was in ‘the Saudi Peace initiative’, which in 2009 was welcomed by Shimon Peres. It has since has been embraced by more of the Israeli left, and most recently even cautiously by Netanyahu. Through a deepening of Israel’s relationship with Saudi Arabia in the form of intelligence cooperation, Israel is slowly being opened up to more of the Arab world.
In 2016 Israel received written assurances over freedom of passage in the Tiran straits, and in the summer of 2016 a delegation of Saudi academics and businessmen came to Israel to encourage relations, saying they wanted to continue what Anwar Sadat started in the ’79 Peace Treaty’. Trump is coming onto this stage with these massive achievements in the backdrop, and hopefully a strategy of how to leverage this into a regional agreement.
Just the symbolism of Trump flying from Saudi Arabia straight into Israel is not to be underestimated. This at the very least creates a cognitive link between the two countries.
At the same time, Trump has started talking tough on the Palestinian issue in a way that that the White House usually refrained from doing. Trump is working with a stick instead of a carrot as his predecessors did. Just the empty talk of the US moving its embassy to Jerusalem seems to have opened up the possibility of the Palestinians playing more ball.
Abbas seems to be painfully aware that with Trump in the driver seat and Pence as his back up, Israel is certainly on stronger diplomatic footing than it was during the previous administrations. And Netanyahu has all the reason to rejoice. H is in a win-win situation, and as long as he plays along with Trump he has White House support for his agenda. Either peace fails and then Trump will punish the Palestinians by allowing Israel to expand its settlement project, or peace succeeds and Netanyahu will go down in history as the Prime Minister that brought peace to Israel.
While the Palestinian people have experienced much suffering, they have also become a welfare people. The coddling of the Palestinians has made them blind to the geo-political realities and their eternal victimhood has been entrenched. Trump could end this. Perhaps by returning to reality and showing some tough love, this conflict might approach its finals chapters.
The probability of this strategy working is still very low. This is still the Israel-Arab conflict, a conflict mired by culture, suspicion, violence, corruption, scarce natural resources, religious strife, and a century of political capital. Meanwhile Trump has deep trouble at home and most likely his presidency will continue to melt down with increasing speed, leaving much of this hypothetical progress moot. But still a glimmer of hope for progress can be perceived. Probably all of this is just hot air, a waste of ink and column inches, but hope is a good thing, maybe the best of things.
Daniel Azaria has an MA from Tel Aviv University in Political Science and Political Communications, and a BA in Business Administration from IDC Herzliyah. His writing has been published by Jerusalem Post and he has been interviewed by several Swedish publications, such as Aftonbladet and Swedish Radio, to comment on current events in Israel and the Zionist movement. He is originally Swedish, but has been stationed mainly in Tel Aviv for the past 10 years.