On April 28, 2017, I entered a post in which I advocated that American taxpayers should cease any support to the Palestinian Authority that was used to compensate the widows and orphans of “martyrs” or people imprisoned for engaging in “martyrdom” operations. If Abu Mazen and the PA wishes to continue this practice, which serves to perpetuate the death culture so warmly embraced by the majority of those supporting the PA and Hamas, let them seek their blood money elsewhere.
While I largely support the efforts of Trump and Tillerson to find some common ground between Israel and the PA (and I believe much of the current calm outreach to the PA is a response to quiet entreaties delivered by the Saudis, Jordanians, and others in the Gulf Cooperation Council), it is likely the results will be the same bitter fruit that every single previous round of negotiations has produced.
It would be naive to presume that Trump and Tillerson’s actions are naive. Despite their lack of political experience, both men have conducted complex business activities throughout the world with many of the key figures with whom they’re dealing now, albeit in a different context.
No matter. Tillerson is playing out the line to the extent that it pleases the Saudis and their Sunni allies. The Saudi are testing Tillerson and the extent to which Trump trusts him. They know him well and vice versa. They need Trump and Tillerson to make an honest effort to bring Israel and the PA back to the negotiating table again in order to rationalize an essential long-term objective.
They must position themselves so they can provide a justification to the Sunni world for operating more openly with Israel.
The abrupt and somewhat shocking (in America, at least) termination of relations with Qatar is another sign in this developing drama. Qatar has not hidden its sympathies with Iran (it has a connection of infinite consequence with the Islamic Republic through the Pars South natural gas field which both owns; it is estimated to be the largest natural gas field in the world and its reserves exceed the reserves of all the world’s other gas fields combined), yet it houses and helps pay for some of the most important American military facilities in the Middle East. The Qataris have excelled at splitting the proverbial baby in half.
But, despite their geographic proximity and interdependence, the Saudis are no longer willing to countenance the notion that Qatar by any measure must be allied – at least economically – with Iran as far into the future as one can see.
Remember, too, that, contrary to the interests of the Saudis at a variety of levels, is the proposed Iran-Iraq-Syria pipeline which would run from Pars South to Europe. It was abandoned when a Swiss energy company was forced to bail because of American sanctions against the Islamic Republic.
But, guess what? Those sanctions were lifted when Barack Obama, for reasons that remain unclear to most Americans, abandoned all sense of reason, went to the international community rather than the Congress and drafted the JCPOA, elements of which still remain undisclosed. Rather than cementing his legacy, history will record it as one of the many cement blocks drowning his Nobel Prize-winning reputation in the appropriate passage of time.
So, it is likely in the absence of sanctions this pipeline will proceed and will be enthusiastically supported by the Russians. This would have been impossible for both the Russians and Iranians had they not rushed in to prop up Assad. Note, too, that the pipeline was intended to transverse Lebanon, so Hezbollah’s involvement in Syria was preordained.
This “Islamic” pipeline replaced an earlier iteration called the Qatar – Turkey pipeline that was to run through Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Syria, and Turkey. But Syria rejected it “to protect the interests of its Russian ally” or so The Guardian reported in August 2013.
So, the writing was on the wall. Assad had screwed the Saudis and come down squarely on the side of the Russians, Iranians, and Qataris. The Russians and Iranians (with the Lebanese via Hezbollah) could not allow Syria to become ungovernable or – worse – fall into Sunni hands, also forcing the Russians from their essential naval facilities. Defeat was not an option even if chemical weapons were required.
Even if the Saudis are repulsed by the notion, these forces have pushed them closer to an American orbit. Were Obama still in office, that would make them extremely uncomfortable, despite his obvious sympathies for the Muslim world in general and the Sunni sphere of influence in the form of the Muslim Brotherhood in particular.
But they could not have been comfortable with Obama’s effort to normalize international relations with the Islamic Republic, outsourcing inspections of their nuclear program, permitting continued missile development, dropping economic sanctions, not handcuffing their ability to interfere in the affairs of others via the IRGC – all at any cost.
Trump and Tillerson while familiar are untested. No doubt they have taken some comfort in the rapid response that followed the chemical attack on civilians in Syria and the deployment of the MOAB against the Taliban. They know that Trump and Sec. Mattis solidly support the insurgent attacks against IS in Raqaa, Syria, the temporary capital of the new Caliphate.
Finally, the facts that are understood by all parties and are only now begrudgingly acknowledged by the Saudis are: the embargo against Israel has accomplished nothing; Israel is the dominant military power in the region and has much stronger support from Trump than it ever had from Obama; many Americans remain suspicious of the Saudis because of their support of Wahhabism and the role their citizens played in the attacks of 9/11; the intransigence of the Palestinians, the corruption of the PA and the payments being made to the families of terrorists are hurting the Saudis and undermining their efforts to disassociate themselves from terrorism.
The ultimate test is coming. Tillerson has told the Congress that the PA has told him that they will stop making these payments. The PA says this is not true and they will label those payments differently if they must, but the payments will continue. The Taylor Force Act is before Congress with 52 co-sponsoring Representatives (no Democrats! Mirabile dictu!) and it will terminate “payments for acts of terrorism…and to family members of such an individual.” Tillerson will not allow Abu Mazen or his fellow pathological negotiators to make him look foolish in front of the Congress, the Saudis or Israelis.
Trump and Tillerson have given the PA the latitude the Saudis have requested. If Abu Mazen does not respond appropriately, if these payments are not terminated, the Saudis will be compelled to begin decoupling from the Palestinian cause, Tillerson will move the embassy to Jerusalem. All bets are off. It will have been seen as the last gasp for a two-state solution until the PA is swept from power.
Should a Democrat succeed Trump in 2020 or 2024 (or, still your heart, those praying for impeachment – maybe sooner!!), the new president will still have to contend with the likelihood that the Taylor Force Act will have passed and become law; Saudi Arabia and the Gulf Cooperation Council will have a more open functional relationship with Israel, and the divisions between the Sunni and Shi’a worlds will be closer to colliding than ever.