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Trump demolished liberals’ Mideast fallacies – he had help from Iran

‘Palestine First’ died in Abu Dhabi. Yet 'Twitter Man' was just the midwife of the Abraham Accords. The deal was fathered by imperialist Tehran
LEFT: President Donald Trump during the swearing in ceremy of Amy Coney Barrett as Supreme Court justice. Washington, Monday, Oct. 26, 2020. (AP Photo / Patrick Semansky)
RIGHT: Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei speaks during a video conference with education ministry officials, in Tehran, Iran, Tuesday, Sept. 1, 2020. Iran's supreme leader called the United Arab Emirates' recognition of Israel "treason that will not last for long." (Office of the Iranian Supreme Leader via AP)
LEFT: President Donald Trump during the swearing in ceremy of Amy Coney Barrett as Supreme Court justice. Washington, Monday, Oct. 26, 2020. (AP Photo / Patrick Semansky) RIGHT: Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei speaks during a video conference with education ministry officials, in Tehran, Iran, Tuesday, Sept. 1, 2020. Iran's supreme leader called the United Arab Emirates' recognition of Israel "treason that will not last for long." (Office of the Iranian Supreme Leader via AP)

After the Israel-UAE deal, an entire peace industry should have collapsed. For half a century, it has been churning out a product trademarked “It’s Palestine, stupid!” no matter how the market had changed since the “Three No’s” of Khartoum were flung at Israel in 1967: no peace, no recognition, no negotiation.

Palestine was the core of “the” Mideast conflict according to a myriad mantra. Cracking it would bless the accursed region with “Harmony and Understanding,” as they sang in the hit musical “Hair.” Next, the guardians of orthodoxy placed the United States at center-stage where it would play the “honest broker” between Arabs and Jews.

Old myths never die. Most recently, UCLA professor Dov Waxman penned the short version of the catechism on this site. In “Foreign Affairs,” Martin Indyk, Barack Obama’s special envoy, indicted Trumpist Middle East policy in a brief of nearly 5,000 words. The central charge runs: “The administration understands little about how the Middle East works.” 

Cast as arsonist-in-chief, Donald Trump would set the Islamic world aflame, starting with the embassy move to Jerusalem. Strangely, the “Arab Street” remained as silent as the Arab League when the deal with the Emirates and Sudan crashed into the unexamined verities of the diplomatic class. 

Trump may not know much, but he understands power. For all his mischief, he did prove wrong all those cognoscenti roaming Western foreign offices and op-ed pages. Take secretary of state John Kerry, who orated in 2016: “There will be no… separate peace with the Arab world without the Palestinian process and Palestinian peace.”

Alas, Kerry and his precursors have little to show after 50 years of American mediation — save for one apparent exception: the Egypt-Israel peace shepherded by Henry Kissinger and Jimmy Carter in the ‘70s. Note two irksome truths. One: Before they signed, Menahem Begin and Anwar Sadat had already hashed out the basics by themselves. Two: Palestine had nothing to do with it; indeed, Camp David ’78 was the beginning of the end of the PLO’s veto. The next blow was the peace between Israel and Jordan in 1994.

As Kerry should have known best after his humiliating failure in 2013/14, US mediation is a no-win. Old-timers may still remember “Operation Alpha” of 1955, when Washington tried to cajole Cairo and Jerusalem into a territorial deal that would also have resettled 75,000 Palestinian refugees in Israel. In unison, both countries refused. 

And so it went. After Eisenhower, every US president tried his luck. The Rabin-Arafat Handshake at Clinton’s White House in 1994 gave way to mailed fists when Palestinian terror resumed a few weeks later. Nor did Clinton score at Wye in 1998. At Camp David in 2000, Arafat scurried away, leaving the president to nurse his anger. George W. Bush tried at Annapolis in 2007. Led by Martin Indyk, Obama’s team labored for nine months until the talks collapsed in 2014. The Americans had been demoted to carrying yellow-pad notes back and forth because the Palestinians would not talk face-to-face.

Albert Einstein once quipped: “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, but expecting different results.” So, chalk one up for Donald (insert your favorite invective) Trump, who abandoned the road to nowhere and went to Abu Dhabi and Khartoum. Riyadh and Rabat might be next. But whether the Saudis sign up or not, the bottom line is obvious: the Sunni powers have outflanked the Palestinians and crept into bed with the despicable Yahud. 

Will Orange Man get the Peace Nobel? Hardly. But if he did, he would have to share it with Ali Khamenei, Iran’s Supreme Leader.” It was those pious revolutionaries in Tehran who unwittingly engineered the historic realignment. 

The reason is as old as the state system. The heirs of Darius have been on an expansionist roll ever since their eight-year war against Iraq ended in 1988. They keep working on a nuclear armory while fielding ever longer-range missiles. Iran has advanced all the way to the Mediterranean. It now has a border with Israel, thanks to Hezbollah and Hamas. Power will breed counter-power, and so, Trump was merely the midwife of the Accords. The real father was Tehran.

The Arabs have a saying for it: “The enemy of my enemy…” Diplomatic historians love to invoke the European model. This is the vaunted “reversal of alliances” or “diplomatic revolution” of the 18th century when France and Habsburg set aside 200 years of bloodshed to gang up on upstart Prussia so that it would no longer threaten the “public tranquility.” Today, Iran is Prussia — never mind Jew-hatred and Palestine. 

States rule, and power speaks – that is the oldest lesson of world politics that liberals refuse to learn. The Accords are but the tahini on the hummus. Israel-Palestine was never the root of all evil. Joining three continents, the Middle East was always the “elephant path of history,” as Moshe Dayan put it. In our time, it is a “civilization of clashes,” to borrow from Stanford’s Niall Ferguson who reversed Samuel Huntington’s famous “clash of civilizations” thesis.

How shall we count the ways? It is an unending intra-Islamic battle between creeds and sects, tribes and ethnicities, potentates and oppressed states and ideologies. The engine is fueled by fear and ambition. Israel-as-culprit is merely a convenient myth.

And an ever more threadbare one. No wonder, the bienpensants are angry with Twitter Man. They have lost their business model. Yet resentment does not absolve them from misperception. Trump can — and should — be blamed for myriad sin. But he did grasp the historic transformation of the Mideast stage. It now runs from Libya to the Levant and from Ankara to Afghanistan.

It is occupied by ruthless actors like Turkey, Russia and Iran. Plus, ISIS and non-state killer brigades. Internal war, not Israel, is the supreme threat to failing or failed states like Syria, Libya, Afghanistan or Palestine. Suddenly, strange bedfellows like Egypt, Israel, Greece and Lebanon are coalescing against Turkey over gas in the Eastern Med. In this vastly expanded theater, the misery of the Palestinians has shrunk into a side-show, if not a nuisance.

Realpolitik beats faith and fealty, and for all his ignorance, Mr. Trump has correctly deciphered the new power map. Maybe, Israel-Palestine will move offstage and join all those half-forgotten ethnic conflicts from Myanmar to Mauretania. Add Chechnya, Tibet, Kashmir, Central Africa, Afghanistan, Nagorno-Karabakh and Yemen . 

Maybe, Mahmoud Abbas’s successor will realize that the Palestinian tail can no longer wag the Arab dog and sit down in earnest with Israel. Heavenly rewards — billions in aid and investment — are guaranteed. Perhaps, triumphant Benjamin Netanyahu will show magnanimity in victory and start negotiating in good faith. Abu Dhabi is the model. As Israel and the Arabs joined up against Iran, clear-eyed Palestinians and Israelis must also face down common enemies like the warriors of the Caliphate who are not interested in state-building, let alone democracy.

And maybe, the gurus of goodness who have defied Einstein’s insight, will heed John Maynard Keynes who told a critic: “When the facts change, I change my mind. What do you do, Sir?”

About the Author
Josef Joffe serves on the Editorial Council of Die Zeit in Hamburg. He is also a Distinguished Fellow at Stanford’s Hoover Institution. (Author photo by ©Vera Tammen)
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