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Will Trump’s Middle East Peace Plan Work?

by Khaled Ahmed
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Brendan Smialowski—AFP

With Arab nations appearing to endorse the accord, it is likely to be gradually accepted by most major powers

U.S. President Donald Trump this week announced a “peace plan” that would allow Israel to control a “unified” Jerusalem as its capital and “not require it to uproot any of the settlements in the West Bank that have provoked Palestinian outrage and alienated much of the world.”

Under this plan, the “two nations” required by the United Nations to live in separate states would live together in “unified” Jerusalem; and security would be solely the responsibility of Israel, which means Palestinians would not have an army of their own. Israel would “regularize” illegal settlements—one third of West Bank—built on land belonging to the Palestinian people. And “President Trump promised to provide $50 billion in international investment to build the new Palestinian entity and open an embassy in its new state.”

This should have outraged the Islamic world but it did not. The U.A.E., Oman and Bahrain were present when Trump announced the “peace plan,” standing together with Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu who is not even elected but merely acts as caretaker P.M. The plan is to be “negotiated” in four years but will allow Israel to immediately annex territories supposed to belong to the State of Palestine under the “two-states” status quo recognized by the United Nations.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas from the West Bank didn’t attend the meeting and condemned the “peace plan”; so did people on the streets of West Bank and Gaza Strip. Saudi Arabia “appreciated” it; Qatar “welcomed” it. Egypt didn’t reject it but urged a “thorough examination” of the plan. Turkey and Iran condemned it; Pakistan stuck to the “two-states” solution backing “Palestine’s demand for making Jerusalem the capital of its independent state on the basis of pre-1967 borders.”

The Mideast reaction goes back to the Arab-Israeli war of 1967, which the Arabs lost to Israel letting it occupy more territories than it already had. Arab dictators thought they could legitimize their rule at home by getting together and defeating Israel. The post-1967 phase was of covert “self-discovery,” which was mostly based on realism about the “quality of Arab manpower” and “quality of war technology” in possession of the Arab states. As the Muslim societies evolved, the tendency was to move from progressive radicalism to religion. Religion was supposed to “unite” the states separated (sic!) by “Arab nationalism.”

Today, Saudi Arabia and its friendly Arab states like the U.A.E. feel insecure, not so much from Israel as from “brother” Arab and Islamic states. Bothered by the radical power of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt the Saudis moved closer to Israel and supported the military takeover of Egypt, which actually “recognizes” Israel since the “peace” it embraced after the defeat of 1967 in which it suffered more than the other Arabs in the war coalition. In the Sunni-Shia sectarian confrontation in the region, the Arabs seek the protection of the United States against the more powerful state of Iran. The U.S. defeated Imam Khomeini’s assault across the Gulf when it downed an Iranian airliner in 1988. In recent times, the U.S. prevented the “Shia arc” from dominating the region from Iraq to Yemen by killing Iranian commander, Qassem Soleimani, in Iraq.

Pakistan has stood by its Arab brothers-in-faith on the question of Palestine. It occupies an ambivalent position between Saudi Arabia, with which it has a defense accord, and Iran. Since Pakistan’s foreign policy is dominated by its championship of the rights of the Kashmiris in India and the Kashmir dispute with India, it is often perturbed by the Arabs leaning increasingly in favor of India. India doesn’t offend the Islamic world by recognizing Israel and benefiting from the “transfer of useful war technology” from it while Pakistan is restrained by its concern for the Arabs in general and the Palestinians in particular.

Today, Turkey is being ruled by an Islamist party and President Erdogan is clearly leading the anti-Israel lobby together with Iran. But it was not always so. Turkey as a secular state recognized Israel in 1949 and “modernized” itself through “transfer of technology” like India. In 1996 the two countries signed an agreement providing for cooperation in a variety of defense-related areas, including exchange of military visits, joint training exercises; sharing of intelligence and military know-how; Turkish participation in the manufacture of aircraft, missiles, and other weapons, etc.

A paradigm shift in India-Israel ties came in July 2017 when Prime Minister Narendra Modi went on a state visit to Israel, becoming the first Indian prime minister to do so. The two countries have since elevated their ties to a strategic partnership; a pillar of this relationship is defense. This is rooted in their respective national interests: India’s long-sought goals of military modernization, and Israel’s comparative advantage in commercializing its arms industries. Although the ambit of India-Israel defense cooperation has widened more recently, Israeli arms sales to India continue to be the cornerstone.

The Observer Research Foundation had this to say in September 2019: “This year Israel exported weapons valued at 3.4 billion French francs and contracted to modernize 54 Turkish Phantom and 48 F-5 warplanes at a cost of $700 million. The planned modernization was to include structural improvements, installation of radar systems, computerized aeronautical and navigation systems, electronic warfare capability, and armaments to improve the planes’ bombing performance. The contract was to run until 2008.”

Pakistani ambassadors serving in the United States have at times recommended recognizing the state of Israel in light of the “realism” which has guided India vis-à-vis Israel “without offending the Arabs.” Iran may be dead-set in its opposition to Israel—it funds Hamas and helps the Palestinians financially—but it doesn’t mind India’s contacts with Israel. India’s growing economic contacts with Iran—before the recent sanctions cooled them a bit—have been seen in Islamabad-Rawalpindi as being to the disadvantage of Pakistan. In fact, these contacts also matter little in the eyes of Pakistan’s Arab “brotherly” states in the Middle East.

Pakistanis are offended by the way the Arabs are going soft on Israel but soon Islamabad will realize that staying out of the new “consensus” on Israel will be to its disadvantage. President Trump’s “triumphant” diplomacy of the “peace plan” in the Middle East will be accepted gradually in the European Union, followed by such “realistic” powers as China—which already benefits from “technologies” from Israel—and the states of Southeast Asia.

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