LOVE IS IN THE AIR
(with apologies to John Paul Young)
Love is in the air everywhere I look around
Love is in the air every sight and every sound
And I don’t know if I’m being foolish
Don’t know if I’m being wise…….
So things are getting a little clearer after President Trump’s visit to the Middle East, a place by the way he apparently thinks does not include Israel.
On meeting with President Rivlin after arriving on a direct flight from Saudi Arabia, Trump said:
“We just got back from the Middle East”
President Trump either has one hell of a big grand strategy, or no strategy at all.
But really, who cares with all that love – in Saudi Arabia, in Israel, in Jerusalem (a place Trump’s varying spokespeople were not sure was actually in Israel or not) and also in Bethlehem with Abbas.
The love was palpable.
Saudi Arabia could not have done more to welcome Trump. And remember, this was the man who was supposedly anti Muslim. But there was an important change in Trump’s position whilst in Saudi Arabia.
In his determination to call out terrorism, instead of referring to Islam, Trump adopted the Obama line of decrying the role of Islamists and not Islam. A very significant change.
There were some big wins overall as a result of this visit and many things we still do not know the answers to.
1 – On Iran.
Trump has strongly and forcefully expressed his views that Iran is THE central threat – to everyone.
And that’s a big big big win and a significant change from Obama’s policies.
Yet, as former US Ambassador to the UN and erstwhile ardent Trump supporter John Bolton pointed out, the White House decided last week to continue Obama’s waiver of significant economic sanctions against Iran. And this was soon after Secretary of State Tillerson’s April 18th certification that Iran is complying with the 2015 Vienna nuclear agreement.
2 – On Saudi Arabia and the so called moderate Sunni world.
Trump has reintroduced American support for her allies in the battle to keep Iran in check and plainly stood behind the two central and most important American allies in this region – Saudi Arabia (leading a coalition with Egypt and Jordan right up there) and Israel.
Trump has reasserted that the US stands behind her friends and is willing to prove it.
And that’s another big big win and a significant change from Obama’s policies.
However, with all of that sword dancing in Saudi Arabia, we have the arms/economic deal as a two edged sword.
By signing the largest single arms deal in US history with Saudi Arabia, some US$110 billion – that is, larger than any single deal with Israel, or probably with any country – and by dramatically deepening the economic relationship with Saudi Arabia by a further US$250 billion plus with an eye to jobs back home, Trump has raised some plusses and minuses.
Arming the Saudis to enable them to deal with Iran both directly and in their proxy wars is a win for Israel too.
Arming the Saudi’s with such a large number of sophisticated weapons is also an unknown for Israel.
It depends on which direction Saudi weapons will point in the future.
It is also the first time ever that a US President has done such an arms deal with Saudi Arabia without prior consultation with Israel. And without any prior assurance that Israel will keep its qualitative edge.
And that’s a minus.
Still, after all the love in Israel too, what was truly exceptional was that there were almost no complaints from Israel at all about the Saudi deal. Nor about being blindsided by it.
Dramatically increasing the economic interdependence between Saudi Arabia and the US over the next 10 years, begs the question of whether and how such increasing Saudi influence in American life will affect US policies towards Israel in the future.
That could be a win or a loss depending on the Israeli/Saudi relationship down the track.
3 – Israel.
There is no doubt that President Trump convinced the Israeli population that he “has Israel’s back”.
And by showing that and telling that to the world, he closed the distance to zero between Israel and the USA.
And that’s another big big big plus – and a significant change from Obama.
But it will also come with a big price.
And depending on your politics that will either be a win or a loss.
Prime Minister Netanyahu is also a big winner. The master politician has been able to stay PM because in the past he managed to convince the electorate that only he could stand up to Obama and now, that only he is Trump’s best friend.
On Jerusalem, where Trump spent the bulk of his Israel time, there is much confusion. Trump went to extraordinary lengths to demonstrate the Jewish connection to Jerusalem.
Trump, and particularly his team, also went to similar lengths to ensure that no-one could say that the US said or did anything to infer that Jerusalem is under Israeli sovereignty.
The most outstanding example of this was that Trump visited the Kotel with the Kotel Rabbi, but apparently refused permission for the Israeli PM to join him.
And if Trump will not move the US Embassy, at least at this point in time, who will.
So, on Jerusalem it is fair to say there were wins and losses.
Again, with all of that love in the air, anyone and everyone could take positives from any of Trump’s pit stops.
However, on Air Force 1 on their way out of Israel, Secretary of State Tillerson was very clear about the price. He told reporters that:
“There were very substantive discussions in Israel with both PM Netanyahu as well as President Abbas. He (Trump) put a lot of pressure on them that it’s time to get to the table. President Trump was very forceful in his message to both sides that a peace deal will require them to make difficult compromises.”
That has implications for settlements and without being mentioned, the two state solution, which is clearly alive and well in some form.
That is, no real change in US policy.
Another loss for Israel, or at least the position of the Israeli government, was Trump’s statement on the order in which things should proceed.
Instead of the Palestinians being bypassed and trying to go for a regional deal first, as Netanyahu and his coalition were pushing as the major way forward, Trump has resurrected Abbas and the Palestinians to be front and centre. Their situation has become a priority for Trump and the lack of resolution of their situation, a barrier to regional normalisation.
“I am truly hopeful that America can help Israel and the Palestinians forge peace and bring new hope to the region and its people. I also firmly believe that if Israel and the Palestinians can make peace, it can begin a process of peace all throughout the Middle East and that will be an amazing accomplishment.”
Moreover, despite all the evidence to the contrary from Israel, Trump has resurrected Abbas as a “true partner for peace”.
Having won Israelis over and sounding credible when promising Israel greater security, the next step about which there is also no doubt is that when Israelis feel more secure and backed by a true friend, Israel makes greater concessions.
And again, depending on one’s political viewpoint, that is either a plus or a minus.
Trump, having elevated Abbas to a peace partner, has likewise come to the conclusion that Netanyahu is not constrained by political considerations from also making great concessions.
Trump has come away with the view that Netanyahu can easily continue as Prime Minister with the loss of Bennett and the picking up of other coalition partners currently outside the government – either Herzog, Livni or Lapid – or all three.
The Israeli right have painted themselves into a corner on the man they originally hailed as the great savior.
Trump the candidate, was the darling of Israel’s right.
Unless there is yet another change in direction, which could easily occur if Abbas does something to disappoint him, Trump the President, is likely to be the darling of the Israeli centre.
Abba Eban famously said
“the Arabs have never missed an opportunity to miss an opportunity”.
We will see if it is different this time.
Chag Shavuot Sameach.