I’ve always been one to encourage people to think outside the box. If there ever was a box encasing how we thought about the Middle East, it was the Two-State solution. Israel and the Arabs living in most of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip would make peace allowing for a Palestinian State. For decades we encouraged the Israelis to make concessions to achieve this goal. Over the years, Israel made offers only to be violently rebuffed. Now, Gaza is ruled by Hamas, while the Palestinian Authority controls the West Bank. Neither has held any recent elections. Who exactly is Israel supposed to negotiate with? The impasse continued through the decades without progress. Our Foreign Policy establishment could never find any way out of the Two-State Box.
Enter Donald Trump and his son-in-law Jared Kushner. While the previous Obama administration clung to the Two-State solution with a seeming list towards the Palestinians, the Orthodox Jewish Kushner was bound to see things in a different light. Given the close familial relationship, President Trump would look at the problem with fresh eyes. The break with conventional thinking first became evident when we moved our embassy to Jerusalem. The Foreign Policy establishment predicted all hell would break loose. The whole Muslim World would react violently. It didn’t. The establishment will never forgive Trump for exposing them.
I had thought a tacit alliance between Israel and the Kurds with U.S. backing might provide balance to the Middle East. While the anti-Israel Sunnis and Shia duked it out, the U.S. from a Kurdistan base could have a decisive influence. This made sense when I proposed it years ago, but the whole landscape has changed.
With the size and population akin to Maricopa County, Arizona, Israel never was a major threat to its neighbors. It just was a political rally point for Muslims. Awash with oil money, they had no need of anything from Israel. Death to the Jews and drive them into the sea played well at home.
How times have changed. Faced with a highly aggressive Shia clerical regime in Iran simultaneously, the energy markets face massive change. The Arab world isn’t the same. Formerly able to buy off the populous with oil money, they now have to find a way to join the modern world while holding off Iran. Suddenly, Israel looks a lot better. Iran is a common foe. Though small, the Jewish state packs plenty of military muscle.
Even more important, it’s a window through which the Arabs can gain Technology. Trade, investment, and cross-development can boost them without the fear of domination. The Jews only want friendly relations with their neighbors.
The Sunni-Shia animosity and fracking were well known during the Obama administration, yet Mideast Policy never acknowledged the changes. If anything, Obama seemed to favor Iranian area dominance. Drawing a Red Line in Syria over chemical weapons and then failing to stand up lost credibility with everyone. Inadvertently, he made an Israeli Sunni common cause a matter of survival.
Instead of being weighed down by decades of failed dogma, Trump was able to see things as they actually were. Something eluding administration after administration, real peace between Arabs and Israelis was possible. No, Donald Trump will never get a Noble Peace Prize. The world elite would never stand for that. Still, it shows what a fresh look at facts actually are rather than how they were in the past, made for a very promising change.
There is still much work to do in the Middle East. Modernizing Arab Nations will have to change their strict immigration rules. Attracting and retaining skilled people with no chance of citizenship is already a problem. It will only grow worse if not addressed. Relying on Israel for modernizing looks attractive because Israelis would be reluctant to seek citizenship in Muslim countries.
The Gulf nations have long depended on outside workers to sustain their economies. From construction to banking, these workers, while necessary, have no ability to obtain citizenship in the host countries. I pointed out how Palestinians worked in other Arab nations but were denied permanent residence, let alone citizenship. A rising population with little future at home, there was no safety valve. No wonder the situation was so explosive over the years.
Encouraging educated Palestinians to emigrate would help build modern economies in the host nations. A compromise of permanent residency with property rights, while retaining Palestinian Citizenship might be a boon to everyone.
The Middle East is still far from a peaceful neighborhood. Still, thanks to the Trump Administration’s efforts, there might be some light at the end of a long, long tunnel. I still think maintaining a solid relationship with the Kurds would be to our benefit. Walking away from those who did the bulk of fighting Isis isn’t a good way to inspire Trust. One thing needed to keep the ball rolling in the Middle East is trust. Nobel Peace prize winner Obama undermined trust in the U.S. with his hasty Iraq withdrawal and meaningless red lines. Still, Trump has a chance to restore it by making clear what we will and won’t do I the area.
Donald Trump has been accused of upsetting our close allies by calling them out on defense spending, trade, and actions. Maybe leveling with them may ultimately result in more honest relationships. Taking a different path in the Middle East looks as if it will bear fruit. Maybe it will work elsewhere. The foreign policy elite loudly object, but what did they ever accomplish?