by Claude Salhani —
US President Donald Trump’s Middle East initiative with plans of “new parameters” is nothing short of a recipe for disaster.
Dozens of experienced diplomats and negotiators with proven track records from Northern Ireland to the former republics of Yugoslavia have come up short in addressing the Middle East peace process and the Israeli-Palestinian debacle.
But Trump has infuriated the Palestinians and much of the Arab world with unilateral and one-sided decisions. His moves included moving the US Embassy to Jerusalem, withdrawing funds essential to maintaining US health and education programmes for the children of Palestinian refugees and recognising the Golan Heights as “Israeli territory.”
Trump is so convinced that he can succeed where others have failed that he flaunts an intent to introduce “new parameters” because the old ones did not work.
Experienced Middle East hands worry about the Trump team’s lack of experience in diplomacy and complex negotiations in one of the most volatile regions of the world. In that respect, they are all amateurs. Key members of his diplomatic team may be evangelically passionate about the Middle East but have little experience dealing with its complexities.
The trouble with amateurs versus professionals is that the former believe they can do better than people with decades of experience. They look at the hard-earned years of experience acquired by those with knowledge as a handicap rather than an asset.
Case in point: the Trump administration and its handling of the Middle East peace process. Long-time observers of the Middle East are to be excused if they express scepticism about US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s expressed intent to look for peace outside the “old parameters.”
If by “new parameters,” he means adopting unilateral steps such as those outlined above, then I fear that we are in for a rough ride.
Trump’s decision on the Golan goes counter to the rest of the international community with a UN Security Council resolution supporting opposing Israeli occupation of the Golan and of which the United States is a signatory.
UN Security Council Resolution 497 declared that the Israeli Golan Heights Law, which effectively annexed the Golan Heights, is “null and void and without international legal effect” and called on Israel to rescind its action. The resolution was adopted unanimously, including by the United States, on December 17, 1981.
Trump may well declare the Golan to be Israeli all he wants, the reality of the matter is that the Golan is Syrian and it’s not up to the United States or Israel to decide otherwise.
Never since the beginning of the Israeli-Palestinian crisis have Palestinians’ rights been so trampled. While Washington’s pro-Israel stance was generally accepted in the Arab world, though not without gripe, the United States was still regarded by many as the only power capable of being a credible mediator in the region.
The Trump administration’s recent decisions were a break with the “old parameters,” which had preserved minimum arrangements and safeguarded the impression that the United States could be an honest broker. With this type of thinking outside the box, it is not hard to imagine Middle East diplomats nostalgic for the days the United States used to work inside the box.
After the brash calls from the sidelines, there is wariness in the region and among the Middle East old hands that the new parameters may vindicate the worldview of Islamist radicals and Iranian demagogues who expect only hostility and unfairness from the West.
What’s the new in the new peace plan? Huge territorial swaps or population transfers? A new Sykes-Picot agreement?
Toying with borders and the re-engineering of reality, even when the people affected are too weak, only breeds new crises and wars.
For any agreement to overcome the mistrust that permeates the Middle East and to stand even a razor-thin chance of success there is an absolute necessity of having a minimum of conditions met before any conference can be convened.
How will the Trump administration stand on the key issues that it rejects as “old parameters that never worked?” Even with the prayers of his key evangelical aides, Trump would need more than a miracle in the Holy Land to avoid messing up an already messy situation in the Middle East.