by Claude Salhani
US President Donald Trump’s long-anticipated Middle East peace plan prepared by White House senior adviser and the president’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, is brilliant, if only it were intended for the Europeans in the closing days of WWII and not aimed at pacifying the Middle East today.
Trump and his son-in-law are businessmen and, as such, it is only natural for them to look at the conflict and its solution through a business and financial lens. However, the world of politics is a very different beast than that of bankers, loan managers and real estate moguls and often exists outside the norms of logic or common sense.
That is partially why finding a viable and lasting solution to the Israeli-Palestinian dispute has taken so long and failed in multiple attempts by very capable negotiators to find common ground between the antagonists.
In thinking they can solve the issue by circumventing the political aspect and address the problem by focusing exclusively on the socio-economic issues, reflects the Trump’s administration’s lack of understanding of the scope of the conflict, of its political complexity and of the negative elements that will strive to see any peace initiative that excludes them fail. As may be the case with Iran.
Since the countries of the Middle East obtained independence from colonial powers around the time between the two world wars, there has been an ongoing struggle for political dominance of the region. From the time he assumed power in 1952 and until his death in 1970, it was Egypt’s larger-than-life President Gamal Abdel Nasser who emerged as the uncontested leader of the Arab world.
Since then, and especially following Egypt being shunned by the rest of the Arab world as a result of President Anwar Sadat’s historic visit to Jerusalem and his addressing the Israeli Knesset, the role undertaken by Nasser was left vacant.
For a while, Syria’s Hafez Assad saw himself as the only viable candidate but Damascus got itself involved in too many issues that diverted the struggle to regain occupied Arab lands from Israel. While it is true that Syria once held the key to an eventual resolution to the Middle East crisis, it has to be reminded that a key has a dual function — it can open a door or it can lock it. Syria chose to play hardball and continued to keep the door locked.
In the ensuing events, Syria lost that key and, in the darkest days of its civil war, it lost that privilege to two countries that rushed to its aid, Russia and Iran.
It was revealed several months ago that the Trump administration was preparing an initiative to bring peace to the region. The White House would not release details, saying only that the initiative should be approached with an open mind.
It is official that the White House is convening several Arab countries for a “workshop” June 25-26 in Bahrain, headquarters to the US Navy’s 5th Fleet.
The event is a “workshop,” rather than any of 17 names previously used, such as proposal, resolution, mission, conference, accords, memorandum, summit, initiative and consensus. The main reason is that the invitations have been extended to ministers of finance, rather than foreign ministers.
Indeed, this is a novelty in which peacemaking in the Middle East is concerned. Not having the principals partake in the event — presidents, prime ministers, emirs, et cetera — in case the meeting flops saves the top leadership face.
This is what Kushner and Trump are attempting to establish in the Middle East today. The problem is that the Middle East, as we are aware, is not Europe.
The Israeli-Palestinian conflict that began as a dispute over real estate has over the years morphed into a religious conflict, a conflict of cultures and different political agendas.
Claude Salhani is a regular columnist for The Arab Weekly and a senior fellow at the Institute of World Affairs in Washington, DC.