On the subject of the Trump Mideast Peace Plan, I agree with both The Economist which says, “as a blueprint for a two-state solution it was dead on arrival,” and with the Globe and Mail‘s Mark MacKinnon who writes that “President Donald Trump’s Middle East peace plan … aims to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict almost completely on Israel’s terms …[and, while] … Mr. Trump’s allegiances came as no surprise … [to the Palestinian leaders, but] … some of [their] bitterness was reserved for the leaders of Arab states that Palestinians see as quietly going along with the designs of the U.S. President and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.“
I think that is because President Trump, and much of the world, has lost patience with the Palestinians who still demand a right of return that, if ever seriously considered by anyone, would destroy Israel. Only Iran really wants that.
The strategic situation in the region, indeed in the entire Islamic Crescent which stretches from Mauritania and Morocco on the Atlantic coast of West Africa to Indonesia in East Asia, has changed in the past 70 years. There is no longer a unified Muslim ‘world’ that opposes the very existence of a Jewish state in the Middle East. Indeed, a few Arab and Islamic states have correct, even friendly relations with Israel and others trade with the Jewish state (without having diplomatic relations) to their mutual advantage. The current problems in the region are centred on a power struggle between the Shia Islamic community, centred in Iran and the larger but socially and politically fragmented Sunni Islamic community …
… the differences are more than just religious. Iran, backed by China and Russia, and Saudi Arabia, backed by the USA, are engaged in something close to a real shooting war while Egypt and Turkey egg them both on. All four have some claim to dominance in the region …
… and none is a real “friend” to any of the others and none gives a damn about Palestine or the Palestinian people.
Starting back in the late 1960s and into the 1970s ’80s, Yasser Arafat built a Palestinian resistance movement (Fatah ~ فتح) which was (and remains) deeply anti-Zionist and which secured a lot of popular support throughout the Islamic Crescent and in Europe and America, too. The Cold War was raging and he was fairly explicitly aligned with the Soviet block and against America, but the Euro-America left embraced him and his message that Israel, aided by America, was a bully. He waged a highly successful propaganda war, funded by Arab oil money, which effectively countered Israel’s own campaign which, up until about 1968, had made the Jewish state very popular in Europe and America. After Golda Meir, Israel’s leaders became less and less popular; the Western media became, broadly and generally, less enthralled with Israel and much more sympathetic to Arafat’s well-crafted message. The Israelis, however, became and remain a strategic (military) and socio-economic powerhouse having both nuclear weapons and one of the worlds most successful education systems.
Then, everything changed in 1979 ~ the Iran hostage crisis. Public support for the Arabs fell away and public support for Israel, which had received much sympathy after the 1972 Munich massacre, grew and people began to understand that Arab terrorism, as it was then labelled, was real and had a global reach.
Then, everything changed again when, in 1991, Iraq (Saddam Hussein) invaded Kuwait. The whole world watched the war unfold, live, on their TV screens ~ ⇐ the image on the left is dated 16 January 1991. They saw militant Arab nationalism turn into aggressive war and they saw America rush, very effectively, to the aid of a beleaguered victim state and then conduct a military operation with speed, violence but, also, great restraint.
And then it all changed again, on 11 September 2001, when Islamic terrorists, led by Osama bin Laden, based in Afghanistan and financed, in the main by Saudi Arabians…
… launched an attack on America, itself. No matter what one might think about America’s response, which involved Canada and which cost us dearly in blood and treasure, the whole world, including the peoples (the plural matters ~ the Muslims in Malaysia are markedly different, in almost every way, from the Muslims of Egypt or Saudi Arabia) of the Islamic Crescent saw that Osama in Laden had done something that had eluded Americans since the 1950s; he united the American people and, indeed, the peoples of much of the West, behind one great cause: destroying Islamic terrorism. The world may have failed in that cause, but the key message was not lost on the Arabs. Muslim leaders, moderate, even very pro-Western leaders, like the estimable King Abdulla II of Jordan, and fundamentalist Islamists like the late Kings Fahd and Abdullah of Saudi Arabia, alike, saw that the West no longer cared about Palestine. Oil still mattered and Western grand strategy was now focused on making the entire Islamic Crescent safer for the US-led West.
That last big change provided an opportunity for Saudi Arabia to engage against Iran ~ almost the last really militant anti-Western state in the region.
But, the issue of the Palestinians remains unsettled and any peace plan is “dead in the water” until some sort of meaningful solution is found to their plight. They are right to understand that their former friends in, especially, the Sunni Islamic Middle East have, by and large, abandoned them. Millions of Palestinians remain stateless and about 1.5 million, the UN says, are in 58 refugee camps in Jordan, Lebanon and Syria and in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank, including East Jerusalem. Anyone who remembers September 1970, Black September as it is now called, as I do, will understand why Jordan does not want many Palestinians within its borders. My own, dated and limited, knowledge of the Palestinians is that they are a ‘modern,’ moderate, well educated, and entrepreneurial society. Their natural home is in Gaza and on the West Bank … what’s left of it, anyway …
… is that sufficient for 5 million people? Yes, with a bit of Israeli generosity (which is in short supply, right now, with Netanyahu, but may become somewhat more plentiful if retired general and now politician Benny Grantz is elected to be prime minister) and a lot of Isreali political and technical help. There is no reason why a Palestinian state cannot survive and prosper given decent local leadership, some Israeli goodwill and some Western economic and political support.
President Trump has done a big political favour for Benjamin Netanyahu … but, ultimately it is probably pointless, and he and his successor and her (or his) successor, too, will likely still be seized with this issue in 2025 and 2030 and beyond.
Eventually, a solution will be found … it will, I suspect, involve Israel ceding a bit of territory to a new Palestinians state and, perhaps, establishing some sort of controlled, limited access corridor from the West Bank, possibly across the Northern Negev Desert. More importantly, it will involve Israel and Jordan, working in tandem, helping the new state to grow and prosper and live in peace with its neighbours. It’s a dream, of course, but it’s better, better for everyone, than is another war.