Charles Krauthammer: Why Middle East Peace Starts In Saudi Arabia


Trump backed away from past policy when he met Bahraini King Hamad in Riyadh at the weekend, saying: "Our countries have a wonderful relationship together, but there has been a little strain, but there won't be strain with this administration". None of Trump's predecessors has had that kind of power and Trump has even less. We will have to see. That's why they are beating a path to Israel's door notwithstanding the status of Palestinians.

That would suggest an outside-in approach to Arab-Israeli peace: a rapprochement between the Sunni state and Israel (the outside) would put pressure on the Palestinians to come to terms (the inside).

Clashes broke out between Palestinian protesters and Israeli security forces on Wednesday as Israeli demonstrators marched through the Old City of Jerusalem to mark the 50th anniversary of Israel's capture of the city's eastern half. Tillerson's statement is a particularly incoherent version of the view, often expressed by the Obama administration but not confined to it, that the Israeli-Palestinian impasse is the source of the difficulties that plague the wider region. Not surprisingly, the Israeli prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, is promoting the idea of peace between Israel and its Arab neighbors, as well as the Palestinians, "because of the common danger that the Arab world and Israel face from Iran". In his final address, Trump said again that the Palestinians and the Israelis were ready for peace.

Yet, USA Today omitted US and Israeli offers for a "two-state solution" in exchange for peace with, and recognition of, the Jewish state. Further, the U.S. leader did not bring up the issue of sovereignty over the city of Jerusalem, which both Israel and the Palestinians claim as their capital.

Among other measures, Trump could have asked Netanyahu to release some Palestinians prisoners, allow for freer movement of Palestinians, and open the door for mutual tourism.

PA President Mahmoud Abbas rejected this plan "out of hand", and literally failed to call Israeli negotiators back. Most importantly, Trump demonstrated that, with the enthusiastic support of key partners in the region, he was going to re-orient the U.S. position on Iran to one of much greater belligerence.

In its official itinerary for Trump's visit to Israel and the disputed territories, the White House referred to Abbas as the leader of "Palestine", which could be construed as a form of recognition of an independent Palestinian state.

Iran, like most large countries, has many conflicting political trends, and with careful selection and enough ill-will you can find enough extreme and ignorant comments to demonize the country. They didn't. On the contrary, the cash payments and the lifting of economic sanctions - Tehran's reward for the nuclear deal - have only given its geopolitical thrusts more power and reach.

If George W. Bush leaned too far toward democracy promotion, then Trump's more neutral stance may not have given Middle East moderates or liberals much to build upon. Israel and the Arab states have for several years been collaborating strategically by sharing intelligence and developing clandestine security cooperation to stop Iran from realizing its regional objectives. But changing the "culture of death" among the region's extremists - e.g., al-Qaeda and the Islamic State - is not a task that non-Muslim nations can effectively take on.

This toxic historical myth-making does not deter Trump. Tehran has been complying to all the provisions of the nuclear deal and it has just reelected President Rouhani, who is moderate and expressed on many occasions that he wants improve relations with the U.S. and the Arab states.

With this gesture, President Trump buried years of diplomatic maneuvering to deny the Jewish connection to Jerusalem and the Temple, which is a synecdoche for the Jewish presence in the Holy Land.

Previous U.S. presidents, including Bush and Barack Obama, had urged Arab and Muslim leaders to adopt political reforms and respect human rights.

The hunger strike of the Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails, which entered its 39 day, remained a top front page story in the three dailies.