Middle East Peace Starts in Saudi Arabia
May 26, 2017
quixotic American pursuit of Middle East peace is a perennial. It invariably
fails, yet every administration feels compelled to give it a try. The Trump
administration is no different.
will fail as well. To be sure, no great harm has, as yet, come from President
Trump’s enthusiasm for what would be “the
ultimate deal.” It will, however, distract and detract from remarkable
progress being made elsewhere in the Middle East.
progress began with Trump’s trip
to Saudi Arabia, the first of his presidency — an unmistakable declaration
of a radical reorientation of U.S. policy in the region. Message: The
appeasement of Iran is over.
toward Iran in the great Muslim civil war between Shiite Iran and Sunni
Arabs led by Saudi Arabia was his reach for Nixon-to-China glory. It ended
idea that the nuclear deal would make Iran more moderate has proved
spectacularly wrong, as demonstrated by its defiant ballistic
missile launches, its indispensable support for the genocidal Assad regime
in Syria, its backing
of the Houthi insurgency in Yemen, its worldwide support for terrorism,
its relentless anti-Americanism and commitment to the annihilation of Israel.
aggressions were supposed to abate. 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.
reversal has now begun. The first act was Trump’s Riyadh
address to about 50 Muslim states (the overwhelming majority of them
Sunni) signaling a wide Islamic alliance committed to resisting Iran and willing
to cast its lot with the American side.
was objective No. 1. The other was to turn the Sunni powers against Sunni
terrorism. The Islamic State is Sunni. Al-Qaeda is Sunni. Fifteen of the 9/11
hijackers were Saudi. And the spread of Saudi-funded madrassas around the world
has for decades inculcated a poisonous Wahhabism that has fueled Islamist
Arabia and the other Gulf states publicly declaring war on their bastard
terrorist child is significant. As is their
pledge not to tolerate any semiofficial support or private donations.
And their opening during the summit of an anti-terrorism center in Riyadh.
eight years of U.S. policy hovering between neglect and betrayal, the Sunni
Arabs are relieved to have America back. A salutary side effect is the
possibility of a detente with Israel.
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). It’s a long-shot strategy but
it’s better than all the others. Unfortunately, Trump muddied
the waters a bit in Israel by at times reverting to the opposite
strategy — the inside-out — by saying that an Israeli-Palestinian deal would
“begin a process of peace all throughout the Middle East.”
is well-worn nonsense. Imagine if Israel disappeared tomorrow in an earthquake.
Does that end the civil war in Syria? The instability in Iraq? The fighting in
Yemen? Does it change anything of consequence amid the intra-Arab chaos? Of
apart from being delusional, the inside-out strategy is at present impossible.
Palestinian leadership is both hopelessly weak and irredeemably rejectionist.
Until it is prepared to accept the legitimacy of the Jewish state — which it
has never done in the 100 years since the Balfour Declaration committed Britain
(and later the
League of Nations) to a Jewish homeland in Palestine — there will be no
may come one day. But not now. Which is why making the Israel-Palestinian issue
central, rather than peripheral, to the epic Sunni-Shiite war shaking the Middle
East today is a serious tactical mistake. It subjects any now-possible
reconciliation between Israel and the Arab states to a Palestinian veto.
the Iranian threat that grew under Obama offers a unique opportunity for
U.S.-Arab and even Israeli-Arab cooperation. Over time, such cooperation could
gradually acclimate Arab peoples to a nonbelligerent stance toward Israel. Which
might in turn help persuade the Palestinians to make some concessions before
their fellow Arabs finally tire of the Palestinians’ century of rejectionism.
that will require a peace process of sorts. No great harm, as long as we
remember that any such Israeli-Palestinian talks are for show — until
conditions are one day ripe for peace.
the meantime, the real action is on the anti-Iranian and anti-terrorism fronts.
Don’t let Oslo-like mirages get in the way.