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TGIF: Trump’s Mideast Mission Impossible

by | May 26, 2017

TGIF: Trump’s Mideast Mission Impossible

by | May 26, 2017

By now, comparing someone to the underwear gnomes of South Park fame is trite. Were it not for Donald Trump, I wouldn’t go near it. But I cannot resist because it’s a salient feature of his way of “thinking” — although posing would be the better word here.

Behold: “If Israeli and the Palestinians can make peace, it will begin a process of peace all throughout the Middle East,” he said, adding, with his characteristic precision, that “would be an amazing accomplishment.”

How is that not the gnomes’ business plan to make a killing in the underwear market?

Phase 1. Collect underpants

Phase 2. ?

Phase 3. Profit

Here’s Trump’s version:

Phase 1. Solve the Palestine-Israel conflict

Phase 2. ?

Phase 3. Peace breaks out in the rest of the Middle East

In one respect, Trump’s plan differs from the gnomes’. It implies more question marks.

The first is “if Israeli [sic] and the Palestinians can make peace.” Trump seems to think the differences between the Israelis and Palestinians are like the differences between two parties in a business negotiation. To strike a bargain they just need to find a middle ground that contains enough of what each party wants. The Palestinian-Israeli conflict is rather different. It’s a confrontation between landowners and those who seized and continue to occupy that land.

What does the Art of the Deal have to say about that? (The question is directed to Tony Schwartz, of course, not Donald Trump.)

That’s no exaggeration. ‎As David Ben-Gurion, the Zionist leader who became Israel’s first prime minister, asked, “Why should the Arabs make peace? If I was an Arab leader I would never make terms with Israel. That is natural: …We have come here and stolen their country. Why should they accept that?” (quoted in The Jewish Paradox: A Personal Memoir, by Nahum Goldmann, founder of the World Zionist Congress.)

Most Palestinians and their putative leaders seem willing to forget 1948, when some 750,000 Palestinians were driven from their homes and others massacred, while hundreds of their villages were wiped off the map (the “Nakba,” or disaster) and those who remained were subjected to military rule for almost 20 years, after which they became third-class citizens under civilian rule. The dominant view of Palestinians (including Hamas) today favors a country of their own in the territories conquered and occupied in the 1967 war.

That’s also been acceptable to the Arab governments since the late 1980s; Iran, too, accepts this resolution. The problem is that most Israelis don’t want to give up the West Bank, which they regard as integral to the Land of Israel. The Israeli government has been building Jewish-only towns there and in annexed East Jerusalem for years, which is illegal under international law. Israelis, by and large, don’t want the Palestinians to have their own country, but if they were to get one under the present circumstances, it would be in effect an archipelago of Palestinian towns cut off from one another by Jewish-only settlements and roads and controlled by the Israeli government. Some country that would be. The situation in the Gaza Strip would be even more bizarre since it would be a prison-like enclave with its borders, coast, and external relations totally under the thumb of the Israeli government.

So what would a negotiated settlement look like, considering that the magnanimity of the Palestinians would not be reciprocated? Israel insists that the negotiations have no preconditions, not even the condition that Israel stops building towns on the very land that is to be the subject of the negotiations. Remarkably, the Palestinian leadership reportedly has now agreed not to insist on the cessation of settlement building during the talks. How many concessions must the Palestinians make before talks even begin? (For those who think the United Nations partitioned Palestine into Jewish and Arab countries, see Jeremy R. Hammond’s “The Myth of the U.N. Creation of Israel.”)

Things are further complicated by Israel’s having moved the goalpost. It once demanded recognition of the state of Israel. But once that was obtained, the government of Benjamin Netanyahu added a new demand: recognition of Israel as the state of the Jewish people — not of the Jewish, Muslim, Christian, and secular inhabitants of Israel, mind you, but of all Jews, no matter where they now live. (Until recently, Reform Jews believed that Jews constitute a worldwide religious community, not an ethnic or national group, and hence opposed the idea of a Jewish state. Some Reform and orthodox Jews still believe this.) This designation would jeopardize the already precarious status of Israel’s Palestinian Arab population.

But let’s move on. What then? It’s hard to believe that Trump and his “advisers” actually believe that a Palestine-Israel settlement would bring peace to the whole Middle East. How could they? The hostility of Saudi Arabia and the other Sunni-ruled Gulf States toward Shia Iran has nothing whatever to do with the Palestinians. That hostility is motivated by Muslim sectarianism and sheer power politics. The genocidal war that Saudi Arabia and its coalition are waging against the people of Yemen — made possible by the U.S. government — is aimed at Iran, although the Shia Houthis are not Iranian proxies. So is the war against Bashar al-Assad in Syria. That’s why the Saudis have always had sympathy — and lots of money — for al-Qaeda and the breakaway faction that became the Islamic State. Israel’s rulers, who are now openly aligned with the barbaric Gulf states, also find Iran to be a convenient demon, and the violent Sunni Islamists more to their liking.

Trump’s shameful kowtowing toward the Saudis cannot be squared with what he says about “radical Islam, or what he now calls Islamism. (Has Mr. Politically Incorrect been coopted by political correctness?) Iran opposes the Islamic State and al-Qaeda (which murder Shiites); it’s fighting them both in Iraq and Syria. Yet smarmy Trump went to Saudi Arabia, the incubator and proselytizer of radical Islamism (Wahhabism), rather than to Iran — which, for all its theocratic faults, just reelected a president who looks like a classical liberal next to the head-chopping and misogynists in Saudi Arabia. (We shouldn’t ignore the coming arms sales to Saudi Arabia, which Trump, good military Keynesian that he is, can use to tout his plan to create jobs.)

Looking for logic in Trump is like looking for square circles, so no one should be surprised by his destructive policy. Trump wants to look like a conciliator — maybe he envies Barack Obama for his Nobel Peace Prize — but in fact he backs the worst destabilizers in the Middle East.

About Sheldon Richman

Sheldon Richman is the executive editor of The Libertarian Institute and a contributing editor at He is the former senior editor at the Cato Institute and Institute for Humane Studies; former editor of The Freeman, published by the Foundation for Economic Education; and former vice president at the Future of Freedom Foundation. His latest books are Coming to Palestine and What Social Animals Owe to Each Other.

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