Trump received veteran Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Washington this week. On the surface it was all smiles and friendship after Netanyahu’s “difficult years” with Obama. But not everything went smoothly, and it is appropriate to assess the hidden truths behind the supposedly idyllic meeting.
Sure, it was a meeting between friends. Both are ultra-right-wing, racist nationalists who lie easily. They are demagogues and threaten the future of their respective peoples. Indeed, in the case of the U.S. president, the threat perhaps is global.
Trump arrived at the meeting after having to dismiss the problematic National Security Advisor, General Michael Flynn (esteemed by Netanyahu).
At the happy press conference, the U.S. president played the role of a “friend.” But Trump knows very little about the Middle East conflict and treated poor Netanyahu with condescension, praising him and calling him a person who “knows how to negotiate a deal.”
But before that he told Netanyahu that, in an agreement, both sides must make concessions. And shortly after that, he surprised the premier and the right by asking them to “hold back on settlements for a little bit” in the occupied territories.
And the great U.S. president told the great Israeli prime minister that would be desirable for a great regional agreement. This is extremely interesting. Prior to Netanyahu’s arrival, the Americans received a visit from the king of Jordan and had contacts with Egyptians, Saudis and other Arab diplomats and rulers.
Americans understand what the Israeli prime minister does not want to see happen. For the Arab rulers of the region, the solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is to recognize two states for two people, and it includes a clause even more problematic for Netanyahu: a return to the 1967 borders.
At the press conference Trump said the important thing is to reach an agreement and that it could be two-state or one-state, whatever the parties wanted. But the overtones of friendship cannot conceal a central, often-forgotten factor: Trump is the leader of an imperialist power that has to manage multiple interests and conflicts.
Maybe his secretaries of defense and state, more aware and “articulated,” will explain to Trump what he does not know. For them, the interest in the Middle East is much more complex and expansive than just the vaunted friendship with Israel.
On Thursday, such a high-ranking White House spokesperson as its U.N. ambassador reiterated that the United States continues to support the two-state formula. But the biggest surprise were the words of the ambassador to Israel David Friedman in his Senate confirmation hearing.
Friedman, an American Jew of the extreme right who is associated with various initiatives favoring settlements in the occupied territories and annexation, now declares himself an advocate for the two-state solution and is opposed to annexation.
Both Trump and Netanyahu thundered against “Obama’s terrible mistake: the agreement with Iran,” but they both well know that this rhetoric will not get the agreement cancelled.
Indeed, for Netanyahu, that’s not the point. His interest is rather that Iran’s forces in Syria do not become a threat to Israel and do not come too close to the borders. The point is that the key to restraining Iran in Syria is not in Trump’s hands but Putin’s.
In this general framework, we can try to analyze what’s really happening and where the Middle East is heading by summarizing some key points.
Trump is now considered — justifiably — a danger to the fragile American democracy. The problematic intelligence agencies do not trust him. But the danger is over: The big question is whether Trump, the swashbuckling racist, nationalist and ultra-capitalist can endanger world peace. His cynical calculations of power could lead to situations similar to those of the 1930s, the era of Hitler and Mussolini.
For Israel, the meeting makes the situation worse. The Israeli right now believes it can sell citizens on the annexation so dear to the nationalist and fundamentalist coalition that dominates the country. But polls surprisingly indicate that a majority of Israelis support the two-state solution.
In this context, the ultra-right wants to use the apparent sympathy of racist Trump to continue with the advance of the settlements in the occupied territories. The settlements are not only a way to gain control of Palestinian lands, they are also a source of new obstacles to a possible or theoretical peace. They also increase the possibility of bloodshed.
These are difficult days for the Palestinians in Ramallah. The U.S. signals are not clear, the dialogue with Arab countries isn’t calming anyone and the election in Gaza of a new radical leader worsens relations with Hamas. Yet — we will never stop repeating — without unity among the Palestinians, the chances of a Palestinian-Israeli agreement are very weak.
Indeed, the possibility of addressing Israeli occupying forces is more complicated without Palestinian unity. An impasse could channel despair and hatred into conflict in the near future. In Israel there are ministers who would like to escalate a mini-war with Gaza.
The escalation of conflict could also lead to an increase in individual acts of terrorism, creating more violence than there already is. And once again, you have to wonder: Where are the European voices in favor of actual national rights for the Palestinian people in the name of true peace?
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