If Trump loses, his Middle East innovations should stick – opinion

Sustaining this momentum requires active American diplomacy in support of Arab-Israel rapprochement.

PRIME MINISTER Benjamin Netanyahu exposes files that prove Iran’s nuclear program in a press conference in Tel Aviv, in 2018. (photo credit: MIRIAM ALSTER/FLASH90)
PRIME MINISTER Benjamin Netanyahu exposes files that prove Iran’s nuclear program in a press conference in Tel Aviv, in 2018.
(photo credit: MIRIAM ALSTER/FLASH90)
Whether US President Trump is reelected next week or replaced by Joe Biden, many of the Trump administration’s novel Mideast policies should be adopted by the next administration, even if Democratic leaders shrink from crediting Trump for any breakthroughs.
Indeed, while Democrats will never admit it, Trump’s Middle East policy successes can stand the test of time for all parties involved – if they are not recklessly jettisoned out of partisan revenge.
There are three intersecting axes of Mideast policy that must not be abandoned.
The first is the unleashing of a fruitful regional dynamic whereby Arab states are moving to open partnership with Israel on a wide range of issues. Already this has led to three peace agreements (between Israel and the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Sudan). Additional Arab countries should be encouraged to follow suit by any American administration.
Sustaining this momentum requires active American diplomacy in support of Arab-Israel rapprochement, with signals coming from the highest levels in Washington and concrete offers of US aid on the table (yes, including weapons).
It also requires continuing stiff American resolve in opposing Iran’s hegemonic designs in the region. Tenacity is a key ingredient of the glue that brings Sunni Arab states, Israel and the US together. (More on this below).
It also requires resisting the temptation to over-prioritize the Palestinian issue. America must refrain from magnifying Palestinian grievances into the “central issue” in Mideast affairs. It never was, and certainly is not today.
That brings us to second axis of intelligent Mideast policy over the past four years: Treating Palestinians as responsible adults, with no free pass regarding the type of state/s they might establish.
This means expecting the Palestinian governments in Judea, Samaria and Gaza to end their payments to terrorists; disarm terrorist militias; end attempts to brand Israel a war criminal in international courts; end the teaching of genocidal antisemitism in their schools and media; and respect human rights, religious freedoms, and a free press. These are all American principles that must not be soft-pedaled.
It also means attaching a stopwatch to American expectations, making it clear to Palestinians that time is not on their side. America must continue to candidly tell Palestinian leaders that the longer they reject peace with Israel, the less independence they might obtain.
This might nudge Palestinians, inshallah, toward replacement of their rejectionist leaders with men and women who seek peace and prosperity for their people in partnership with Israel. Younger Palestinians must know that the Palestinian national movement will be marginalized in the Arab world and in Western capitals unless they come to the table with new leadership willing to compromise.
For American diplomats to start once again scurrying about the region without pressing such inevitable truths on the Palestinians would be worse than mischievous; it would disastrous. To be overly solicitous of the Palestinians, a long-time mistake of professional peace processors (mostly Democratic peace processors, but also some Republicans from the two Bush presidencies), would be unhelpful in the extreme.
Continuing to dial down Palestinian expectations would be much more constructive. No administration should revert to stale and unworkable formulas based on maximalist Palestinian demands and minimalist regard for Israeli security needs and national-historic claims. I am referring, of course, to discredited formulas involving the uprooting of settlements, Israeli withdrawals from most of Judea and Samaria, and a division of Jerusalem.
REMEMBER, OVER the past 30 years, the United States of America has provided the Palestinians with more financial and humanitarian assistance than any other country in the world. But it has been a bridge to nowhere.
Palestinian leaders corruptly pocketed much of these funds and built little to no infrastructure for the health, economic prosperity and education (including peace education) of the populace they have ruled. Concurrently, they have jacked-up their demands of Israel and their attacks against the US, while partnering with the radical Islamist forces in the region including Iran and Turkey.
The third and perhaps most important plank of US policy over the past four years has been the attempt to truly halt Iran’s advance toward nuclear weapons and its aggressive troublemaking across the region. There should be no more American charity for Iranian lies, including Iran’s vague commitments under the JCPOA agreement negotiated by president Obama and the P5+1; an agreement that took at face value Iranian denials of there being any nuclear-weapons program to worry about.
Two years ago, Israel provided the smoking gun that proved the definite military dimensions of Iran’s nuclear program. The Mossad’s daring raid on an atomic archive in Tehran produced tens of thousands of official Iranian documents that list the people involved in the Iranian nuclear military effort; locations of hidden nuclear development sites; front organizations Iran set up to clandestinely pursue nuclear parts and knowhow within the framework of the deal; Westerners who collaborated in smuggling components for the nuclear military effort; extensive weaponization efforts, and more.
It cannot be expected that a Democratic administration will admit that president Obama was wrong about Iran’s intentions. Democratic foreign policy professionals will never fess up to being duped by Tehran. And because Trump defiantly dumped Obama’s signature foreign policy “achievement,” Obama’s vice president (current Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden) will seek to entice Iran into a renewed accord.
Alluring Iran into renewed talks by lifting some sanctions against it, as opposed to increasing the pressure on Iran through additional sanctions, is probably the wrong way to go. Nevertheless, a new US administration surely will understand that Iran must be forced to relent on several key issues.
These are:
1) A complete end to Iran’s nuclear military program, including all uranium enrichment and plutonium production, with no sunset.
2) A truly intrusive international inspections regime.
3) An end to Iran’s ballistic missile development program.
4) A retreat from the forward bases in Syria that Iran is building to challenge Israel.
5) Full cessation of Iranian financing of Hamas and Hezbollah military capabilities.
Short of this, a new deal with Iran will be perilous and unsustainable.
I also would hope and expect that any administration will continue to back the “war between the wars” – Israel’s covert strikes on Iranian sites in Syria and on nuclear installations in Iran.
Even if there are shades of difference on Mideast policy that naturally emerge from a new US administration, whether Republican or Democratic, the principles described here should survive a transition. I hope they do, because they are in America’s best interests as well as Israel’s.
In these critical matters of Mideast foreign policy and global national security, there ought to be no partisan reprisals at the expense of Israel and other American allies in the region.
The author is vice president of the Jerusalem Institute for Strategy and Security, jiss.org.il. His personal site is davidmweinberg.com.