If a visitor from Mars observed press coverage of President Donald Trump Middle East peace negotiations, he would have heard an amazing tale about Donald Trump’s incompetence and futility of his efforts.
The most experienced negotiator, John Kerry, declared in 2016 “There will be no separate peace between Israel and the Arab world…. No. No, no, and no.”
Infamous for its foresight, especially when it comes to Donald Trump, the Washington Post in September 2019 posted an article “Worst. Negotiator. Ever.” These are just a few examples of an unending barrage of criticism and ridicule by the experts who, with all their sophistication on international affairs, have be proven so demonstrably wrong.
So while Donald Trump is having the last laugh on the verge of closing the greatest peace deal ever, the skeptics are greeting the Israel-UAE-Bahrain peace agreement with outraged disbelief. Unable to comprehend how the “worst negotiator ever” succeeded in three years where his predecessors failed after half of the century, they called it “largely symbolic.”
And it is symbolic indeed, symbolic of Trump’s powerful analytical skills and extraordinary geopolitical intuition.
Trump put American diplomacy on unfamiliar terrain by rejecting accepted diplomatic postulates. The American school of international relations interprets the international order as an expression of goodwill and willingness to compromise. American negotiators believe in reciprocal concessions rather than a unilateral advantage. Despite the colossal failures of Yalta, Korea, and Vietnam, they have never deviated from this dogma.
Trump’s doctrine is diplomacy through strength. He mercilessly exploits his opponents’ vulnerabilities and leverages America’s economic dominance, energy independence, and military strength to intimidate the interlocutors into accepting his terms or suffer the consequences.
Trump rejected the universal wisdom that peace in the region cannot be fostered without addressing the Palestinian issue first. He understood a priori what his precursors should have understood a long time ago — that peace was never relevant to Palestinians’ calculations.
Indeed, the Palestinians have succeeded in turning deadlock into a weapon. The mantra of American diplomats was that every deadlock needs to be broken by a new proposal, the responsibility for which they assumed. That only incentivized the Palestinians to keep raising the ante seeking to siphon more benefits out of the US and Israel.
Given the Palestinians’ intransigence, the negotiators saw the only way to move the process forward to apply pressure on Israel. So every peace agreement that involved new Israeli concessions was loudly celebrated. Some, such as the Oslo Accords, were called “historic” and the participants, Rabin, Peres, and Arafat, shared the Nobel Peace Prize dangerously confusing intent with results.
American and Israeli negotiators operated from flawed preconceptions, had the wrong strategy, and many believed that after fifty anguishing years, peace in the Middle East was beyond human ingenuity.
Trump thought otherwise. He adroitly took advantage of doctrinal differences between Iran’s Shia and the rest of the Middle East Sunni countries. Since the death of Muhammad in 632, those two main branches of Islam, Shiite and Sunnis, have been bitter geopolitical rivals.
Ironically, Obama’s infamous Iran nuclear deal trapped Sunni Arabs between their convictions and their survival. Facing an existential threat from nuclear Iran, they were forced to seek collective security. Since Israel faced the same threat, the common danger could make Arabs and Israelis natural allies.
Furthermore, by the withdrawal from the Iranian deal, Trump assured Sunni Arabs that he is on their side. And a quick eradication of the Caliphate showed that President Trump rejects President Obama’s moralistic rhetoric and could be a reliable partner. Most importantly, America stopped acting as the impartial moral arbiter and threw its weight behind Israel to persuade the Arabs of the futility of continuing hostilities. Trump’s message to the Arab world: join forces with Israel and you get peace, security, and prosperity.
Whether intimidation or persuasion or a simple logic or all of the above, it has worked.
In an article published September 13, 2020, Khalid bin Hamad Al-Malik, editor of the Saudi daily Al-Jazirah, admitted the obvious:
“The Arabs have no option but to normalize [relations] and establish full diplomatic ties with Israel. They tried war and were defeated; they tried hostility towards Israel and gained nothing; they tried to reconcile [with Israel] on their own terms and failed. Finally they tried peace as a way to achieve what they have failed to achieve through war….”
Trump will enter history as the one who has produced political and philosophical evolution in Arab world and constructed a new geopolitical paradigm in the Middle East. The Arab countries have been reduced from the Middle East principal decision makers to a party having maximum influence over decisions essentially made in Washington.