Disaster in the Desert

Why Trump’s Middle East Plan Can’t Work

Let’s make a deal: Melania Trump, Donald Trump, and King Salman in Riyadh, May 2017 UPI / Alamy Stock Photo

In July 2019, Jason Greenblatt, then U.S. President Donald Trump’s envoy for Israeli-Palestinian negotiations, attended a routine quarterly UN Security Council meeting about the Middle East. Providing an update on the Trump administration’s thinking about the peace process, he pointedly told the surprised audience that the United States no longer respected the “fiction” of an international consensus on the Israeli-Palestinian issue.

Greenblatt went out of his way to attack not some extreme or obscure measure but UN Security Council Resolution 242, the foundation of half a century of Arab-Israeli negotiations and of every agreement Israel has achieved within them, including the peace treaties with Egypt and Jordan. He railed against its ambiguous wording, which has shielded Israel for decades against Arab demands for a full withdrawal from occupied territory, as “tired rhetoric designed to prevent progress and bypass direct negotiations” and claimed that it had hurt rather than helped the chances for real peace in the region.

The indignation was calculated. Guided by his boss Jared Kushner, the president’s son-in-law and senior adviser on the Middle East, Greenblatt was trying to change the conversation, to “start a new, realistic discussion” of the subject. UN resolutions, international law, global consensus—all that was irrelevant. From now on, Washington would no longer advocate a two-state solution to the conflict, with independent Jewish and Palestinian states living alongside each other in peace and security.

Greenblatt’s presentation was part of a broader campaign by the Trump administration to break with the past and create a new Middle Eastern order. To please a president who likes simple, cost-free answers, the administration’s strategists appear to have come up with a clever plan. The United States can continue to withdraw from the region but face no adverse consequences for doing so, because Israel and Saudi Arabia will pick up the slack. Washington will subcontract the job of containing Iran, the principal source of regional instability, to Israel and Saudi Arabia in the Levant and

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