Saudi Arabia is competing with Iran for regional hegemony, and nuclear-armed Israel treats non-nuclear Iran as an allegedly “existential” threat. Both US allies are already at a fever pitch of anti-Iran mobilization and militarization, so it’s clear that the anti-terrorism focus of Trump’s trip was designed to target Iran as much or more than ISIS. In Trump’s own words in Riyadh, “Islamic terror of all kinds” is the enemy of everyone he met with in Saudi Arabia and in Israel — with room to include both Sunni ISIS and Shi’a Iran. As the Washington Post described it, “Shared hatred for Iran’s Shiite revolutionary government, perhaps even more than terrorism by Sunni Muslim groups such as the Islamic State, is an issue that unites Trump and both of his hosts on the trip so far.”
Consolidating an Israeli role in the mainly Sunni Arab anti-Iran coalition Trump is shaping is one of the key goals of his Tel Aviv junket. That means convincing both sides that their opposition to Iran trumps [ahem] their mutual antagonism. In both Riyadh and Tel Aviv, government officials are eager to quietly build commercial, diplomatic and even strategic ties with each other – Trump’s support could provide political cover for both, against populations massively opposed to such heresy. This set of sequential visits could be step one in that campaign.
The other side of Trump’s visit is linked to his claimed commitment to some new version of an Israeli-Palestinian peace. Just what that “peace” would be based remains a mystery – little that Trump has said or done so far provides any clarity. On one hand his early eagerness to move the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem — in violation of international law and where no other country has an embassy – has disappeared. Also during the visit, Trump’s settlement-backing Ambassador David Friedman, who was perhaps the move-the-embassy campaign’s biggest (or at least loudest) proponent, seems to have been silenced. And someone in the White House did reportedly snap at an Israeli diplomat that the Western Wall, in the occupied Old City of Jerusalem, did not belong to Israel at all.
But on the other hand Trump has provided no indication of what his version of a peace would look like – two-state or otherwise – and has not recognized any actual Palestinian rights, from equality to return to an end to military occupation. More significantly, the most powerful side on the ground has changed not at all. Right-wing prime minister Netanyahu, welcoming Trump at the airport, made clear that his definition of “peace” still requires that “the Jewish state is recognized, security remains in Israel’s hands and the conflict ends once and for all.” He might have been providing an antonym to Dr Martin Luther King’s famous definition of peace – according to Netanyahu, peace apparently is simply the absence of conflict, not the presence of justice.
We haven’t heard yet from Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, who also joined the lavish anti-Iran party welcoming Trump to Saudi Arabia. But according to Middle East Eye, PLO sources indicate that Abbas is prepared to offer a land “swap” with Israel during Trump’s visit, for more than three times earlier offers. Stay tuned.
In the meantime what seems clear is that the “peace” being discussed has little to do with Palestinian rights. Or with justice.