Trump’s accords were smoke and mirrors


Photo by Sander Crombach on Unsplash


“What the country needs is dirtier fingernails and cleaner minds”
– Will Rogers

Like almost everything else Donald Trump did, the Abraham Accords were about smoke and mirrors.

Back in September, the then president was proclaiming “the dawn of a new Middle East”. The rather grandly named Abraham Accords were supposed to cement new bonds of goodwill and neighbourliness between Israel and the UAE and Bahrain. This would finally, Mr Trump declared, following the reality TV show script he normally used for presidential business, be “the foundation for a comprehensive peace across the entire region”.

Eight months later, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is at its most bitter and bloody point in nearly a decade.

Was there a problem somewhere, both in rhetorical and real terms?

Well, of course.

The idea of negating the Palestinians altogether – reducing their claims, their requests, the reality that they even exist – was never going to work. Promoting Israel’s relationship with Gulf Arab states would work, for sure, but not enough to sweep away the inherent tensions in the power dynamic in the neighbourhood.

While it could be said to be smart of Mr Trump (if not particularly humane, ethical or just) to use Arab leaders’ declining interest in supporting the Palestinians to his own ends, that wouldn’t zero out the Palestinian presence – physical, emotional, familial – in the region.

That Gulf Arab leaders were exasperated by their Palestinian counterparts is true. That their populations remain emotionally tied to the Palestinian issue is also true. You can ignore the Palestinian leadership but not erase the Palestinian issue from the regional and international score card altogether. Mr Trump’s attempt to do so encouraged extremist viewpoints in Israel and what we’re seeing right now, according to some, may be the tragic result of that.

The NYT recently quoted former Obama administration official Ilan Goldenberg’s admission that clashes between Israel and the Palestinians also broke out when more even-handed Democratic administrations were in power in the US. But, he said, the current internecine violence within Israel “at least partially is driven by the fact that the Trump administration supported extremist elements in Israel every step of the way”.

Let’s remember how Mr Trump emboldened those elements.  His administration changed policy and said Israeli settlements in the West Bank would no longer be considered a violation of international law. Mr Trump arrogantly and high-handedly moved the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem even though it was meant to be a final-status issue. Basically, what he allowed the ideologically extreme to believe was that they could do anything, anything at all to Arabs / Palestinians and get away with it.

What you get from all of that is exactly what we’ve been seeing for months and years – more home demolitions, more settlement activity, more aggressive attempts to push out Arabs. And now, we’re seeing more Arab resistance and more rage.

As Paul Rogers, professor at Bradford University’s department of peace studies, has noted on Open Democracy, “Israel should feel safe and secure (with its unassailable army etc)– but in practice it doesn’t. Instead, an apt summary is of a state that is impregnable in its insecurity. It is impregnable in the sense that it cannot be defeated but insecure in that the underlying threats will not go away…”

Tragic, but true.