In 2016, Secretary of State John Kerry said “No. No, no and no … There will be no advance and separate peace with the Arab world without the Palestinian process and Palestinian peace.” Now, after a flurry of peace treaties in the Middle East, it appears that Kerry’s prediction didn’t age well. How was President Donald Trump able to do what all the so-called experts said was impossible?
The Open-Wound Strategy
In a brief few years after World War II, Jews garnered a burst of sympathy, even from the left, because of the Holocaust atrocities. During this period, the causes of Middle East conflict were well-understood and widely reported in an accurate way in the media.
When the state of Israel was created on May 14, 1948, seven Arab nations invaded the country to exterminate what they called “the Zionist entity.” These were Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Iraq, Lebanon, Syria, Transjordan, and Yemen. Against all the odds, Israel won.
Rather than accepting defeat, the Arab nations pursued what was called an “open-wound strategy,” which consisted of keeping Palestinian Arabs in a perpetual state of captivity in “refugee camps” in Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, Egypt, and Iraq to use them as weapons against Israel.
The Arab neighbors didn’t give the refugees citizenship in Arab countries and refused to integrate them, not allowing them to work or get an education. Whenever they asked for citizenship, the Palestinians always got the same answer: You can have citizenship in your own land when the Zionist entity is destroyed.
However, as the newly created state of Israel began to thrive, the left’s natural antagonism toward the successful and affinity for the weak led them in an ever more anti-Israeli direction. The Palestinians’ plight rose to the top of their list of concerns. Their suffering’s original causes were forgotten and suppressed in favor of a new narrative: the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The Arab nations faded into the background, although they remained the moral, political, and financial engine behind the war.
The Right Timing
Enter Trump. Like most well-educated Jews, Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner likely knows the above history well. The odds are that he has thoroughly informed the president about the conflict. If so, Trump understands Kerry got it precisely backward: There will be no Palestinian peace without a broader Arab-Israeli peace. Only if the Palestinians lose their moral, political, and financial support for warfare from the Arab nations will they be sufficiently motivated to seek a peaceable agreement.
Trump came to power at a time when many favorable factors for peace aligned. With his weak response to ISIS and the Iran deal, President Barack Obama shifted the regional power dramatically away from the Arab League nations. Suddenly, Saudi Arabia and the other Gulf nations faced ISIS in Syria and Iraq, as well as Iran-sponsored war in Yemen.
Simultaneously, by removing Obama’s ban on fracking, Trump made the U.S. energy independent for the first time in 75 years. America no longer needed the Gulf nations. This radically shifted the negotiation cards in Trump’s favor.
Saudi Arabia now knows that its oil hegemony is sunsetting and that it will have to survive by other means in the near future. The Gulf nations need stability in the Middle East to create the economic environment necessary for prosperity after the oil era.
Creating Peace From Strength
Trump proved to the Arab nations that he was everything that Obama was not: decisive and ruthlessly effective while willing to negotiate. By wiping out ISIS and killing Iran’s top military leader Qassem Suleimani, Trump showed that he had the moral courage to risk a war with Iran.
He also moved the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem and recognized the Golan Heights as Israeli territory. By doing so, he gained the trust of Israel and proved to the Arab nations that he was a pillar of strength, which is the coin of the realm in the Middle East.
Trump then did what he usually does: make an asset out of thin air. In this case, he used it to create peace in the Middle East. Equipped with the knowledge of the region’s power dynamics, he knew that peace with Palestinians was not necessary to make progress.
Testing the Waters
Bahrain is a close ally of Saudi Arabia, and it is almost unthinkable that it would sign the Abraham Accord without the consent of its large next-door neighbor. The normalization between Israel and Bahrain also involves flights between the two countries that cross Saudi air space.
All of this indicates that a regionwide peace treaty, normalization of relations, and recognition of Israel are in the pipeline. If that happens, the Palestinians will suddenly be interested in joining the party.
As unbelievable as it sounds, peace might suddenly break out in the Middle East, and it is hard to think of any other president under which this would have been possible.
Read more from Onar Åm.
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