Donald Trump’s new Middle East and his dreams of perpetuation

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Two Arab countries have just normalized relations with Israel, with the blessing of the US president. Trump translates that success as electoral gain. And in the meantime, he suggests, a la Chávez or Evo Morales, his right not only to win in November but to seek a third consecutive term, even if the Constitution prohibits it.

During the week that ends, there were two important anniversaries in history around the chronic crisis in the Middle East, which became another link in President Donald Trump’s personalist and electoral agenda. Lately, confident not only that everything contributes to winning in November, but, as an unexpected imitation of Hugo Chávez or Evo Morales, to seek a third successive term, even if prohibited by the Constitution. But let’s go in parts.

Last Thursday the 17th marked the 42nd anniversary of the Camp David agreements signed by the then President of Egypt Anwar el-Sadat and the Israeli Prime Minister Menáchem Begin. It was the result of a key mutation in the middle of the Cold War. El-Sadat succeeded the late Gamal Abdel Nasser and turned from the Soviet orbit to the western one, which motorized the approach with Israel. Egypt thus became the first country in the Arab space to normalized relations with the Hebrew state. Then Jordan would follow, much later, in 1994.

The other anniversary took place last Sunday the 13th, on the 27th anniversary of the signing of the historic Oslo accords signed at the White House by Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat and Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin. These agreements, which motivated a strong internal within the Palestinian community, including criticism from leading figures such as the intellectual Edward Said, granted administrative and security powers in certain sectors of the occupied territories to the political structure headed by Arafat from Ramallah. Before and after Arab and Jewish extremism, in each case, El-Sadat and Rabin were never forgiven for their negotiating audacity. The Egyptian leader was assassinated in 1981, and that shrewd Israeli prime minister was gunned down by an ultra-Orthodox fanatic in November 1995.

These sharp traces of history inevitably flew over the act with pomp and circumstance last Tuesday at the White House in which, under the blessing of Trump, the United Arab Emirates and the small principality of Bahrain, they agreed to establish diplomatic ties with Israel.

This relevant episode, but certainly distant from the size and historical value of those previous chapters, has been the consequence of a handful of overlapping objectives, including enhancing the electoral image of the president, of course. But the main, really strategic, points to the creation of an Arab Sunni barrier hugging Israel to limit Iran’s influence, the common adversary of all these players, particularly Saudi Arabia, the biggest contender against Tehran in the bid for supremacy over the Muslim world.

This geopolitical movement overshadows the symbolic value of the Palestinian cause which has been based on the Arab neighborhood alliance against Israel. But regarding Iran, it would reveal that despite multiplied US sanctions the Persian power could not be annulled. This finding does not imply that Iran is triumphing. The Persian power, despite being part of the winning triad of the war in Syria with Russia and Turkey, is going through one of its worst crises since the birth of the Islamic Revolution in 1979.

Western hardships multiplied social tensions in a country with a large frustrated young population, beset by the pandemic and with an intern at the top of power among ultra-nationalists and moderates led by President Hasan Rohani, who had negotiated with the US. Barack Obama’s US paralyze its nuclear structure. One step, that one, celebrated by crowds in Iran because it implied the opening to investments, which finally never came to be definitively blocked since Trump came to power and turned that historic agreement into a dead letter.

All these events have called into question the meaning of the format of the Islamic Revolution, sustained in a senile aristocracy and in need of modernity. Thus, the Persian autocracy suffers a significant drop in its prestige beyond Syria, on the borders where its cultural influence has been preponderant, in Iraq and Lebanon, the countries that have made its way to the Mediterranean. The uprisings of indignant last year in those two nations by the economic crisis and rampant corruption, added from the streets the repudiation of Iran’s hand in those confinements. In Lebanon, during those popular rebellions, the pro-Iranian Hezbollah party openly participated in the suppression of protests. Although there is no evidence, some analyst suspects an intrigue behind the tragic explosion of chemical material that shook Beirut in August. That disaster aggravated the social fury that ended up bringing down the government of Prime Minister Hassan Diab, backed by Hezbollah and Tehran, finally replaced by a man from the Saudi line of former Prime Minister Saad Hariri.

Despite this scenario, Iran worries the United States about the strength of its alliances not only with Russia, which was decisive in the turn in the Syrian war, but with China, which intends to strike down the sanctions with a spectacular economic support that it will multiply Beijing’s influence in the region. Two scenarios, one more complex than the other for Washington and that explains the annoyance of the White House by a paradox: Israel has also built a consistent bond with the Asian giant.

The other overlapping importances of these agreements in the White House are the needs of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to show muscle at a time when his personal and political situation due to allegations of corruption continue to haunt him, in addition to the triggering of the pandemic in his country and the popular repudiation that demands his resignation and prosecution. The other guests who celebrate this banquet are the Arab autocrats, even those who have not yet regularized their diplomatic ties with Israel, who now gain the green light to equip themselves with weapons that were previously censored like the F-35 planes that Abu Dhabi has already contracted with the US.

This whole scene excites Trump, who only looks at the November elections, to be able to attest to a diplomatic success within the wasteland that has been his erratic foreign policy. It is clear that this step hardly influences voters. The American Jewish diaspora is traditionally Democratic. The balance would have been higher if Saudi Arabia had sat at that table in the White House gardens and not its Bahrain satellite. But the crown of Riyadh has strong reserves to whitewash its relationship with Israel aware that such a step can destroy its legitimacy, internally and in the Muslim world, which it needs to preserve by keeping alive the Palestinian cause, more important for the Arab bases than for its leaders.

That is why while these agreements consolidate Israel’s significant place in the region, they also leave it a prisoner of its new allies. In this way, the annexation of the Palestinian territories that the Israeli executive sought is fading or decreasing and only Netanyahu wields it to calm his most extremist domestic partners. It is interesting that while Prime Minister Israel in Washington responded to the press that the annexation of the territories was still on the table, Trump clarified that “We don’t want to talk about it now”. That “that” It is the Plan of the Century that his son-in-law Jared Kushner drew up to create a kind of Palestinian state far from the aspirations of that people, with an explosive derivation if its leaders decide to go backward from those Oslo accords and subsume themselves as a people in the hands of its occupant. That decision would force Israel to assume them as citizens or subject them to discrimination that would hurt the democratic sense of the country and Jewish morality itself.

The White House senses at least those risks and is satisfied with this turn. Meanwhile, Trump assumes that everything that happens is instrumental. He sees himself as a winner, entitled to the Nobel, to which a Norwegian Islamophobic far-right has already nominated him. For the president his victory in November is inevitable and an opposite result it would be the result of fraud. But in addition to this disturbing prospect, there is a go for everything in the extremes that we know well through our regions.

As we noted above, the president has stated several times, the last one in a very consistent way, days ago in Nevada, that after winning at the polls, he is determined to seek a third term, despite the constitutional wall. “Then after we win, we will negotiate, right? Because we are probably entitled to another four years, “he said with his classic tangled oratory style. That aspiration to Chávez or Evo would be both personal and alternatively dynastic with the nomination of one of his sons, Donald Jr or Ivanka. A mantra of perpetuation that perhaps permeates him from the vision of his new old friends of the Arab royalty, for whom democracy or institutions are concepts that are not worth even mentioning.
Copyright Clarin 2020
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