image of jerusalem 2017

Will It Hold Together?
President Donald J Trump has been and gone from Saudi Arabia, Israel, Palestine and the Holy See as well as from Brussels and Italy.

29 May   |   2017   |   Subject  Middle East & North Africa (MENA)

To be perfectly candid, I was initially uninterested in following a tour that I knew would turn into a public meld of narcissistic politics, billions of dollars traded in arms, top-bottom divisions and unrestrained garishness. But when an unpredictable and brash American president powwows with a host of potentates about the Middle East North Africa region, I suppose my sense of inquisitiveness overcomes my misgivings.

So here are five bullet-point thoughts that break through some of the dynamics of the presidential tour.

  • Leaving the ostentation and bling aside, let alone the astronomical dollar signs that resulted from the visit to Saudi Arabia, I felt a bit queasy when witnessing the deals struck between an American president whose reliability let alone integrity are questionable and some Arab leaders whose human rights records are quite doubtful. President Obama was a disappointment for the MENA region, not least because of his cerebral approach to politics. However, the Trump visit came under the heading of ‘principled realism’ and ostensibly aimed at strengthening those Arab allies willing to replenish the American coffers let alone subordinate themselves to USA goals at the expense of their peoples’ own aspirations for dignity and political participation. Equally unnerving was the heightened demonization of Iran in a way that is not only misconstrued and counter-productive in geopolitical terms but also dangerous for the future of the region.
  • I am not entirely confident that President Trump will abide by the promises he undertook at the various summits-within-summits in Riyadh. Nor am I convinced that his interest will be maintained long enough to steward those agreements. More worryingly though, buying the good will of a president with such a costly show will not necessarily ensure the safety of the Gulf countries or their allies in Egypt and elsewhere any more than it would provide stability and good governance for their riven and brittle societies. The facile argument that weapons impose diktats and security from above is an unsustainable expectation.
  • More worrying even was the follow-up in Israel and Palestine - or to put it more correctly, to Jerusalem and Bethlehem. President Trump’s words and deeds qualify him for a slot in the right-wing politics of the Israeli Establishment. Not only was the Palestinian conflict ignored despite vacuous gestures, the idea of an “outside-in” arrangement is a non-starter in my opinion. Simply put, the requirement that an Arab-Israeli regional peace deal be struck first so that it would usher in an Israeli-Palestinian resolution later is not promising. Bluntly, this means that there will in fact be no Israeli-Palestinian peace solution, and it also means that tensions will flare up once again later - in Palestine and also in many of the Arab masses. I know that some analysts are cautiously optimistic with this ‘novel’ approach - more so since all others have failed to date - but pushing the Palestinian issue to disappear is the wish of the Israeli right-wing government and perhaps also that of some US politicians. Willing it to go away will not necessarily make it go away! After all, Palestine is seared in the consciousness of a whole people who have been dispossessed of their lands.
  • I agree with President Trump’s farewell speech at the Israel Museum that change must come from within. But this change must primarily include those Israeli ministers who were summoned to come and hail him. The principle that was enounced as far back as 1967 has not changed in 50 years: the only feasible deal in the region is that of “land in exchange for peace”. This plot of land might be holy, but the negotiations cannot be conducted on religious grounds. Yet, telling off the Arab-Muslim Worlds about its failings without also underlining the Israeli-Jewish 50-year occupation risks turning a conflict over respecting human beings, lands, safety and fundamental freedom into a factitious religious war.
  • Pope Francis’ dour face during his meeting with President Trump indicated that he was not particularly happy with the encounter. But more importantly, given that many Arab rulers have publicly loosened their commitment to Palestine for the sake of their own political interests and their war with Iran, the only ethical counter-force that remains today is Europe. The atmosphere in Brussels and Italy between President Trump and the European leaders was awkward if not negative. So I hope that the EU will not shy away from our Eurocentric values and will evince enough resolve and determination to subscribe to those ineluctable rights that are part and parcel of the Palestinian conflict. Europe must stand true and firm, and it must seek a just peace, or else we could witness the dangerous demise of another chapter in the Palestinian dream.

But will any of what we witnessed during this visit hold together? Or will it be as bipolar as President Trump’s own viewpoints? There are many imponderables ahead, and realities might shift more than once in the next few months or years. However, and for now, I do not see reason for much optimism. And those experts who say otherwise are either being solipsistic or else trying to curry favour with the powers-to-be that demand intellectual submission.

Some armchair experts might disagree with me, vehemently even, but experience teaches me that the MENA region is sadly not safer after President Trump’s visit - bombast, flamboyance or heavy weaponisation notwithstanding!

© Dr Harry Hagopian   |   2017   |   29 May


Print or download a copy of this article.


Google: Yahoo: MSN: