By Giancarlo Elia Valori*
Considering what reported in the media, President Trump’s Middle East Plan – not yet fully outlined – is based, according to his son-in-law and senior advisor, Jared Kushner, on four basic principles: freedom of religion, freedom in life and professional opportunities, freedom of movement and freedom of political opinions.
There are also Opportunities, i.e. the possibility for young people not to be carried away by the conflicts that have ruined their fathers’ lives, as well as Safety and Security – in life and work – for all Middle East citizens.
Finally, in the Middle East Plan there is Respect among people and Respect for Religions, Parties and ethnic groups. Protestant ethic and business – the classic pair of US foreign policy. Almost a reminder of Max Weber’s book “Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism”.
In economic and operational terms, Trump’s Plan focuses on infrastructure, especially in the West Bank and in the Gaza Strip.
This is the central idea in Trump’s Plan, i.e. diluting, dissolving and finally eliminating the conflict between Israel and its neighbouring Arab States through a vast mass of investment.
This can create the best climate for a stable peace between the Jewish State and the Islamic (but also secular) universe surrounding it.
There is no precise data on the investment connected to President Trump’s new Middle East Plan, but the most authoritative and reliable sources mention a total amount of 25 billion US dollars for the West Bank and the Gaza Strip to be provided over ten years, in addition to an investment of 40 billion US dollars in Egypt, Jordan and, probably, the Lebanon. Said investment shall be made conditional upon a series of intermediate results to be assessed. Also in these cases, the investment will be made over a decade.
Currently this is the most certain data available, but there is also news about an investment for the Gaza Strip, the West Bank and the rest of the Arab countries of at least additional 30-40 billion dollars, especially in infrastructure.
From whom does the money come? Mostly from the “rich” Arab countries, but also the USA will contribute to said investment, although we do not yet know to what extent.
Between February and March, Jared Kushner visited the United Arab Emirates, Oman and Bahrain. He met Turkish President Erdogan and then paid a visit to Saudi Arabia -where Kushner has an excellent personal relationship with Mohammad bin Salman – and finally to Qatar.
Kushner, the soul of President Trump’s Middle East policy, clarified that, in addition to investment, the Plan regards the borders between the different regions.
Indeed, Kushner, rather than thinking of new borders, imagines a Middle East “without borders”.
The usual post-modern myth of no borders, according to which all the borders that separate States are artificial, dangerous, unnatural and always lead to wars.
Indeed, the opposite is true: wars break out because there are not enough borders.
According to Kushner, the idea of no borders is associated with an increase in trade and movement of people and, hopefully, with an increase in “opportunities”. It is not true that the countries trading among themselves do not wage wars: just think about the USA and the Third Reich in the Second World War or about the endless British actions in Central Asia and India. Quite the reverse. The more countries trade one another, the more there are reasons to distort or establish strategic hegemony.
The opportunities mentioned by Kushner are the same which currently apply to Central African migrants, leaving their countries (which are not “at war”, as European leaders believe) to reach the EU, or to the refugees of the war in Syria, moving to Turkey, the Balkans and Central Europe. Opportunities without realism. Not even a Hollywood film can turn the tragedy of migration into a market of very easy “opportunities”.
Obviously the elimination of borders also means the evaporation of the “Palestinian State”.
Indeed, it will be difficult for the Arab countries to fund economic reconstruction with Jerusalem as the capital city of Israel.
Moreover, Saudi Arabia does not even want to completely lose the Palestinian strategic asset, just now that Iran is penetrating the political and military system of the Gaza Strip and the PNA’s territories.
However, even Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who is de facto ruling Saudi Arabia, still wants “onesingle and independent Palestinian State, with Jerusalem as its capital city”.
It is hard to believe that Saudi Arabia and Israel think like Kushner, the young man in favour of no borders.
This is exactly the core of the issue.
If the United States must directly take care of the support for Palestinians, in a context of very delicate intra-Arab and Arab-Israeli equilibria, problems will certainly arise and not only at legal level.
For example, since March 2018 the Taylor Force Act has laid down that the United States will no longer be in a position to financially support the Palestinian National Authority, since it helps the jihadist terrorists currently detained in Israeli prisons.
The Act also sets strong limits on financial support for the Gaza Strip and the West Bank.
A significant legal impediment for the Middle East “no borders” actions of the current US Presidency.
Furthermore, the Gulf States are not very happy to fund, almost completely, President Trump’s Middle East Plan and would like a much stronger US financial commitment than the one currently envisaged.
The Gulf countries and the other Arab countries included in the Trump Plan want to see how much money the USA will make available to its Plan, and only later, where necessary, they will pay their own share.
President Trump has also organised an “economic workshop” in Manama, Bahrain, on June 25-26, in which also businessmen and entrepreneurs from Europe will be invited, but above all from Asia and the Middle East.
The format of the Conference organized in Bahrain has already been decided: Trump’s Administration will invite only Finance Ministers and not the European, Asian and Middle East Foreign Ministers.
There will also be many and very important leaders of large global companies, from around the world, to discuss mainly investment in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.
President Trump’s Plan, however, was discussed confidentially with 25 of the most important managers of international companies at the Milken Conference held in Los Angeles on April 29-30 last.
On that occasion, President Trump’s potential counterparts for his Middle East Plan were certainly Ibrahim Ajami, responsible for the venture capital of Mubadala Abu Dhabi’s largest investment vehicle; Joussef Al Otaiba, the Emirates’ Ambassador to the USA; Khalid al-Rumaihi, the CEO of the Bahrain Economic Development Fund; Ibrahim Salaad Almojel, General Manager of the Saudi Arabia Industrial Development Fund; Deloitte Director Margaret Anderson; Brazil’s Foreign Minister Ernesto Araùjo and many other managers of investment funds and companies.
Israel has been invited to the workshop in Bahrain, probably with Finance Minister Moshe Kalon – or others, if there are developments in Israel’s political crisis.
It should be noted, however, that Israel and Bahrain have no diplomatic relations and this mission would be a strong spur for regularizing relations between the two countries.
Nevertheless also the PNA is boycotting Trump’s Administration and his Middle East Plan, but the White House has already invited a large group of Palestinian businessmen, who could participate in Manama’s Conference only in a personal capacity.
The old EU ruling class has reacted to Trump’s Plan in a fully predictable way. It still supports the “two States” solution for Israel and the Palestinian National Authority (PNA) – something reminding us of the old Cold War – with a panel of over 35 European leaders, including Massimo D’Alema, Franco Frattini, Ana Palacio and Willi Claes, the former NATO Secretary General.
In fact, apart from the PNA’s resentment against President Trump’s Administration, in the Plan – albeit only generically outlined – there is no specific rejection of the “two States” solution.
To tell the truth, currently – as in the past -the survival of the Palestinian State – in its present form – is often prevented by the Arab countries themselves, which are more interested in a stable watchdog on the Israeli border than in a stable country and solution for the Palestinian people.
In the United States, the Democrats’ criticism against President Trump’s Middle East Plan, is focused on three principles. Firstly, Democrats do not accept the “reality on the field”, including Israel’s foreseen annexation of part of the West Bank. Secondly, they reject the ethnic or religious division lines. Thirdly, they refuse to accept Israel’s permanent control of the occupied territories.
Diminutio capitis for Israel and, according to some analysts, everything will go well. And if the exact opposite were true?
Nevertheless, at strategic level, even without the occupied territories, the possibility of an attack on Israel from the East – even hetero-directed – increases vertically.
Moreover, this has long been happening alsoin the Gaza Strip.
The opposition to Trump is essentially punitive only vis-à-vis Israel, while it considers the Palestinian region irrelevant from the military and strategic viewpoints.
Throughout 2018, as many as 17 rocket launches were carried out on the Israeli territory from the Gaza Strip alone, all of them with multiple carriers – in addition to other military operations from the Palestinian National Authority’s territory in the West Bank, and from there against Israel.
President Trump, however, can also rely on the fact that the relationship between the Arab countries and Israel has changed radically over the last 50 years.
Currently four Arab States, namely Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Egypt and the United Arab Emirates have great ascendancy – also at material level – over the Palestinian organizations, although the strategic interest of a certain Arab world in the PNA and its territories is now minimal.
Furthermore, unlike the past of the Cold War, both Saudi Arabia and the Emirates currently have ongoing good relations with Israel – albeit inevitably covertly.
Therefore both Saudi Arabia and the Emirates can currently exert significant political influence on both Israel and the Palestinians.
Hence a structural crisis of the US presence in the Middle East, while both Saudi Arabia and Jordan – despite the war in Syria-have never wanted to check the US willingness to hold its positions in the Middle East.
If the USA leaves the Middle East, Saudi Arabia could play its card for peace with the Jewish State, while the other Arab and Islamic countries interested in the region, namely Egypt, the Emirates and possibly even Turkey, could also play the game of expanding their area of influence, with or without the agreement with Israel – which, however, would be finally inevitable.
Certainly there is considerable disillusionment of the Arab world with the Palestinians and their “cause”.
The PNA is a state, economic and strategic failure of very great relevance. The Saudi Arab world and the Emirates do not want to maintain pressure on Israel indefinitely, right now that the Jewish State- after correctly analysing the new Middle East strategy – has good relations with the Gulf oil powers.
The Palestinian region could be an inevitable and decisive asset against the Shiite region dominated by Iran.
In this new system, Israel has the possibility of being less isolated regionally, but also of bearing less Arab pressure for solving the problem of the Gaza Strip, as well as less Palestinians’ international defence.
In fact, Saudi Arabia and the other allies, including Egypt and Jordan, no longer bet on the Palestinians, given the break between Hamas (which is an offspring of the Muslim Brotherhood, as also Al Sisi’s Egypt knows all too well) and Fatah in the Territories.
The fragmentation of Palestinians stultifies the strategic advantage they can offer to the rest of the Arab world.
With a view to preventing other countries, especially Turkey and Iran, from being given credit for championing the Palestinian cause, Saudi Arabia and its allies still support the PNA by mouth.
Hence either a new Middle East Peace Plan, different from the usual one, is devised, or we will fail miserably.
As usual, the European Union is at least ten years behind, with its “Cold War-style” support for the Palestinians. As if we were still in the period of the Kippur War.
The United States can solve the Palestinian issue by defusing it, as well as asking the Arab allies to have a different relationship with Hamas and eliminating the new Iranian presence in the region on the border with Israel – apart from Hezbollah, which is another issue.
Moreover, the no borders myth must be avoided. The region must be well controlled precisely because it will become a place for major investment.
Finally, it should be established that Israel can expand eastwards, but only in the framework of a new international agreement on the Middle East, which will apply also to borders, areas of influence, division of international work and investment – also at military level.
*About the author: Advisory Board Co-chair Honoris Causa Professor Giancarlo Elia Valori is an eminent Italian economist and businessman. He holds prestigious academic distinctions and national orders. Mr. Valori has lectured on international affairs and economics at the world’s leading universities such as Peking University, the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and the Yeshiva University in New York. He currently chairs “International World Group”, he is also the honorary president of Huawei Italy, economic adviser to the Chinese giant HNA Group. In 1992 he was appointed Officier de la Légion d’Honneur de la République Francaise, with this motivation: “A man who can see across borders to understand the world” and in 2002 he received the title “Honorable” of the Académie des Sciences de l’Institut de France.”
Source: This article was published by Modern Diplomacy