Donald Trump’s big-power bullying diplomacy


December 22, 2017

Donald Trump’s big-power bullying diplomacy

by Dennis Ignatius

http://www.malaysiakini.com

Image result for nikki haley's diplomacy

 

COMMENT | The United States Ambassador to the UN, Nikki Haley, warned recently, in what can only be described as the height of arrogance, that the US “will be taking names” during an upcoming vote in the UN General Assembly on the status of Jerusalem. In a letter to dozens of member states, including our own I suppose, she put them on notice that “the President and the US take this vote personally.”

She also warned that she had been instructed to send the names of all countries that vote against the US directly to President Trump, presumably for further action.

In other words, there will be consequences –  retaliation or punishment – if countries do not support the US on this issue.

Trump himself has complained that other countries “take hundreds of millions of dollars and even billions of dollars [from us], and then they vote against us.” Clearly, Trump intends to link foreign assistance with how countries vote on issues important to the US.

The US aid budget currently amounts to more than US$48 billion annually – US$31 billion in economic assistance and US$17 billion in military assistance. US aid, however, is mostly tied to US agricultural products and US military equipment and training. The five largest recipients of US aid are Israel (US$3.1 billion), Egypt (US$1.5 billion), Afghanistan (US$1.1 billion), Jordan (US$1 billion) and Pakistan (US$933 million). Malaysia receives about US$10 million annually, mostly in military assistance.

The US warning comes after a vote earlier this week on a resolution in the UN Security Council which overwhelmingly condemned Trump’s decision to move the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. Fourteen out of the 15 members of the Council voted for the resolution. Although the US vetoed the resolution, the message from the international community was clear enough.

Stung by the vote in the council, Ambassador Haley is now trying to forestall a similar rebuke in the UN General Assembly where the Permanent Five do not enjoy veto powers. The 193-member UN General Assembly will hold a rare emergency special session on Thursday at the request of Arab and Muslim states to discuss the US decision on Jerusalem.

If precedent is anything to go by, the US will very likely suffer a crushing defeat on this issue when the Assembly votes.

Self-appointed class monitor

Whichever way you look at it, Ambassador Haley’s letter is nothing less than big-power bullying. After insisting in the UN Security Council that the US will not be bullied into deciding where to locate its embassy in Israel, she is now proceeding to bully the rest of the world into acquiescing in the US decision.

While big powers often indulge in high-powered lobbying to gain support on critical issues, they rarely resort to such threatening and demeaning language, behaving like some self-appointed class monitor taking names of unruly students to report to the headmaster for punishment.

Even in far more critical situations before – on the eve of the first Iraq War, for example – when the US was desperately trying to obtain international consensus, the US never resorted to threats. I recall a meeting in early 1990 between our then Foreign Minister Abu Hassan Omar and US Secretary of State James Baker in Los Angeles, when the US laid out its case for the invasion of Iraq and the liberation of Kuwait.

Malaysia was on the Security Council that year and Baker appealed for our support. There was never any hint of threats or retaliation, just a sincere plea for support, as it should be between friendly nations. Malaysia eventually voted in favour of the US-led intervention.

Trump and his team now appear to be bringing the proverbial big stick to the table of international diplomacy, hoping to bully and cajole their way in international affairs. If Trump thinks this is the way to enhance US power and prestige, he is going to be disappointed. Threats might work in limited circumstances but it is no substitute for diplomacy and consensus building.

As the continuing standoff with North Korea aptly demonstrates, the US needs international support and consensus to help resolve important security issues.

Besides, as the world returns once again to a more multipolar global architecture, thanks to the rise of China, bullying might just prove to be counterproductive.

As for Jerusalem, whether the US likes it or not, its status is going to have to be decided at some future time as part of a peace agreement between Israel and Palestine. Moving the US embassy might make for popular politics at home but that does not make it the right thing to do for other nations.

I hope the General Assembly will send a resounding message to President Trump that the world will not be bullied this way, and that Malaysia’s name will be on that list that Ambassador Haley sends to the White House. I, for one, will consider it a badge of honour.

 

The Hellish War in Yemen–Is Malaysia Complicit?


December 20, 2017

The Hellish War in Yemen–Is Malaysia Complicit?

By  Dennis Ignatius

Image result for Yemen A Hellish War

There’s a war – a murderous, savage, barbaric, hellish war – raging in Yemen. Images of the suffering and carnage there crop up in our newspapers and on television from time to time but it’s been going on for so long that we are becoming inured to it.

It began as a domestic power struggle and quickly spiralled into a proxy war between Saudi Arabia and Iran, the latest sideshow in their ongoing struggle for power and influence in the Middle East. And, as usual, taking advantage of the instability and chaos, terrorist groups like Al-Qaeda have moved in, further complicating the situation.

To snuff out Iranian influence, the Saudi-led coalition has launched a relentless and merciless bombing campaign against Yemen, hitting not just military targets but infrastructure, hospitals, schools and residential areas. International observers believe war crimes are being committed. A Saudi naval blockade, in the meantime, has made it difficult for food, medical and other assistance to get through.

Carnage and catastrophe

Image result for Carnage in Yemen

 

Already, some 10,000 people have been killed, more than 50,000 wounded. Seven million are on the brink of famine. One hundred and thirty children die every day in Yemen from extreme hunger and disease. Twenty million people (over 70% of the population) are in need of humanitarian assistance. The United Nations has warned that we might be witnessing “the largest famine the world has seen for many decades.”

If that is not bad enough, Yemen is also caught in the grip of one of the world’s worst cholera outbreaks with more than 900,000 suspected cases and over 2,190 deaths. Diphtheria and other diseases are stalking the land as well.

I suspect that all these statistics, terrible as they are, hardly capture the reality of life in Yemen today. Whichever way you look at it, Yemen, already one of the poorest, least developed countries in the world, is being slowly but surely annihilated before our very eyes.

And yet, there is so little outrage. 

International complicity

Image result for Yemen War

While Saudi Arabia is the main architect of this savage war against Yemen, many others are complicit as well. The UAE, Bahrain, Kuwait, Egypt, Jordan, Morocco, Senegal and Sudan are either active participants in the Saudi-led coalition or support the Saudis in other ways.

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US President Donald Trump and Saudi Deputy Crown Prince and Minister of Defense Mohammed bin Salman enter the State Dining Room of the White House. (photo credit: REUTERS)

The United States, blinded by its implacable hatred of Iran and determined to contain Iranian influence at all costs, has supported the Saudi campaign in Yemen with weapons, logistical support and political cover. France, the United Kingdom, Australia and Germany (to name a few) support the Saudis with weapons sales and training.

Western democracies talk much about liberty and justice but side with despots waging a brutal war on an entire nation. Containing Iran apparently justifies mass starvation and crimes against humanity.

Cowardice & hypocrisy

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Islamic nations, for their part, are quick to work themselves into a frenzy when Muslims in distant lands are persecuted but keep silent when Muslims kill Muslims in their own backyard. They are very brave when it comes to confronting countries like Myanmar over the treatment of its Muslim minorities but cowardly when it comes to standing up to one of their own. They rush to Istanbul to protest President Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel but quietly rely on American support to bomb Yemen’s ancient cities.

If others did to Yemen what the Saudis are doing to it, there would be fiery denunciations and angry demonstrations across the Muslim world instead of silence and indifference.

Image result for OIC Leaders meet in Istanbul

OIC Leaders Meet in Istanbul, Turkey to what purpose?

Only Pakistan, to its credit, has refused to go along with this immoral war. Despite their dependence on Saudi aid, they found the courage to say no.

There are, of course, genuine concerns about Iran’s regional ambitions and Arab states have reason to worry about their security but it can never be at the expense of innocent men, women and children, never at the cost of condemning a whole nation to such death and destruction.

Is Malaysia complicit as well? 

Image result for Malaysian troops in Yemen

The National Patriot Association (NPA) has revived the issue of Malaysia’s link to the Saudi Arabian-led coalition that is bombing Yemen, questioning the rationale for Malaysia’s participation. In a statement, NPA President Brig Gen (Rtd) Mohamed Arshad Raji said based on a recent report by Qatar-based news broadcaster Al Jazeera, “Malaysia is understood to have sent our military personnel to join the coalition forces”. If the Al Jazeera news report is true, then NPA wants to register its strongest protest against the participation of the armed forces in the Saudi-led coalition forces and the involvement of our military personnel in this Middle-Eastern conflict,” Arshad said.–www.freemalaysiatoday.com

Image result for Malaysian troops in Yemen
Image result for Malaysian troops in Yemen

Malaysia, too, is apparently complicit in this unfolding humanitarian catastrophe. Our defence ministry insists that some military officers have been deployed to the region but only to assist in the evacuation of Malaysian nationals from Yemen. Other reports, however, suggest that Malaysia is, in fact, part of the Saudi coalition and is working alongside personnel from the UAE, France, Britain and the US at Saudi joint headquarters in Riyadh to coordinate the air campaign against Yemen.

Whatever the level of involvement, Malaysia has no business being there; it is an iniquitous and unjust war that goes against everything we stand for in international affairs.

And even if we are not directly involved, our failure to speak out against war crimes being committed in Yemen makes us complicit. We had many opportunities to speak frankly with the Saudis but we are, it seems, too afraid to offend them.

A humanitarian response

It’s time for Malaysia to break with the Saudis, condemn the criminal campaign against Yemen and demand an immediate halt to the bombing. We should also lend our full support to the efforts of the UN Secretary-General to broker a negotiated settlement in Yemen. Most of all, we need to help initiate a major international effort to deliver urgent humanitarian assistance to the people of Yemen.

For a start, let’s take the lead to help save the children of Yemen. Let’s put our heads and hearts together as a nation – government and opposition, Muslim, Christian and others, private and public sector, civil society and NGOs – to structure a national humanitarian assistance mission to help these innocent victims of the war.

Perhaps, the Royal Malaysian Air Force could help medevac seriously injured children and bring them to Malaysia for treatment, with all our hospitals – private and public – chipping in to help. Perhaps groups like Mercy Malaysia and other NGOs can be supported to set up hospitals and provide food and other assistance wherever conditions in Yemen permit. Perhaps we could organize a national fund-raising campaign to help aid groups already in Yemen at great cost to themselves.

To be sure, our ability to influence events in the Middle East is limited but there are many little things that we can do that could make a big difference in Yemen if our hearts are in the right place.

This is a defining moment, our opportunity to make a difference in the world by reaching out to the suffering people of Yemen. Surely to feed the hungry, to shelter the homeless, to help the hurting is to touch the very heart of God. Can a nation which prides itself on its fealty to God do any less?

Dennis Ignatius | 17th December 2017

6.09 GB (40%) of 15 GB used

Hishamuddin Tun Hussein Onn: The Macho Malaysian Minister of Defense


December 18, 2017

Hishamuddin Tun Hussein Onn: The Macho Malaysian Minister of Defense

By Azmi Sharom

http://www.mysinchew.com/node/118819?tid=12

Image result for Malaysia's Defense Minister

The Big Talker who could be the successor to Najib Razak as 7th Malaysian Prime Minister is a Leader from the Behind. He is prepared to commit Malaysian Troops for Jerusalem to be slaughtered by the Israeli Defence Forces while he sits in the comfort and safety of his air-conditioned office in the Malaysian Ministry of Defence.

Sometimes guys get a bit emotional and they say really macho things like, I will die for such and such a cause. Well, most of the time you just shake your head and look away. Because after all, talk is cheap.

However, when you are a minister, you can’t just say macho things for the sake of it in the heat of the moment. Which is what our defence minister seemed to have done.

He said Malaysian armed forces were ready to go to Jerusalem! For what?

Image result for Malaysia's Defense Minister

Why put these well trained warriors in harm’s way when our national security is not threatened? It is just macho posturing by a Malaysian senior ministerWhy not let Erdogan of Turkey do it?

I know that emotions are high, particularly among Muslims, about how Trump has unilaterally declared that Jerusalem is the capital of Israel. Something that no other governments in the world want and something which everybody knows will just be further fuel for chaos.

Also, international law has declared that the status of Jerusalem remains on hold until there are proper negotiations and agreement. But then when has Trump or the Israeli government ever cared about international law that does not serve them?

Anyway, yes, it is a disgusting move by Trump. But to say we are ready to send soldiers to Jerusalem is an emotive response more likely to show the minister’s religious credentials and not his knowledge of the law.

If you are going to send troops to another country, it has to be clearly about your own self defence from imminent threat. Or, it can be as part of a UN sanctioned peace keeping mission. Or, it can be part of a UN Security Council sanctioned invasive force (again for specific purposes like maintaining international law).

You can’t just go somewhere with your military willie nilly. So, does the minister think one of the above is going to happen? I doubt it and I am sure he does too. So, what he is saying is just macho posturing.

I am totally aghast at what Trump has done and if the government is serious about opposing it, let us first identify the culprits. The US and Israel certainly. But what about the allies of the US in the Middle East? The Saudis have been real chummy with Trump. Do they have they any involvement in this foolishness?

If the government is really serious about opposing this despicable move, they best first find out who the true enemies are so that they can take whatever logical measures. This is more sincere and useful than mere macho posturing.

(Azmi Sharom is a law lecturer at Universiti Malaya.)

Najib Razak’s Muddled Mid-East Policy–Sheer Hypocrisy


December 16, 2017

Najib Razak’s Muddled Mid-East Policy–Sheer Hypocrisy

by Mat Sabu@www.malaysiakini.com

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COMMENT | On December 13, Prime Minister Najib Abdul Razak, in his own words, dropped everything on his lap, including a meeting with Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong of Singapore, to attend the extraordinary summit of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) in Istanbul, Turkey.

The goal was to register the Muslim world’s urgency and protest against the recognition of Jerusalem as the “eternal capital of Israel.” The OIC meeting was hopeless for several reasons.

First, Najib had already affirmed to the rest of the world, that US President Donald Trump is his golfing buddy and his friend.

In his trip to Washington in September 2017, Najib even boasted that Trump personally sent him to his official car, of all places in the basement of the White House.

The above is not hearsay. It came right from the horse’s mouth: Najib. It was Najib who showcased his tight bond with Trump.

 

 

Secondly, directly or indirectly, this has strengthened Trump’s resolve to gift Jerusalem to Israel. The false step by Najib is no less damning than the mistakes of King Salman bin Abdulaziz and Crown Prince Muhammad Bin Salman (MBS) of Saudi Arabia.

Both the father and son praised Trump as a world-class leader when Trump made a trip to Saudi Arabia. Emboldened by his relationship with King Salman and MBS, Trump went one step ahead of the duo.

He immediately flew to Israel, and promised a radical change in the US policy on the Middle East. Such a radical change was, of course, the gift of Jerusalem to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (photo), whose popularity was not only sagging in Israel, but is also widely considered a dishonest and ineffective Israeli leader.

 

Second, Najib flew to Istanbul to join a chorus of leaders to admonish and reprimand Trump. But was that really the case?

The US Ambassador to Malaysia was not summoned to the Prime Minister’s Office nor Wisma Putra for a thorough dressing down. Even when the UMNO Assembly was ongoing, little attention was granted to the injustice of Trump.

Third, in a press release by Wisma Putra, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs merely affirmed that Trump should “reconsider his decision.” Wisma Putra did not express its vehemence against Trump.

Fourth, instead, it was the opposition front that raised a huge outcry on Trump’s utter betrayal to the Palestinians.

To the credit of Lembah Pantai MP Nurul Izzah Anwar, she saw the betrayal as sufficiently serious to call for the possible boycott of US goods and services in Malaysia.

 

Fifth, Pakatan Harapan chairperson Dr Mahathir Mohamad (photo),  together with Amanah and Bersatu, challenged the whole treasonous act of giving Jerusalem to Israel when there are 86 countries, be they Muslim or non-Muslim, that do not agree with Trump. Even Pope Francis of the Vatican Council was against Trump wholesale.

Thus, what is the point of flying to Istanbul to block the proverbial horses that have been let out of the stable? Trump has betrayed the Muslim world not once, but from the very beginning of his presidency. He has passed the Middle East policy to Jared Kushner, his son-in-law, who is a known Zionist.

Sixth, it shocking that UMNO and PAS still support Trump by not voicing out more openly, and by coming up with a series of measures to put a stop to this madness.

Fortunately, the 14th general election is just months away. Christians and Muslims, indeed all groups and races that are anti-Israel, can set things right: by voting out Najib, PAS and, indeed, UMNO, for coddling the Zionist conspiracy.

Malaysian foreign policy has never seen such a disaster until now. It is time to correct it with a new government that is not beholden to US Zionist policy.


MOHAMAD SABU is president of Amanah. The views expressed here are those of the author/contributor and do not necessarily represent the views of Malaysiakini.

Malaysia’s Chickenhawk Defense Minister’s Empty Talk On Jerusalem Issue


December 15, 2017

Malaysia’s Chickenhawk Defense Minister’s Empty Talk On Jerusalem Issue

by S. Thayaparan@www.malaysiakini.com

Image result for Malaysia soldiers in Saudi Arabia/Yemen

“A soldier is someone’s son or father or brother,” he said. “The public has a right to know where we are sending our soldiers and why.”–– Mohd Arshad Raji, retired Brigadier-General

COMMENT | Chickenhawk politicians are usually extremely gung-ho about military action, especially when nobody holds them accountable for their words. Kudos to Rais Hussin and P Ramasamy for calling out Defence Minister Hishammuddin Hussein on his extremely cavalier reminder that the Malaysian security apparatus is ready for action when it comes to the Jerusalem issue.

Image result for Malaysia soldiers in Saudi Arabia/Yemen

Malaysia’s Chickenhawk  Defense Minister –Hishamuddin Hussein Onn

I wonder what would have happened that if instead of international mockery, someone took up Malaysia’s preparedness to send troops to Jerusalem? What would have been the response then? Would we have backtracked and attempted to explain that in Malaysia, establishment politicians can say anything they want but they cannot be held accountable for what they say?>

On the other hand, maybe what the current UMNO grand poohbah said in his big meet-up in Istanbul with other concerned Muslim potentates that US investments trumps any real action to go with that outrage, is a more acceptable solution? And let us not forget the ever-reliable strategy of dragging the United Nations to voice out whatever grievances that Muslim potentates claim on behalf of Palestinians.

In other words, the Defence Minister’s words were just more empty talk to burnish Malaysia’s increasingly joked about Islamic preoccupations on the world stage. No doubt whatever we learned from whatever we were doing in Saudi Arabia would have come in handy if we decided to ship our lads to Israel. Speaking of what we learned in Saudi Arabia, I am still unclear as to why we were there in the first place.

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22 members of Malaysian Armed Forces receiving their certificates and medals from Saudi Government for services rendered during  Ops Yeman since May, 2015.

In 2015, Arab News, under the chest thumping headline, ‘Malaysian troops join Arab coalition’, claimed that – “Malaysia has become the 12th country to join the coalition after Senegal which is sending 2,100 troops to fight the Houthis and the forces loyal to former President Ali Abdullah Saleh. The Ministry of Defence explained that the coalition’s operations centre is preparing for incorporating the Malaysian and Senegalese forces into the ranks and determining the nature of tasks assigned to them.”

Now, of course, under questioning by Amanah, among others, we are told by the Defense Minister that all we were doing there, besides “learning” that is, was evacuating Malaysians who were in Yemen. Why we need to “join a coalition” and send troops to evacuate Malaysian citizens when there are so many other less controversial and effective means of evacuation is beyond me.

Amanah, of course, loses points because one of their predictable concerns was that the presence of Malaysians troops there is awkward “because Western powers such as France and Britain were also present. These countries, the opposition party said, had anti-Islam policies” – which is dumb because thousands of Yemeni Muslims are butchered by another Muslim country.

A learning expedition

Of course, ever since the House of Saud got entangled in the 1MDB fiasco, Malaysia seems to have become extremely chummy with the Kingdom. Indeed, not only was the visit by the Saudi monarch memorable for reasons, which is beyond the scope of this piece but which I have documented elsewhere, we even managed to foil an assassination attempt allegedly planned by Yemeni operatives.

Image result for Najib and Saudi KIng

 

As reported in The Independent, Malaysia foils ‘Yemeni attack’ on Saudi Arabia’s King Salman’ – “Malaysian police said they foiled an attack on Arab royals by suspected Yemeni militants.

“Seven militants, including four Yemenis, two Malaysians and one Indonesian, were arrested in separate raids ahead of Saudi King Salman bin Abdul Aziz’s visit to Kuala Lumpur…

“‘They were planning to attack Arab royalties during their visit to Kuala Lumpur. We got them in the nick of time,’ National Police Chief Khalid Abu Bakar told reporters.”

To our former IGP, getting terrorists in the nick of time is not something you want to be proud about and certainly not something you publicise. Now of course, if people who are at war with the House of Saud realised that we were in the kingdom not as allies but merely “learning” and evacuating citizens, they would be more inclined not to view citizens of where they were planning their attacks as collateral damage. And please note, a Malaysian citizen was also part of the kill team.

With this Jerusalem move, Al-Qaeda has called upon all Muslim nations to destroy Israel and this only makes it more complicated when we have citizens in this country who support these Islamic extremists for various reasons.

The United Nations has reported on the human rights violations that have been carried out by Saudi forces (and their allies) – which they deny – but of course, Malaysia only response that it was in fact only there on a learning expedition. Now how do you think this sounds to a demographic of disenfranchised Muslim Malaysian youths who seem to be ripe for radicalisation?

Already the plight of the Yemeni people has gained traction among a certain crowd of tech-savvy youths all over the Muslim world who blame the House of Saud for perpetrating crimes on innocent Muslims.

Way back in 2014, Harezt ran an interesting piece on why the Islamic State was not too interested in attacking Israel – “The Islamic State’s target bank contains a long list of Arab leaders – including the Saudi and Jordanian kings, the Prime Minister of Iraq, the president of Egypt and even the leadership of the Muslim Brotherhood – before it gets to the Jews and Israel.”

So, while Jerusalem may not exactly be the issue that ignites Islamic radicalisation in this country, the alleged atrocities committed by the House of Saud and their allies, which includes Western powers and their Muslim proxies, may be ripe soft targets for radicalised Muslim youths who benefit from organisations like Islamic State who have declared Southeast Asia as their new theatre of war and destruction.

Now, I am not saying that Malaysia has troops fighting in Yemen – I have no evidence of this – I am just saying that for radicalised Muslim youths in the region latching on to the plight of the Yemenis, it will not make a difference.

Trump’s Jerusalem Rationale and its Consequences


December 14, 2015

Trump’s Jerusalem Rationale and its Consequences

The US administration seems to believe that Saudi Arabia and other Arab governments are so concerned with the perceived Iranian threat that they will put aside their long-standing hostility toward Israel. The problem is that the new Saudi crown prince’s highest priority – to consolidate his power – may lead him to reject a peacemaking role.

Image result for Richard N. Haas on Jerusalem

 

NEW YORK – It is 50 years since the Six-Day War – the June 1967 conflict that, as much as any other event, continues to define the Israeli-Palestinian impasse. After the fighting was over, Israel controlled all of the West Bank, Gaza, and Jerusalem, in addition to the Sinai Peninsula and the Golan Heights.

Back then, the world saw this military outcome as temporary. United Nations Security Council Resolution 242, the backdrop to what was to become a diplomatic solution to the problem of the stateless Palestinians, was adopted some five months after the war ended. But, as is often the case, what began as temporary has lasted.

This is the context in which President Donald Trump recently declared that the United States recognized Jerusalem to be Israel’s capital. Trump stated that the US was not taking a position on the final status of Jerusalem, including “the specific boundaries of the Israeli sovereignty” there. He made clear that the US would support a two-state solution if agreed to by both sides. And he chose not to begin actually moving the US embassy from Tel Aviv, even though he could have simply relabeled what is now the US consulate in Jerusalem.

The attempt to change US policy while arguing that little had changed did not persuade many. Most Israelis were pleased with the new US stance, and most in the Arab world and beyond were incensed.

Just why Trump chose this moment to make this gesture is a matter of conjecture. The president suggested it was simply recognition of reality and that his predecessors’ policy failure to do so had failed to yield any diplomatic benefits. This is true, although the reason diplomacy failed over the decades had nothing to do with US policy toward Jerusalem, and everything to do with divisions among Israelis and Palestinians and the gaps between the two sides.

Others have attributed the US announcement to American domestic politics, a conclusion supported by the unilateral US statement’s failure to demand anything of Israel (for example, to restrain settlement construction) or offer anything to the Palestinians (say, supporting their claim to Jerusalem). Although the decision has led to some violence, it looks more like an opportunity lost than a crisis created.

What made this statement not just controversial but potentially counterproductive is that the Trump administration has spent a good part of its first year putting together a plan to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. This announcement could well weaken that plan’s already limited prospects.

What the Trump administration seems to have in mind is to give outsiders, and Saudi Arabia in particular, a central role in peacemaking. Informing this approach is the view that Saudi Arabia and other Arab governments are more concerned with the perceived threat from Iran than with anything to do with Israel. As a result, it is assumed that they are prepared to put aside their long-standing hostility toward Israel, a country that largely shares their view of Iran.

Progress on the Israeli-Palestinian issue would create a political context in the Arab world that would allow them to do just this. The hope in the Trump administration is that the Saudis will use their financial resources to persuade the Palestinians to agree to make peace with Israel on terms Israel will accept.

Image result for Trump and KushnerPresident Donald J. Trump and his Mid-East Expert-Advsor Jared Kushner

 

The problem is that the only plan to which this Israeli government is likely to agree will offer the Palestinians far less than they have historically demanded. If so, the Palestinian leaders themselves may well determine it is safer to say no than to sign on to a plan sure to disappoint many of their own people and leave them vulnerable to Hamas and other radical groups.

The Saudis, too, may be reluctant to be associated with a plan that many will deem a sellout. The top priority for the new Saudi leadership under Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman is to consolidate power, which the prince is doing by associating himself with an effort to attack corruption in the Kingdom and by pursuing a nationalist, anti-Iranian foreign policy.

But neither tactic is going entirely according to plan. The anti-corruption effort, while so far popular, risks being tarnished by selective prosecution of offenders (which suggests that it is more about power than reform) and reports about the crown prince’s own lifestyle. And the anti-Iran efforts have become inseparable from what has become an unpopular war in Yemen and diplomatic embarrassments in Lebanon and Qatar. Meanwhile, ambitious plans to reform the country are proving easier to design than to implement, and are sure to alienate more conservative elements.

The problem for Trump and Jared Kushner, his son-in-law who leads US policy in this area, is that the Saudis are likely to prove much less of a diplomatic partner than the White House had counted on. If the new crown prince is worried about his domestic political standing, he will be reluctant to stand shoulder to shoulder with an American president seen as too close to an Israel that is unwilling to satisfy even minimal Palestinian requirements for statehood.

Image result for Richard N. Haas on JerusalemRichard N. Haas

All of which brings us back to Jerusalem. Trump argued that recognizing the city as Israel’s capital was “a long overdue step to advance the peace process and the work towards a lasting agreement.” More and more it appears that Trump’s move will have just the opposite effect.