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Outside In: The Trump administration’s plan to remake the Middle East

US Politics
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Donald Trump recently reiterated his promise to introduce a Middle East peace plan in the next few months. That promise makes sense of a number of unusual and extreme events that have taken place recently.

On February 15, 2017, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and then newly inaugurated U.S. President Donald Trump held their first official meeting. At the press conference that preceded that meeting, they discussed Trump’s promise to strike “a bigger and better deal than people in this room even understand.” Over the course of the press conference, Trump and Netanyahu would go on to unpack that cryptic remark in a way that eventually revealed the strategy that would make sense of the recent unusual events.

Outside In

The single most clarifying lens through which to view Israel’s foreign policy history is the lens of the doctrine of the periphery. The doctrine of the periphery can be traced back to two leaders of Mossad: Reuven Shiloah and Isser Harel. But its central premise, that political compromise with the Arabs is impossible, may be traced back even further to Vladimir Jabotinsky. According to this perspective, Israelis look out from a tiny land to find themselves surrounded by Arab nations who are not only hostile to them but whose differences with Israel are so essential that compromise and friendship are impossible. This impossibility of political ties with its neighbours drives Israel to reach for alliances with non-Arab states just beyond the circumference of her neighbourhood: to the periphery. This local world view was adopted by David Ben-Gurion and became his doctrine of the periphery. Ben-Gurion was the architect of the first phase of Israeli foreign policy.

The second phase was ushered in by Yitzhak Rabin and Shimon Peres who pushed the pendulum to the other amplitude: enmity with the periphery and warming of relations with the neighbourhood. Under Rabin and Peres, Israeli foreign policy would focus on a “New Middle East” in which Israel would warm relations with its Arab neighbours in order to confront a new peripheral enmity with Iran.

The third phase is the creation of Netanyahu. Its innovation was that it no longer viewed the pendulum swing as a bipolar one that had to choose the Arab neighbourhood or the non-Arab periphery. As the old doctrine of the periphery split the Arab neighbourhood from the non-Arab periphery, Netanyahu now split the Arab neighbourhood into the Arab states and the Palestinians. For the first time in the history of Israel, Netanyahu made enemies of both Iran and the Palestinians. Keeping his eye on the periphery doctrine’s intent of never making enemies of everyone at once, Netanyahu accomplished his foreign policy innovation by severing the Palestinians from the rest of the Arab neighbourhood.

So, when Trump said that his “administration is committed to working with Israel and our common allies in the region towards greater security and stability. That includes working toward a peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinians,” he was signing on to Netanyahu’s plan. For, who were the “common allies?” Taking his turn to talk, Netanyahu would supply the answer: “for the first time in the life of my country, Arab countries in the region do not see Israel as an enemy, but, increasingly, as an ally. And I believe that under your leadership, this change in our region creates an unprecedented opportunity to strengthen security and advance peace.” Hence, the “bigger” deal. Bigger, as Trump explained, because “It would take in many, many countries and it would cover a very large territory.”

Netanyahu refers to his doctrine as “outside in:” first you pacify the outside and ally with the Sunni Arab states outside of Israel, then, in exchange, you extract a peace plan out of them that you then impose inside on a Palestine now devoid of allies. You pacify the Sunni states by supporting them militarily and by providing them political cover generally, and by supporting them, specifically, in their opposition to Iran. You then crush Palestine and leave it helpless to hold out against a peace plan forced on them by Trump and supported by a bought off Arab world who has abandoned them.

Outside

The two Sunni Arab states that have to be bought and pacified are Saudi Arabia and Egypt. How do you subdue them? Join them in their confrontation with Iran and provide them with military and diplomatic support.

The Iran part was easy. Trump isolated Iran diplomatically by pulling out of the JCPOA nuclear agreement and then isolated them economically with sanctions that attempted to prohibit anyone in the world from trading with Iran. With the U.S., Israel and Saudi Arabia now united against the common Iranian enemy, they were free, in the words of Netanyahu at the press conference, to “transform these common interests to create a productive partnership. One that would build a more secure, peaceful and prosperous Middle East.”

The next step was to provide Saudi Arabia and Egypt with the means and the military and political cover. This step was trickier and looked extremely odd. But it makes sense in the light of Trump’s promise of an imminent Middle East peace plan and the Outside In policy.

In order to allow the U.S. to go on supporting Saudi Arabia in its war against Yemen and, specifically, to allow it to go on enabling Saudi bombing missions by refueling their aircrafts midair, the Trump administration, under the National Defense Authorization Act, had to certify to congress that Saudi Arabia was making sincere diplomatic efforts to end the war, taking measures to alleviate the humanitarian crisis, and protecting civilians. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo did just that on September 11, reassuring congress that “the governments of Saudi Arabia and United Arab Emirates are undertaking demonstrable actions to reduce the risk of harm to civilians and civilian infrastructure resulting from military operations of these governments.”

That step was trickier because Pompeo’s reassurance wasn’t true. The Saudi assault on Yemen has been at least as bloody and brutal as ever. A recent U.N. Human Rights Council report has “strongly suggested” that Saudi Arabia’s actions in Yemen could amount to crimes under international law. It concludes that “There is little evidence of any attempt by parties to the conflict to minimize civilian casualties.”  Oxfam agrees, saying that Pompeo’s certification was “openly defying and lying to Congress,” adding that “August was the bloodiest month so far in 2018 for civilians in Yemen.” So, the Secretary of State lied to congress to permit America to go on selling missiles to Saudi Arabia and to go on refuelling Saudi jets.

The move to win over the outside looked no less bizarre in Egypt. While winning over Saudi Arabia necessitated lying about their government’s actions, winning over Egypt necessitated being honest about theirs. When Rex Tillerson was Secretary of State, he withheld $195 million from Egypt because of Egypt’s human rights abuses. But Pompeo freed the money up on August 21 even though, he admitted, “The overall human rights climate in Egypt continues to deteriorate.” That is, the Trump administration reinstated the military funding it had withheld from Egypt due to human rights abuses, not because they are improving, but while they are deteriorating.

Pompeo’s “Memorandum of Justification” clearly declares that Egyptian legislation “conflicts with its human rights obligations.” It singles out, amongst other human rights violations, infringements on freedom of expression and the right to a fair trial, arbitrary arrests, disappearances, torture and extrajudicial killings. Nonetheless, Pompeo and Trump returned to providing military aid to that government. Freeing up and providing that military aid to Egypt while publicly enumerating the human rights violations effectively provides Egypt political and diplomatic cover by publicly declaring that Egypt will go on being funded even if their human rights violations continue to deteriorate.

In

With the outside brought onside with the termination of U.S. diplomacy with Iran and the assurance of military support to Saudi Arabia and Egypt, Trump and Netanyahu could turn their attention to the inside: the crushing of the Palestinians.

The first step was crushing them financially. So, Trump announced a more than 50% cut in American financial support for the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA). That was followed up by a State Department review of Palestinian assistance that was ordered by Trump that resulted in an additional $200 million of Palestinian aid being slashed. Trump then closed the Washington office of the PLO and redefined “refugee” to mean that you had to actually have lived in Mandatory Palestine prior to the creation of the refugee problem in 1948. None of those refugees’ descendants count. That means you have to be over seventy to be a refugee. That means soon there will be no refugees to fund or to return to their homes: problem erased by definition. The Palestinians now were financially crushed, silenced and disenfranchised.

As the Outside In policy predicts, all of these measures aimed at the Palestinians have the admitted aim of forcing them to enter into Trump’s new peace talks. Trump said that UNRWA aid would disappear unless the Palestinians participate in American run peace talks with Israel. When the Palestinians didn’t capitulate, Trump cut it all: no more US contributions to UNRWA. That’s the second part of Outside In: force the peace plan on the Palestinians.

The only promise that is new about the promised peace plan is the way it will be forced on the Palestinians: no one has promised that the plan itself will be new. With Saudi Arabia and Egypt—the outside—brought onside with the promise of continued military aid despite their crimes against humanity and violations of international law and the Palestinians weakened by being silenced, economically crushed and stripped of any friends to help them, the United States and Israel are now free to attempt to impose a peace plan on the Palestinians.

And that Outside In reality makes sense of the bizarre scenes of Pompeo “lying” to congress about Saudi crimes in Yemen; of Pompeo certifying Egypt, not because human rights abuses have improved but because they have “deteriorated”; and of the onslaught of funding cuts and blows to the Palestinian cause despite Trump’s promise, after moving the American embassy to Jerusalem, that the Palestinians will “get something very good . . . because it’s their turn next.”

Ted Snider
About Ted Snider

Ted Snider has a graduate degree in philosophy and writes on analyzing patterns in U.S. foreign policy and history. His work has appeared in AntiWar.com, ConsortiumNews, and other places.

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12 Responses

  1. Maghlawatan
    Maghlawatan
    October 10, 2018, 1:18 pm

    Don’t call them peace talks. Surrender talks.

    The Palestinians said no to Clinton and Bush 2 because both offers were bollocks.

    18 years after Clinton there is demographic parity and Israel’s image expressed in financial terms is Triple C. Hasbara is dead.

    Think of it in terms of option pricing. Trump will offer nothing. 10 more years of sumud plus BDS have great upside.

    The value of sumud plus BDS is much higher than the value of surrender.

    • Misterioso
      Misterioso
      October 11, 2018, 9:30 am

      Meanwhile:

      https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2018/10/181009170359749.html

      Al Jazeera, Oct. 9/18

      “Qatari fuel enters Gaza to avert ‘humanitarian disaster'”

      “Fuel delivery bypassed the Palestinian Authority, which has threatened retaliatory measures if deliveries continue.”

      “Qatari-bought fuel arrived at the Gaza Strip’s only power station after entering through Israel, sources said, in a bid to alleviate conditions in the besieged enclave and stem any escalation in Israeli-Palestinian violence.

      “A Palestinian source at the Karam Abu Salem border crossing, also known as Kerem Shalom, in southern Gaza said six trucks monitored by the United Nations and carrying 450,000 litres of fuel crossed there on Tuesday.

      “‘The Qatari fuel to the Gaza Strip’s power plant today is aimed at partially improving electricity (supply) in Gaza,’ Hamas spokesman Hazem Qassem told AFP news agency.
      The delivery could help ease months of protests and clashes along the border between Israel and Hamas-run Gaza, which has been under a crippling Israeli and Egyptian blockade for more than a decade.

      “The blockade has deprived the strip’s roughly two million inhabitants of several vital commodities, including food, fuel and medicine

      “The trucks that entered Gaza brought the first delivery of a $60m fuel donation by Qatar meant to provide the power plant with enough fuel to operate for six months, local sources said.

      “For months, Gazans have been receiving only four hours of mains electricity a day on average.

      “A spokesman for the Palestinian Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah, who is based in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, voiced disapproval of the fuel delivery.

      “‘Any international financial aid to the Gaza Strip should be through, or with the coordination of, the Palestinian government,’ he said, in order ‘to preserve Palestinian unity’ and to stop any plans to separate Gaza from the West Bank.

      “In a statement on Tuesday Azzam al-Ahmad, a senior official close to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, threatened retaliatory measures if the fuel deliveries continued.

      “‘Humanitarian disaster'”

      The United Nations has warned that Israel’s 11-year blockade of the strip has resulted in a ‘catastrophic’ humanitarian situation.

      “Under the UN-brokered deal, Qatar pays for the fuel which is then delivered through Israel with United Nations monitoring, a diplomatic source said.

      “A Qatari official, speaking to Reuters news agency on Sunday, said Doha planned to help with Gaza’s power crisis ‘at the request of donor states in the UN, to prevent an escalation of the existing humanitarian disaster.’

      “Israel’s energy minister, Yuval Steinitz, told Reuters on Monday that Qatar ‘was trying to help’ prevent a Gaza flare-up.

      “Hamas seized control of Gaza from Abbas’s Palestinian Authority in a 2007 civil war, a year after it unexpectedly won elections in the coastal enclave, triggering a crisis in Palestinian politics.

      “Multiple reconciliation attempts aimed at restoring the PA to power in Gaza have failed.
      Hamas spokesman Qassem said that the deliveries were facilitated ‘through the United Nations because of the vacuum left by the PA.’

      “Abbas says that making deals with Hamas amounts to recognising their control over Gaza in place of the PA.

      “Much of the international community considers Hamas a terrorist organisation.
      Israel says its blockade of Gaza is necessary to isolate Hamas, with which it has fought three wars since 2008.”

  2. Kay24
    Kay24
    October 10, 2018, 1:56 pm

    This is all to give Trump and his brilliant Middle East peace broker Jared credit, and claim that they reached out to help the Palestinians, and that THEY rejected all efforts, the ungrateful people, and then they will try to convince the world that the Palestinians somehow wants to be under occupation, and suffer.

    I do not have any faith that Jared, the man whose bed good buddy Netanyahu slept on, during a visit to Kushner’s family house, is an honest broker. After stabbing the Palestinians in their backs, and giving Jerusalem to their occupier, you have to be naive to think they will jump for joy over Jared and Trump’s idiotic peace plan. Offering the victims of this occupation, who have had no freedom, have had their lands stolen, children killed, entire families wiped lout, fishing rights restricted, and suffer on a daily basis, nothing, and everything to those who have tormented them for decades.

    Take a look at Jared’s speech during the grand opening of the new US embassy in Jerusalem, and see how smug and self righteous this zionist can be, as he does Adelson and Booby’s bidding.

  3. JaapBo
    JaapBo
    October 10, 2018, 3:35 pm

    So what will they come up with? The Bantustan-solution? Any kind of “solution” that Netanyahu agrees with must be similar to Apartheid (if we exclude expulsions).

    An apartheid-like solution will only deligitimize Israel further!

  4. gamal
    gamal
    October 10, 2018, 4:06 pm

    “to be bought and pacified are Saudi Arabia and Egypt”

    “Join them in their confrontation with Iran”

    Egypt is in a confrontation with Iran? Over what? our regional ambitions?

    Now would be a great time to reread Sunallah Ibrahim, author of “That Smell” (only the Creswell translation, the other one is poor)

    “The Committee” 1981 and “Zaat” 1992, I find them encouraging, you may not, why would any one expect any of this, that Israel and America do, to end happily, when was any of it happy?

    it is really weird that Americans can rarely distinguish between Arafat, Qadaffi, Assad, Hussien etc on the one hand and Sadat, Sisi, Mubarak, Hariri, MBS etc on the other, if you can’t see what I mean, with immediate and vivid clarity, read Ibrahim, to enhance your enjoyment of Empire.

    • Maghlawatan
      Maghlawatan
      October 10, 2018, 8:36 pm

      Who is this Mortgage Backed Security dude? Sisi and Mubarak were /are Merican Backed Shitheads.

      Masrumadunya and Saudi need to be on more stable footings for climate change. They need better leadership.

    • RoHa
      RoHa
      October 10, 2018, 9:55 pm

      “it is really weird that Americans can rarely distinguish between Arafat, Qadaffi, Assad, Hussien etc on the one hand and Sadat, Sisi, Mubarak, Hariri, MBS etc on the other…”

      Not weird at all, Gamal. Intellectual acuity is not the trait most commonly associated with Americans.

  5. Boomer
    Boomer
    October 10, 2018, 7:02 pm

    Thanks for the explanation of “outside in.” At least we know who is calling the tune. Kinda odd: normally we say that he who pays the piper calls the tune, but it seems that Uncle Sam pays, then dances to another’s choice.

  6. JimMichie
    JimMichie
    October 11, 2018, 9:03 am

    No doubt whatsoever the origin of this outrageously Machiavellian scheme: Zionist Benjamin Netanyahu, the brutal, merciless, racist, genocidal, ethnic cleansing, land stealing, fascist, terrorist “leader” of Israel’s Zionist regime!

  7. James Canning
    James Canning
    October 11, 2018, 12:56 pm

    Sheldon Adelson wants the Palestinians to disappear. Clearly, Trump is doing his best to accomplish this objective.

  8. Ossinev
    Ossinev
    October 11, 2018, 1:30 pm

    @JimMichie
    “Zionist Benjamin Netanyahu, the brutal, merciless, racist, genocidal, ethnic cleansing, land stealing, fascist, terrorist “leader” of Israel’s Zionist regime!”

    Fairs fair he is a “moderate” by comparison with the Education Minister (LOL) in his government Naftali Bennett who has emerged from his Nazi closet big time:
    http://normanfinkelstein.com/2018/10/10/asked-if-he-would-also-instruct-the-army-to-shoot-and-kill-palestinian-children-who-breach-the-border-fence-bennett-said-they-are-not-children-they-are-terrorists-we-are-fooling/

    Obviously aiming for the top job and is in his racist psychopathic element. His challenger Lieberman is also deranged but appears to have the ability to make basic political calculations.

    Now I wonder if the lunatic Bennett does get the top job would Labour Party MP`s in the UK be accused of Anti- Semitism and breaches of the IHRA if they suggested that he as someone who has openly called for the murder of children be banned from entering the country.

    Hodge/Berger/Smeeth et al would of course be queueing up to embrace him.

  9. brent
    brent
    October 11, 2018, 2:38 pm

    A very thoughtful analysis by Snider.

    I recall Trump’s first meeting with Netanyahu, surprising everyone, including Netanyahu, saying he wanted a deal, whether it was one state or two, so long as both agreed, he would be good with it. He likely knows deals must have a win/win.

    When the newly formed PLO put the one state, a secular, democratic one, with equality for all, on the table, Israel declared war and has since acted to be unforgivable to Palestinians to keep the one state at bay.

    Personally, I believe Trump’s first dedication is to his ego, not Netanyahu’s objectives. If I were designing Palestinian strategy, it would be to “play Trump”, as other diplomats do. Put a plausible two-state plan forward that Netanyahu would counter to prevent Palestinians, Trump and the world from going to the one state.

    Spitting at Trump makes no sense at all. The Palestine Question cannot be resolved with muscle but can with ideas.

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