Ahead of Jared Kushner, the senior advisor to President Donald Trump, speech at the Washington Institute, in which he will discuss the Trump administration’s Middle East peace effort, here is my piece on why Kushner plan is doomed to fail. The points highlighted in this post are the barriers for peace on the Arab side. Off course, there are more obstacles from the Israeli sides, but many have discussed that already. I will write more on this topic in the next few weeks.
Four decades have passed since Egypt and Israel signed a peace treaty in March 1979. Much has changed in the Middle East throughout the long, turbulent years since then. But one simple fact remains: Egypt’s late president, Anwar Sadat, was right. Sadat’s true legacy is not merely his strategic embrace of peace, but his impeccable timing in his quest for peace and his sheer realism in a region that has been cursed with mistimed political moves and irrational emotionalism.
Two years before the Egypt-Israel peace accord was signed on November 17, 1977, Sadat went to Syria to meet with his Syrian counterpart, Hafez al-Assad. He tried to persuade Assad to back his planned visit to Jerusalem, with the aim of forging a grand deal that could guarantee the return of all occupied lands Israel had captured in the Six-Day War of 1967.
Assad refused. Amidst the wrath and curses of nearly all Arabs, Sadat went to Jerusalem alone. Eventually, he was able to regain the entire Sinai from Israel.
In 1978, most Arabs thought Sadat’s timing was out of sync with the mood of the Arab public. But the Egyptian leader was spot-on. If Sadat had waited until the Eighties, his peace mission would have coincided with the birth of the mullah regime in Iran, Israel’s invasion of Lebanon, and the rise of militant Islamist groups. His quest for peace would have failed miserably.
The Egyptian leader did not have a crystal ball to look into the future, but he understood that in a region in constant flux, he needed to capitalize on opportunities before unfavourable developments ruined them.
Over the next four decades, the collective handling of the conflict by Sadat’s Arab opponents and their successors has been “a crime against logic.” Many in the Arab camp have refused to negotiate when opportunities have arisen, then later joined the negotiations with little intention of making them successful, or failed to participate, fearing the consequences of a final deal that could end the conflict.
Following Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s re-election victory, the Trump administration is preparing to reveal the “peace plan” of Trump’s senior advisor, Jared Kushner, as early as this month.
This peace plan, however, is doomed to failure. If Sadat were still alive, he would advise President Trump that now is not the right time for a grand deal between the Arab world and Israel.
The director of the Washington Institute, Robert Satloff, has also reached the same conclusion. Satloff argues that Jared Kushner’s peace plan is bound to fail, as it would legitimize Israel’s annexation of the West Bank, strengthen Iran, and its allies, and give Saudi Arabia leverage.
Even if Kushner manages to convince the victorious Netanyahu not to annex any part of the West Bank and endorse the two-state solution – which is unlikely – the geopolitical scene in the Arab world is not ripe for a grand peace deal.
It is true many Arab States, particularly Saudi Arabia, the UAE, and Bahrain have softened their stances towards negotiations with Israel. But that alone is not enough for Kushner’s peace plan to succeed.
For any grand peace deal to work, the conflict has to be only two-dimensional, with clear players on both sides, just as it was in the 70s, when it was strictly between Israel and the Arab States. But for four decades, the conflict has morphed into a complex, multi-dimensional one with non-state players and regional players, particularly Iran and Turkey, manipulating the situation to serve their own agendas.
On the Iranian front, although the US administration has imposed sanctions on Iran, and announcedits intention to designate Iran’s military unit, the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), as a foreign terrorist group, it remains to be seen whether those decisions would limit Iran’s toxic policies in the region. Nonetheless, US pressure on Iran is not enough on its own. Without creating a solid Arab front that can counter Iran’s influence in Arab affairs, the sanctions and designation will be ineffective. Moreover, the American effort to form an Arab NATO is falling apart, especially with the recent quiet withdrawal of Egypt. This Egyptian move, regardless of its motives, highlights the long way the American administration has to go to unite Arab efforts against the mullahs’ regime in Tehran.
On the Turkish front, Turkey and its Arab ally, Qatar, have significant links with various Islamist groups, particularly Hamas and its bigger sister, the Muslim Brotherhood. Although both countries have not firmly rejected Kushner’s plan, their media outlets have circulated outlandish scenariosand hostile opinion piecesagainst “the deal of the century.” Over the past year, Arabic followers of Al-Jazeera and the Turkey-based Islamist channels have been saturated with hostile ideas and relentless negative reporting of Kushner’s plan. This is hardly surprising, as Turkey and Qatar want a deal that favors Hamas; not a deal that can potentially end the group’s grip on Gaza.
Haaretz journalist Bradley Burston once wrote, “There are those who fear peace, and those who hate it.” Anwar Sadat was a rare exception. The Egyptian leader did not fear peace and did not hate it. It is refreshing to see other Arab leaders breaking away from such a toxic dichotomy and demonstrating an open willingness to give peace a chance. However, without neutralising all the obstructive players, and restraining Netanyahu’s land grab ambitions, American efforts to forge peace between the Arabs and Israelis will be doomed to fail —again.
Until that happens, it seems the Egypt-Israel peace treaty will continue to be the only modest success in a region addicted to failure and mistiming.