Is Donald Trump Following in Barack Obama’s Footsteps in the Middle East?

March 20 2017

Looking past the various rumors, conspiracy theories, and scandals swirling around the Trump administration, Lee Smith notes that many stalwarts of the previous White House are still shaping policies toward Iran, Syria, and Israel—suggesting a surprising measure of continuity:

After excoriating Barack Obama’s foreign policy, including his realignment in the Middle East, President Trump has yet to nominate any officials below the cabinet level at the State Department or the Pentagon, which means there is no one to formulate Trump’s own foreign policy, never mind implement it. To fill the growing vacuum, . . . the Trump White House is now handing over key foreign-policy positions to Obama administration [officials] who handled the very same portfolios under the previous president. . . .

Yael Lempert, a National Security Council (NSC) staffer from the Obama administration that the Trump team decided to keep on, [was] in Jerusalem [last] week with the White House’s special representative for international negotiations, longtime Trump lawyer Jason Greenblatt. Lempert, one former Clinton official told me, “is considered one of the harshest critics of Israel on the foreign-policy far left. From her position on the Obama NSC, she helped manufacture crisis after crisis in a relentless effort to portray Israel negatively and diminish the breadth and depth of our alliance.” . . .

Trump is showing the same disregard for his big promises when it comes to . . . Islamic State (IS), which he firmly swore to demolish. To make good on that promise, the Trump team has selected Brett McGurk—the same Brett McGurk who served as the Obama administration’s special envoy to lead the campaign against IS. One of the main reasons Obama’s IS policy failed was because Sunnis refused to engage in an intramural civil war whose spoils would go to the Iranians and their Shiite allies. McGurk was the point man on this pro-Iran policy, famously arranging for Iran to get $400 million in cash delivered on wooden pallets to the [Islamic Republic] in exchange for American hostages.

Remember when the Trump administration promised to make public the secret agreements that Obama made with Iran? McGurk signed some of the secret documents, relieving sanctions on a key financial hub of Iran’s ballistic-missile program, and dropping charges against 21 Iranian operatives linked to terrorism. Notably, none of those documents has been made public. Maybe that’s because McGurk’s name is on them, or maybe it’s because the former National Iranian American Council staffer Sahar Nowrouzzadeh, Obama’s NSC director for Iran, is now on the policy-planning staff in Trump’s State Department.

Read more at Tablet

More about: Barack Obama, Donald Trump, Iran, Israel, Politics & Current Affairs, Syria, U.S. Foreign policy

 

Ending the Palestinian “Internationalization” Strategy

March 24 2017

Since Barack Obama (and Benjamin Netanyahu) assumed office in 2009, the Palestinian Authority has refused to negotiate with Israel, demanded the establishment of a Palestinian state based on the pre-1967 borders with its capital in east Jerusalem, and declined to agree to any concessions in return. To this end it has pursued a strategy of “internationalizing” the conflict by seeking recognition from international bodies and hoping that some sort of consortium of states will impose a solution to its liking on Israel. But with a new president in the White House, and a Middle East in disarray, this strategy seems less promising. Amos Yadlin and Kobi Michael explain why and how Israel and the U.S. can bring an end to it:

The Palestinian internationalization strategy was bolstered by a public-relations effort to [disseminate] the Palestinian narrative of the reasons for the conflict and the “just way of solving it,” and to saddle Israel with responsibility for the political deadlock. This was joined by general efforts to delegitimize Israel. This strategy, which focuses on a persistent, systematic effort to blacken Israel in international institutions, undermine its legitimacy, and deny the historic national connection of the Jewish people to the land of Israel, has scored several notable achievements in recent years. . . . One of the prominent achievements by the Palestinian national movement was the 2012 UN General Assembly resolution defining Palestine as a “non-member observer state.” . . . [T]he Palestinians [also] succeeded in entrenching within the U.S. administration the belief that Israel’s settlement policy in the West Bank was the main obstacle to an agreement. . . .

Making it unmistakably clear to the Palestinians that they must return to the negotiating process and to mutual give-and-take, and also accept transitional and interim arrangements as preferable alternatives to the status quo, will engender greater potential for progress than during the Obama administration. As an initial sign to the Palestinians that the rules of the game have changed, moving the American embassy to Jerusalem is in order. An American retreat from that pledge . . . [in response to] the Palestinian threats aimed at preventing this measure will weaken the American stature and become an incentive for the Palestinians to adhere to a strategy of bypassing Israel and evading direct negotiations. . . .

It is [also] important that the United States clarify that if the Palestinians prefer to continue their effort to isolate Israel in the international theater, instead of returning to direct negotiations, . . . [Washington] will back independent measures by Israel for determining its border in accordance with Israel’s strategic interests, while preserving the possibility of the future implementation of a negotiated two nation-state solution.

Read more at Institute for National Security Studies

More about: Donald Trump, Israel & Zionism, Palestinian Authority, Peace Process, US-Israel relations