Everyone is freaking out over Donald Trump’s acknowledgment of reality. Jerusalem is the de facto capital of Israel. It has been for decades. Yes, the Muslim world is angry about this decision by Trump.
Yes, it will make things tense for a while. No, the Palestinians and Turkey are not happy about this. Neither is Iran.
But, lost in all of the outrage is the simple fact that in May Russian President Vladimir Putin acknowledged that west Jerusalem was the rightful capital of Israel. The diplomatic dam on this issue was broken by Putin first.
Trump is, rightly, following suit. And upping the stakes at the same time.
For there to be peace in the Middle East the most important consideration is that nuclear-armed Israel believes that the U.S. will be a guarantor of a deal with the Muslim world that will stick. Israel feels it has negotiated in good faith in the past and been betrayed.
I’m sure the Palestinians feel the same way.
The Russian Axis
But it doesn’t matter what has happened in the past. For there to be a deal that ends the destructive conflict, trust has to come from somewhere and fifty years of U.S. duplicity and regime-change operations on Israel’s behalf has to end.
At the same time a resurgent Russia now exists for the first time in more than thirty years to act as a countervailing force to the U.S. on these weighty geopolitical matters. Russia has been instrumental on both the diplomatic and military front to act in a trustworthy manner.
Russia has done everything President Vladimir Putin said they would do they way they said they would do it in Syria. The only confusion about Russia’s mission in Syria has been intentionally created through the U.S. and European media and Deept State elements (including Israeli actors) to undermine support for it.
Never once have the Russians overstepped their mandate in Syria. At the same time Russian diplomacy has done a masterful job of walking a tightrope keeping the pro-Assad coalition together while inviting minimal retribution from the Saudi/U.S./Israeli coalition intent of atomizing Syria and handing it over to ISIS.
And the main lesson from Syria is that the Russians now have both the respect and the trust of nearly all the major players in the greater mid-east conflict. That trust and respect is the framework around which the possibility of a Grand Bargain in the Middle East rests.
The Trump Axis
So, if Trump is serious about brokering a peace deal it will come with the end of our actively meddling locally while getting Israel some of the things it wants.
To be blunt, which I know will invite tremendous criticism to say, but Jerusalem is a small price to pay for the end of U.S. military and intelligence operations in the Middle East if that will allow a deal to emerge.
And I think Trump is serious. His announcement of recognizing Jerusalem as the Israeli capital is infuriating to the Islamic world, specifically Iran and the Palestinians. But in nearly the same breath Trump called on the Saudis to end the blockade of Yemen and, in effect, begin winding down the war there.
This is a classic negotiating tactic. Yes, he’s doing something big, Jerusalem. But he’s also signaling hard that he has the Saudis respect and can influence their behavior on a real humanitarian tragedy. It’s not perfect, but it’s a great start.
Turkey will use this as an excuse to formally break with the U.S., but that was fait accompli months ago, after the failed coup attempt against President Erdogan last summer. But, make no mistake, Turkey now takes any orders it obeys from Russia not NATO.
Iran, now effectively nuclear-armed thanks to its outsourcing program with North Korea, and Hezbollah will not accept a deal unless Russia acts as guarantor of Israel’s and Saudi Arabia’s behavior.
Everyone is acting like Jerusalem is the thing blocking a Middle East peace plan. It isn’t. What’s blocking a peace framework is a guarantee that the world’s biggest nuclear, military and diplomatic powers, the U.S. and Russia, will police the behavior of the other side.
That’s why Russia’s performance in Syria is the key to why Trump (and to a lesser extent Putin) can make the moves they’ve made with respect to Jerusalem.
And it took Trump to call everyone’s bluff that they will go to war over acknowledging that which has been truth for my entire life. Israel occupies Jerusalem.
No one is going to be happy about the outcome here in the short run. There’s too much blood, too much anger. But, if the big boys act like the big boys they are, if both negotiate resolutely and with a commitment to brokering a deal then a deal can get done.
I don’t expect Israel to trust Hezbollah anymore than I expect the Iranians to trust the Saudis. But, if everyone trusts their more powerful benefactors to have their backs, then for the time being, we can have a classic Hobbesian uneasy truce.
And the benefactors themselves, Russia and the U.S., begin cooperating to a common goal like they did somewhat in Syria, then it puts us on a much different path.
And once we start exploring that path, who knows where it could lead?
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