This political chess game has just begun, and the opening moves have given the Muslim world an advantage. Israel, beware.
The irony was hard to miss. The headlines throughout the free world this week were quite similar, each a version of the following: President Trump asks the Muslim world to unite against terror. His thirty-five minute speech was the essence of the inability to accept reality. In what is sure to be called by some his ‘magnum opus,’ it was rather a case of historical amnesia.
With the lights shining brightly on his much-anticipated visit to the Middle East, Trump addressed the leaders of fifty Muslim-majority nations gathered in Saudi Arabia and decided to distance – and divorce – himself from the ‘apology tour’ untaken eight years before by his predecessor. For those who wanted so much to see a new American foreign policy as a road to peace, it required the suspension, or loss, of objectivity. And many seemed willing. For the moment.
But those Muslim nations who attended the Arab Islamic American Summit will not long be willing to suspend their thinking. They will simply argue that Israel wasn’t offering enough concessions, and that Trump had not pressed them enough. You can bet your last petro-dollar on it.
For the moment, the Americans believe they have secured a unified group of partners. Any reputable historian (this already seems to disqualify a large number of them) or political analyst with critical thinking skills (now, we’ve really thinned the herd), might wonder how a collection of despotic nations can be so readily willing to turn their very religious/ideological foundation on its head. We will soon find out that they are not.
President Trump’s well-scripted and carefully-read speech – clearly the result of endless hours of rewrites – was meant to deliver a stern anti-terrorism message without offending the intended audience. It offended the truth.
The audience of dignitaries, shrouded by opulence, listened patiently if not dispassionately, knowing that the US president (and American military hardware) was their meal ticket to repelling any future Iranian military threat. Trump was the antidote to Obama’s prostitution in service to a Shiite world. For those who attended, it was the art of the deal. And accordingly, the Sunnis applauded the message.
There is background. The Muslims had already leveraged the president and his State Department. Playing their trump card, several Arab leaders were uniform in delivering their own message prior to his visit, most recently in Washington by Palestinian Authority president Mahmoud Abbas and Jordanian monarch Abdullah II. It was a rather simple one: peace was possible. But, if the United States would recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, and move its embassy there, it was certain to create a violent reaction throughout the Muslim world and scuttle any hopes of a peace process; and with it, the peace agreement that the new US president had boastfully promised. It was a card that the Arabs intended to use any time – every time – it was needed.
When the US president reneged on his promises to Israel, the Arabs’ table was set.
With Trump reeling domestically from the twin offensive launched against his presidency by the Democrats and the media, and with the relentless calls for investigations in search of scandals, he needed a victory on another front. A successful visit to the Middle East, beginning with the Riyadh Summit, was the perfect countermeasure. Trump needed to appear more than simply presidential; he needed to appear to be the statesman that Obama was not, notwithstanding his Nobel Peace Prize for potential participation.
If everyone was made to feel a part of the great design, Trump’s advisors reasoned, a peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinian Arabs would be possible – given the consent of the larger Muslim world.
To be sure, Israel’s enemies understood that quite well. Facing four and possibly eight years of a pro-Israel president, with tongue in cheek they rehearsed and schemed for weeks flattering the man who was desperate to be flattered. Consult your Islamic dictionary. Look up taqiyya.
And it worked. With each party ostensibly satisfied that it had won, the Israelis must take care not to be the losers. Credit them this: Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu, no less than his Arab counterparts, understands that Trump needs to be flattered, a painful undertaking given the disappointments that proponents of a strategically secure Israel had already suffered. In the next four – or eight years – there was a greater goal. Preventing a two state solution.
This political chess game had just begun, and the opening moves have given the Muslim world an advantage. Israel, one imagines, is reluctantly willing to sacrifice the pawn today to gain leverage tomorrow when the peace process fails to produce a peace agreement. There is a looming expiration date. Count on it.
The Israelis have to cleverly expose the myth of Muslim compliance to a US president who is intoxicated with the hope that the applause of Riyadh would continue during his presidency. It will not. The more pervasive myth that is perpetrated by the Arab states is that the “core issue” that underscores the Arab-Israeli conflict is the Palestinian issue. It is a lie as transparent as the fact that the entire Arab world refuses to recognize Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish State. Abbas’s PA confirmed as much the day before the Trump visit, as it competes with Hamas for the hearts and minds of its citizens. It is a lie as transparent as the misbegotten belief that the Muslims would partner with the US to combat terrorism. Many, after all, still sponsor it.
The Muslim leaders who politely tolerated Trump’s remarks represent a block of nations where there are no free elections, no freedom of speech, where the violation of basic human rights is the rule rather than the exception, where corruption is endemic, and where non-Muslim religious life is less often tolerated than it is persecuted.
American common sense is sacrificed on the altar of expectation. Rather like the mosquito in a nudist camp, advocates of Israel, the only democracy in the Middle East, know what they need to do, but don’t know where to begin. Donald Trump’s advisors have misled him to believe that it began in Riyadh, in May 2017. It did not.
Just imagine. Asking the Islamic world to serve as agents against terror! Was the Obama promise that the Islamic Republic of Iran could be trusted to work to prevent a military nuclear capability any more unrealistic? Hell, why didn’t someone think to recruit Charles Manson to a neighborhood crime watch?
Fifty-plus Muslim entities, representing an Islamic world with a history of terror that requires several volumes to catalog. Fine print, single spaced. And Team Trump is willing to bet his presidential reputation on it. Really? It raises one’s eyebrows, and reminds us that the only lesson of history is that there seem to be no lessons to be learned from history.
With apologies to Mark Twain and his comment about newspapers, we paraphrase: “If you didn’t read the Koran, you are uninformed; If you spoke to Abbas, or Abdullah, or King Salman, you are misinformed.”
But, if you did read the Koran, you are fully informed. And history will not be kind.
The clash between Islam and western civilization is undeniable, unless you suspend objectivity. During the festivities the evening prior to the speech, the president and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson each danced with a ceremonial sword in hand, as did their moderate hosts. They are the same scimitar sabres used to behead Saudi citizens on a regular basis – a policy that was resumed when the president continued with the second stage of his foreign excursion.
In 2016, candidate Donald Trump offered that “radical Islam is anti-woman, anti-gay, and anti-American,” and referred to Islam as “a hateful foreign ideology.” Oscar Wilde infamously said: “The only way to get rid of temptation is to yield to it.” President Trump, a good man who is not accepting reality, has taken it a bit further: the only way to defeat terrorists is to partner with them. Just study the roster of those who attended. Has that populist and unapologetic common sense that set candidate Trump apart vanished, lost to a false applause?
He was right about one thing. It is a struggle between good and evil. Yes, the irony was hard to miss.
Meir Jolovitz is a past national executive director of the Zionist Organization of America, and formerly associated with the Institute for Advanced Strategic and Political Studies.