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May 22, 2017 5:13 pm

Trump’s Approach of Enhanced Relations With Arab States as Key to Peace Appeals to Israelis, Experts Say

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President Trump and PM Netanyahu at a news conference in Jerusalem. Photo: Netanyahu’s Twitter account.

Donald Trump’s vision of a Middle East peace process driven by an enhanced relationship between Israel and the Sunni Arab states took another step forward on the first day of the US president’s official visit to the Jewish state, Israeli strategic analysts told The Algemeiner on Monday.

“I sense that behind the scenes, things are moving,”  Professor Jonathan Rynhold — a senior researcher at the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies at Bar-Ilan University in Ramat Gan — said. “I think we will see the renewal of the peace process with the involvement of the Arab states.”

Sitting next to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu earlier on Monday in Jerusalem, Trump sounded buoyant about the prospects for ties between Israel and Saudi Arabia — which has steadfastly refused to recognize the Jewish state since its founding in 1948.

“We had an amazing two days and their feeling towards Israel is really very positive,” Trump said of his talks with Saudi and other Arab leaders. “Tremendous progress has been made. I think a lot of that progress has been made because of the aggression of Iran and it’s forcing people together in a very positive way. And if you look at King Salman and Saudi Arabia and others that I was with — the UAE and Bahrain and Kuwait and so many others, it was something.”

Toby Greene — a fellow at the Leonard Davis Institute for International Relations at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem — noted that the opportunity for deepened ties with the Arab states was “first identified under President Obama, but not really seized upon.”

“Insofar as there is any optimism here, it’s because the Trump administration sees that,” Greene said. “Whereas Obama’s relationship with the Sunnis, and the Saudis in particular, was very tense, because Obama believed the Saudis should share the Middle East with Iran, Trump’s approach is overtly hostile to Iran. That creates a clear basis for an alliance with the Saudis.”

Dore Gold — a long-standing confidante of Netanyahu and a former Israeli Ambassador the UN — told Fox News on Monday he was convinced that the Saudis had undergone a significant shift in their attitude towards Israel.

“In the past, Saudi Arabia was a big funder of Hamas,” the Muslim Brotherhood-linked terrorist organization that rules the Gaza Strip, Gold noted. “But today they don’t give Hamas a nickel.”

“If there is a new kind of inter-religious tolerance, then those who have been inciting young people to become suicide bombers can be sidelined,” Gold declared.

At the same time, the excitement generated by Trump’s visit is balanced by the realization that the goal of reaching a final peace deal between Israel and the Palestinian Authority (PA) remains as daunting as ever.

“What Trump said is that he hears things from his Arab interlocutors that make him feel like there’s an opportunity,” Greene commented. “The Israelis too have spoken about the potential for the Sunni Arab states to play a constructive role in the peace process.”

However, Greene asserted, “the Sunni Arab states remain very cautious. Whether the change in administration in the US can make the Sunni states more ready to engage publicly with Israel remains to be seen.”

Also unclear, Greene continued, was the degree to which Arab nations were willing to apply a mixture of pressure upon and diplomatic support for the PA in any negotiations with the Israelis. Another key factor, he said, concerned the “domestic political room for maneuver” available to Israeli and Palestinian leaders alike in terms of moving the peace process forward.

Yet both sides will be wary of being identified by the Trump administration as playing a spoiling role.

“Trump is personally committed to doing the ‘ultimate deal’ and neither Israel nor the Palestinians want to be the one he holds responsible for failure,” Rynhold said. “This will make both sides more flexible about returning to talks, and the Arab states are willing to be a part of things in an unprecedented way.”

Trump is scheduled to meet in Bethlehem on Tuesday with PA President Mahmoud Abbas. Outstanding — and until now, unbridgeable — differences between Israel and the PA on such matters as the so-called “right of return” for the descendants of Palestinian refugees remain as intractable as ever. Continued PA payments to imprisoned terrorists and their families, despite Israeli protests that this policy “incentivizes terrorism,” represent another serious block to progress.

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