BY KALEEMAH MUTTAQI
Among various promises made by the Trump administration throughout the past year, one has rung resoundingly clear: brokering peace in the Middle East. Deemed the “ultimate deal,” Trump and various delegates have promised to work towards remedying conflicts in the region whilst working towards an overall goal of established peace. The plan centers primarily on negotiating the ongoing Israeli-Palestinian conflict, with Iran negotiations & ISIL conquest subsequently following as other areas of concern. While talk of such peace may look promising on the surface, the question lingers as to just how plausible such prospects are, and where intentions truly lie.
A major concern regarding the credibility of such prospects lies in the peacemaking team, many of whom are relative newcomers to Middle East peacemaking, and one in particular who holds potential both for bias and personal agenda.
Jared Kushner, son-in-law of Donald Trump and current senior White House advisor, maintains both personal and economic relationships within the region that are concerning. The Kushner family shares a history with Benjamin Netanyahu, the current Israeli Prime Minister, that dates back to Kushner’s childhood. Netanyahu and Charles Kushner – Jared’s father – have maintained economic and personal ties throughout the years; the Prime Minister has even slept in Jared’s bedroom at the Kushner’s home in New Jersey. The Kushner family has shown their support for Israeli causes through personal donations to Netanyahu amounting to “hundreds of thousands of dollars” and donations to illegal Israeli settlements, the Beit El settlement in particular. Recent reports have uncovered ties between the Kushner family and one of the richest families in Israel, the Steinmetz family, amounting to millions of dollars. While these investments may appear unalarming on the surface, Kushner’s new role in brokering peace between Middle Eastern states changes these dynamics. It’s reasonable to question whether or not Kushner can broker a fair deal between Israel and Palestine considering he has millions of dollars invested in one of the regions. Should his eagerness to prioritize the well-being of these assets outweigh his impartiality, the potential for bias arises.
Since publication, Jared Kushner has been “stripped of top security clearance” by White House Chief of Staff John Kelly.
Outside of Israel, concerns arise within Saudi Arabia, specifically regarding a billion dollar U.S.-Saudi weapons deal negotiated by none other than Kushner himself. The deal’s informality was surpassed by Kushner’s willingness to secure a better deal for the Saudi government. He reportedly “personally called Lockheed Martin CEO Marillyn Hewson and asked if she would cut the price of a sophisticated missile detection system.” Not long after, Saudi Arabia and UAE pledged to donate $1 billion to a World Bank fund inspired by none other than Ivanka Trump, inciting concerns that White House members may be using leverage to inspire personal favors from their foreign counterparts.
The weapons deal draws attention to another area of concern: the Saudi-led campaign against Houthi rebels in Yemen. Many worry that the new arms deal will be used to prolong the already devastating conflict, one that has resulted in over “15,000 human casualties” since 2015 as reported by the UNHR’s Office of the High Commissioner. It’s hard to envision the success of peace talks when weapons deals (such as the one just established) are bound to raise civilian death tolls. A similar deal was recently struck with Bahrain, when the U.S. State Department announced to Congress “that it would proceed with a $5 billion sale of fighter jets to Bahrain, waiving concerns about the Gulf state’s human rights record that initially delayed the deal under the Obama administration.”
The Trump administration’s inconsistencies are foreboding amidst Middle East peace negotiations. While the White House has no problem criticizing Israeli settlement expansion and construction, labeling them as “an impediment to peace,” Trump’s foreign policy choices don’t match up. Sticking true to his campaign promises, Trump recently announced plans to move the Israeli U.S. embassy to Jerusalem, officially recognizing the city as the capital of Israel. This move proves problematic and definitely qualifies as ‘an impediment to peace,’ seeing as both Israeli and Palestinian states claim Jerusalem as their capital, land which was constituted as Palestinian territory according to 1967 borders.
In fact many of Trump’s foreign policy actions appear to be hindering peace rather than propelling it. Trump’s arming of Saudi Arabia, assisting them in their bombings of ports, bridges, and aid warehouses in an attempt to “starve Yemen into submission” is only leading to more destabilization and destruction in the region. Trump’s new strategy in Afghanistan is to expand military intervention, but for what reason? The location of such military facilities near China’s Western frontier suggests that the bases will serve as means of preventing China from trading successfully with Afghanistan. These power-grab tactics potentially create both national and international dangers. In response to Trump’s expansion of U.S. forces, the Taliban has sent threats to the Pentagon, promising to continue fighting so long as U.S. troops remain in Afghanistan. The group made its anger clear, stating, “If America doesn’t withdraw its troops from Afghanistan, soon Afghanistan will become another graveyard for this superpower in the 21st century.”
These acts, be it the establishment of new weapons deals, expansion of military facilities, or relocation of embassies, all hold one common element: Iran. Trump has made his unfavorable stance on the country and its foreign relations clear from the beginning, primarily in regards to Syria and Israel. Last year, the White House imposed sanctions on Iran despite certifying its compliance on the nuclear deal. As a result, the preservation of the agreement does not look promising. This decision, like the others, could potentially further destabilization in the region rather than promote peace, as Iran has already threatened to withdraw from the nuclear agreement if U.S. sanctions continue.
The future doesn’t look promising, but that’s not stopping this supposed ‘peace plan’ from going forward. The U.S. UN Ambassador, Nikki Haley, recently stated that the peace plan is currently being “finished up.” Finalization may be hindered by new developments, as Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas recently publicly rejected the U.S.’ role in leading Middle East peace efforts, proposing “convening an international peace conference” instead.
Personal agendas, ego-driven power grabs, and outright hypocrisy all represent the antithesis of what this peace plan supposedly stands for. Ongoing conflicts in the region, and an unwillingness to negotiate by various states, threaten to further instability. As tension builds up, the outcomes following the impending release of said peace plan will be telling.