Fresh from his $110 billion arms deal with Saudi Arabia, US President Donald Trump arrives to a divided Israel with a view to restarting peace talks between Israel and Palestine.
Trump’s changing attitudes towards Saudi Arabia could not be more polar opposite. Prior to his election, Trump vocally criticised Saudi Arabia and called for them to “pay dearly” for America’s help in its “saving from total extinction,” yet he now dances with their ministers and signs a defence deal for $109 billion, worth $350 billion over the next ten years.
In comments reminiscent of the US sale of fighter jets to Saudi Arabia in the 1980s, Israel’s Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz has said that Trump’s arms deal with “hostile” Saudi Arabia “is a matter that really should trouble us,” especially given that Israel signed a ten-year defence deal worth $38 billion only last year.
Steinitz said it is also necessary that Saudi Arabia’s weapons deal does not “erode Israel’s qualitative edge.”
For all their differences, Israel and Saudi Arabia share a mutual enemy in a nuclear Iran, especially in light of the re-election of Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, who will be more challenging to undermine than his Anti-American opponent Ibrahim Raisi.
Dan Diker, leader of a counter-political warfare project at Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, notes that the “convergence of concern between Israel, the Sunni Arab states and President Trump’s administration creates the possibility for real coordination and cooperation between Israel and the Arab world.”
Trump’s Arrival in Israel is to Mixed Opinion
Upon landing, Israeli President Rivlin called him “the President of Israel’s greatest, most important ally…a true friend of Israel and of the Jewish people,” yet Haaretz reported that Netanyahu had to order his ministers to attend Trump’s reception.
The US president’s itinerary includes a visit to the Western Wall without Benjamin Netanyahu, so as not to confirm the White House’s stance as to whom this area belongs, as well as a meeting with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.
Ten days ago Trump’s National Security Adviser, General H.R. McMaster, stated that along with solidifying America’s “unshakeable bond to the Jewish state”, Trump’s trip would encourage lasting peace between Israelis and Palestinians. Trump himself has said that he wants Israel to stop expanding its settlements, and he wants Palestinians to stop inciting Israelis.
In February, the US President appeared to be heading away from the US’s traditional policy of a two-state solution when he said that he was not onlt “looking at two-state and one-state”, but that he “can live with either one”.
Since then, the President has seemingly fallen back in line, and Jason Greenblatt, his envoy for international negotiations, has visited Israeli, Palestinian and Arab leaders to pave the way for new negotiations. As to whether Trump and his administration can make real progress in the Middle East, only time will tell.