Secretary of State Mike Pompeo left for Israel and the Gulf on Sunday not with the two-state solution on his mind; but with a focus on what you might call the 22-state solution: how best to use Arab state relationships with Israel to support President Donald Trump’s reelection campaign.
Not that Pompeo or Jared Kushner, who will reportedly follow him to the region after the Republican National Convention, believe there’s any chance of getting a majority of the Arab League’s 22 members to join the United Arab Emirates (UAE) in its recent normalization of ties with Israel. But the pair plans on getting some.
Enamored of Arab money, arms sales and enlisting Arab states in their pro-Israeli and anti-Iranian agenda, the Trump administration’s real play was never about the Palestinians or two states. It was always about the Arab nations. And authoritarian Arab regimes eager to please an autocrat-friendly president have been only too happy to follow along with Donald Trump. The only question is how many more will do so.
In my first meeting with Kushner in 2017, it was clear where the administration was headed. Kushner stressed then that one of the key principles of his approach to the Middle East peace process was developing what he called “strategic relationships” with Arab states, especially Saudi Arabia and the UAE.
The objective was not to enlist the Arab states to leverage Israel into making concessions to the Palestinians. Instead, it was designed to demonstrate that the Arab world would leave the latter behind if they didn’t agree to make concessions and sign up to more reasonable terms with Israel.
Over the next several years, Kushner made good on his word. Instead of developing a close personal relationship with any Palestinian interlocutor, he invested heavily in courting the two Arab leaders central to his strategy: Mohammed bin Salman, the Saudi Crown Prince, and Mohammed bin Zayed, the most powerful leader in the UA. The attention and focus on the Gulf states was stunningly willful. The President’s first trip abroad began in Saudi Arabia and Israel.