Israeli elections and the soon to be revealed Saudi-supported Trump peace plan for the region may push Iran towards military escalation
President Trump’s son in law and senior advisor Jarred Kushner is in the Middle East promoting the Trump administration plan for the final resolution of the Arab-Israeli conflict. While Kushner is careful not to disclose the specifics of the plan, he has revealed that he would like to see Gaza and the Palestinian territories in Judea and Samaria under a unified leadership. In an interview to the British Sky News network, Mr. Kushner spent quite some time detailing the economic benefits that would accrue to both the Israeli and the Palestinian side if a peace deal were to be signed. These benefits would come from the free movement of goods and services across mutually recognized borders and massive investment, mostly from the states of the Arabian Peninsula that have recently showed clear signs of rapprochement with the Jewish State.
Mr. Kushner has reiterated Iran’s status as the chief danger to regional peace and stability and accused it of working to make the situation worse by exacerbating the refugee crisis and supplying arms to extremist elements such as the Hamas and the Hezbollah. While the exact parameters of the deal are officially being kept secret, the broad outline is well-known. The deal doubtlessly establishes a Palestinian state alongside Israel. This state would likely include all of Gaza and the “A” and “B” territories in Judea and Samaria, with “A” being those in which the Palestinian Authority today has full civilian and security control and “B” those territories in which it has civilian control, but the security control is exercised by Israel. “C” territories, in which Israel has both civilian and military control and which contain most of the Jewish settlements would stay with Israel, perhaps with some land swaps from Israel proper to compensate the Palestinians for the loss of these lands.
The deal will be sold as “painful” to both sides, but worth it because it would bring unheard of economic development and investment to the region. The Israeli parties that are to the right of the PM Netanyahu’s Likud are using the specter of such an agreement to try and make sure that their voters remain faithful and do not defect to the Likud. Many are considering such a move in order to make sure that the Likud party retains its status as the biggest faction in the next Knesset in the face of an unprecedented challenge from the newly unified left. Naftali Bennett, co-chair of the new HaYamin HaHadash party told the Israeli media that the choice facing the Israeli public was clear: a vote for anything but his party would guarantee a government that would be amenable to the Trump-Kushner plan and agree to the creation of a Palestinian state with its capital in East Jerusalem, meaning that the city of Jerusalem would have to be divided between the two countries.
Mr. Bennett opined that the presentation of the Trump deal in the days after the Israeli election will create a “unity” government of the newly unified “Kahol Lavan” party on the center-left and the Likud, a government that would represent a wide consensus in the Israeli public and would be able to enact the painful compromises that are required by the “deal of the century”. Only a large number of Knesset members to the right of the Likud, giving it a clear shot to forming a robust right-wing coalition government would keep Jerusalem safely in Jewish hands, according to Mr. Bennett.
This analysis is both correct and irrelevant, at least outside of the election campaign. It is correct, because there indeed is a large center majority in the Israeli Jewish public that supports the kind of historic compromise that the Trump deal will offer. It is irrelevant, because the Palestinian Arabs are not ready to sign a peace deal that would end their conflict with Israel and settle, once and for all, any claims that they may have towards the Jewish state. The conditions for such a deal could have been ripe had it been supported by the entirety of the Muslim world. In that case, Palestinians would have understood that saying no would stop the flow of money and weaponry that they depend on to carry out their current policy of managed conflict with Israel. Unfortunately, this is not the case. While the pro-Western countries on the Arabian Peninsula will doubtlessly support the Trump plan and be willing to commit vast sums of money to see it through, they would be doing it only because it would curtail the influence in the region by the non-Sunni and non-Arab Iran and the non-Arab Turkey.
For that same reason, neither Iran nor Turkey are in the least likely to support this or any other peace deal between the Israelis and the Palestinians and will most certainly continue supplying the latter with the economic and military aid they need in order to reject the peace deal and continue their low-level harassment policy to wards Israel. Another way of looking at this is that the Iranian theocracy must be defeated via internally or externally induced regime change before any peace deal can be concluded between Israel and the world of Islam. This fact is very well understood by all the players in the region and it is precisely what makes the situation so dangerously volatile. As Iran is getting further isolated by the American sanctions, as it is getting progressively poorer due to the American and Saudi policy of cheap and abundant oil, as, correspondingly, it must start choosing between supporting the Hamas and the Hezbollah and warding off an uprising by its own people, Iran must be realizing that time is not on its side.
The famous Russian 19th century playwright Anton Chekhov once remarked that if a gun makes an appearance in Act I, it had better shoot someone in Act II. The tens of thousands of missiles that Iran has placed on Israel’s borders with Gaza and with Lebanon are unlikely to reach their past due dates. Iran will make sure that they are fired before that happens, and with Israel in political turmoil and Trump’s peace plan still not fully on the table, the time to do the firing may be now.
In this scenario, one that is alas much more likely than the implementation of the Trump peace plan, there will be losers and even bigger losers. Israel will lose some of its finest. It always does. Israeli civilian infrastructure will take a hit too. Lebanon will take another dip back to stone age territory, giving up its hopes of being the riviera of the Middle East for many decades to come. Gaza will be ruined and thousands of Gazans will die. Iranian regime will likely survive and so will the Arab-Israel conflict.
Israeli public, the new generation, will realize, just like the ones before it, that at least for the foreseeable future Israel will have to live on its sword. The left will lose, the right will win again. In short, there will be another pointless war, ten times more Arabs will die than Jews, a hundred times bigger damage will be recorded in Beirut and in Gaza city than anywhere in Israel. The Muslims will still be mired in backwardness and corruption. Israel will still lead the world in technology and innovation. In short, nothing will change.