Category Archives: President Trump

Why America should care about Israel’s ‘War Between the Wars’

Source: Getty Images

Most Americans are unaware of the phrase “War Between the Wars.” It describes Israel’s low-grade war with Iran, Hezbollah and Iranian proxies in Iraq and Syria to stop Iran from transforming “Syria and Iraq into missile-launching pads,” as it has in Lebanon. The goal is to prevent a permanent Iranian presence on Israel’s doorstep with advanced weaponry that could tip the scales against Israel’s qualitative military edge. 

Read the rest from The Hill.

Analyzing Trump’s Middle East Peace

Chronicling latest attempt to untie Gordian knot of the ongoing conflict.

{Published previously by The Jerusalem Post}

Israel’s normalization of relations with Arab Gulf countries occurring before a resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, previously presumed a prerequisite by the international community, now opens the door to new possibilities and a fresh approach to resolving the conflict, unencumbered by a Palestinian Authority veto.

As Aaron David Miller, a long-standing Middle East peace negotiator under many American presidents, said, the peace treaties “upended American thinking about the centrality of the Israel-Palestinian dispute long considered to be the core of the broader Arab-Israeli conflict.” The newly developing Arab relations with the Jewish state may now mean that President Donald Trump’s peace proposal, so disparaged by the international community, which failed to anticipate the possibility of such an Arab-Israeli rapprochement, may now deserve a new look. It offered a comprehensive plan and map that prioritized Israel’s security issues along with a contiguous Palestinian state on 70% of the land, albeit with bridges and tunnels. The proposal could form the basis for future negotiations if the PA prioritizes the economic advancement of its people over its desire to end the Jewish state.

Neville Teller’s new book is the first comprehensive examination of the Trump peace plan from its beginning in 2016 to its unveiling in January 2020, “set against the backdrop of a turbulent Middle East.” Any book that focuses on Trump will elicit a strong reaction even before the reader opens the first page. Teller bravely enters the lion’s den, chronicling the first three-plus years of the Trump administration’s attempt to untie the Gordian knot of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Whether you think Trump is the most pro-Israel American ever, as the majority of Israeli Jews do, or you think his stopping Palestinian funding and withdrawing from the Iran nuclear deal are bad for America and Israel, as many progressive Americans do, his imprint on the region will reverberate for many years. Whether his peace plan will be seen as groundbreaking or irrelevant is not known.

During the tumultuous Trump years, there were so many policy decisions, some good, such as the US Embassy move to Jerusalem and some bad, such as his abandoning the Syrian Kurds. Therefore, reviewing his years in depth as Teller does is an important exercise in attempting to understand where the region may be headed, as the effects of his policies will echo well into the next administration.

What is fascinating in reading Teller’s excellent review of the region and the development of the Trump plan is how much we have already forgotten or perhaps never knew even occurred in the region since 2016. For that alone the book is worth reading. Teller presents a chronological history progressing toward the ultimate “Deal of the Century” while offering a historical record that will also be appreciated by serious students of the conflict.

WHAT THE Trump team realized and acted upon, but the preceding administrations refused to see, was the reality that the PA was incapable of signing an end of conflict agreement, including putting an end to the right of return for descendants of Palestinian refugees. So the thesis of the Trump team was to first turn to normalization between Israel and the Arab world to provide a cover for the Palestinian negotiators. The international community condemned the Trump plan because it did not follow their two-state formula, which had failed so many times before.

The book was written before Israel and the UAE and Bahrain normalized relations, but the signposts that the region was changing began when Trump moved the American embassy to Jerusalem and the Middle East didn’t implode. The Arab world barely reacted and the Palestinians didn’t launch another intifada.

As Teller writes, Trump wanted to be the one to solve the conflict by using his business experience as a guide, saying, “Deals are made when parties come together, they come to a table and they negotiate.” Trump’s strategy required an Arab buy-in, which is why his team spent the first few years repeatedly visiting the Gulf states, Egypt and Jordan to lay the groundwork for the current normalization agreements and potential new relationships with Israel in the future. But the elephant in the room that motivated the Arab Muslim world to move on past the Palestinians was the shared common interest in thwarting Iran’s quest for hegemony and dominance in the region.

Teller presents the peace process evolution against the backdrop of the Syrian civil war, Iran’s malign influence in the region, and Saudi and Gulf state antagonism to Qatar, while incorporating all the players including Turkey, the PA and Hamas. He describes Trump’s approach to the Middle East as having “one firm objective – to confront Islamist extremism in the Middle East, and not wholly for its own sake, but as one vital element in a determined effort to broker an Arab-Israeli understanding leading to an Israeli-Palestinian peace accord.” Interestingly, Teller says the Trump team “deliberately set no time limit on their enterprise, convinced that painstakingly slow consolidation of each small step along the way was the key to bringing their enterprise to a successful conclusion,” and understood correctly that the 1949 armistice line was not sacrosanct as a border, much less a defensible security line for Israel.

Neville Teller’s Trump and the Holy Land: 2016-2020 is a worthwhile read for anyone who cares about the Middle East, America and the US-Israel relationship. 

The writer is the director of MEPIN, the Middle East Political Information Network, and senior editor for security at the Jerusalem Report/Jerusalem Post.

Nixon goes to China, Trump spends trillions to save America

As the economic consequences of closing down the American, Israeli and world economies grow exponentially each day, with the potential for a worldwide depression lurking just around the corner, now may be the time to “see the forest through the trees,” acknowledging that the unprecedented economic remedies to save the world economy may not have been possible if the American leadership in 2020 were in the hands of a different person. This is not a political endorsement, but the lessons we learn today have echoes of the past. 

“Only Nixon could go to China” is a well-worn metaphor to explain how someone with a lifelong reputation for being a die-hard anti-communist could have gone to Communist China in 1972, opening relations with the world’s most populous nation that changed the course of the late 20th and early 21st century, and whose consequences we are still dealing with today. Israel had its Nixon in China moment in 1978 when the hawkish prime minister Menachem Begin made peace with Egypt and relinquished Israel’s territorial depth.

America in the spring of 2020 is having a “Trump Goes to China” moment that should be recognized for its importance, as it could not have occurred with so little congressional debate if the exact same actions taken by Trump and his secretary of the Treasury were those of a president of the Left. The planned enormous government expenditures designed to provide stability to the nation dwarf the most grandiose ideas FDR had during the Depression; the long-term consequences of this for the United States and the world are completely up in the air. A populist president from the Right who ran on shrinking the American government has, with so little difficulty, been able to implement this unprecedented burst of government expenditure. 

Now imagine if Hillary Clinton had won the election and tried to implement the exact same things that Trump and his economic team have accomplished in conjunction with Congress, as literally trillions of dollars were being printed and handed out to desperate Americans and corporations, all the while fighting with a Republican Senate, hoping to get such actions through Congress. Perhaps the circumstances are so scary that it would have all passed Congress as easily as for Trump, or maybe not.

For those who viscerally hate Trump or are “Never Trumpers,” they must realize that no matter how inarticulate the president is, or how many times he backtracks on impulsive statements, Donald Trump may ironically have been the right choice to have gotten this economic package passed so quickly.

THIS WILL not last. The hyperpolarization will return, and the president and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi are already at it. There is much political rancor ahead, with the presidential election just over six months away.

But more importantly, America and the world have will have to decide when to slowly reopen the world’s economy to avoid a depression, and it is a certainty that no matter what Trump does, even if it would have been the exact same decision Clinton would have made, there will be media and political opponents accusing him of killing Americans, sacrificing lives for money.

In the US, commentators like Don Lemon of CNN are already trying to undermine the president’s message, arguing that his news station should not cover Trump’s daily press conferences.

There is plenty of time for politics and hatred down the road.  What we need now is to begin to plan an exit strategy to avoid a Depression.

We need:

1. to ramp up widespread testing for antibody immunity to assess herd immunity;

2. large-scale studies to determine how prevalent the virus is in the general public;

3. everyone wearing faceguards, as tens of millions are asymptomatic and could be spreading the virus;

4. to keep seniors and the immunocompromised indoors for another 3 months; and

5. to keep social distancing for another three months.

Our goal is to continue to decrease the rate of transmission of the virus so as not to overwhelm the healthcare systems. Upwards of 200 million people will be infected in the US, and millions in Israel. We can plausibly control whether those numbers occur over two months or over one year. Lives and our economies are hanging in the balance.

Nixon went to China, and Trump’s economic plan would make a socialist proud. Could Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas decide to become an Anwar Sadat? Crazy things are happening.

The writer is the director of MEPIN (Middle East Political Information Network), the senior editor for security at The Jerusalem Report, a columnist for The Jerusalem Post, and a writer for The Hill. 

Trump Has Changed the Landscape of the Middle East

Love him or hate him, President Donald Trump has defied conventional wisdom in the Middle East, and yet the Sun still rises every day. Trump has shattered the long-standing myths of the Middle East that allowed the Palestinians to veto every proposal for the last 100 years. They remain the only “stateless” people who have rejected multiple offers of a state.

From the Soleimani assassination to the embassy move, to the recognition of the Golan and Jordan River Valley as Israeli security imperatives, to stopping American financial support of the Palestinian Authority which rewards terrorism in its “pay for slay” terrorism scheme, the Washington pundits and the mainstream media haven’t offered a single mea culpa for how wrong they have been so far in projecting dire consequences of these policy initiatives. They predicted catastrophe, and while violence will raise its ugly head in the unstable Middle East, the outcomes have not matched their predictions.

Naysayers who claim that the deal is unrealistic, too pro-Israel, and undermines Palestinian aspirations, totally miss the point of the importance of the Trump peace plan, whether or not its particulars are realized.


The initial support of Arab nations for the plan as a basis for negotiations is groundbreaking. Even Qatar, a refuge for the Muslim Brotherhood, didn’t reject the deal outright.

The comments of the two most important Sunni nations, Saudi Arabia and Egypt, are encouraging. According to the Saudi Foreign Ministry, “In light of the announcement, the kingdom reiterates its support for all efforts aimed at reaching a just and comprehensive resolution to the Palestinian cause.”

According to the Federalist website, the “Egyptian Ministry of Foreign Affairs applaud[ed] the US contribution ‘to the stability and security of the Middle East, ending the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.’”

Oman, Bahrain and the UAE even went so far in their support as to send delegates to the White House ceremony where Trump unveiled the plan with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at his side.

The Trump plan offers a map that shows exactly how the US administration envisions Israel’s final boundaries. This marks the first time any American Mideast plan has come with a map which pre-tackles some of the thorniest issues – including Jerusalem. And yet many of these Arab states did not immediately reject it or condemn it. On the contrary, their initial reaction was to urge the Palestinians to negotiate.

With the exception of Egypt, these Arab states do not officially recognize the State of Israel. Their first reaction was to support the plan which is tacit acceptance of the Jewish homeland.

It came as no surprise that Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas expressed strong opposition and that the Arab League placated the outraged Abbas by seemingly back-peddling and officially rejecting the Trump plan. But it’s the first reaction that is more telling, and this move by the Arab League simply pays lip service to the Palestinians.


It’s an obligatory nod to those on the Arab street that may still support the cause. The theatrics will continue at the United Nations later next week when the United States will veto the perfunctory anti-Israel resolution.

BUT THE CRACKS are showing, and with time the Sunni Gulf states – which are fast losing patience with their Palestinian Arab brethren – will choose what is in their best interest to counter Iran. The enemy of my enemy is my friend.

As expected, the king of Jordan, whose stability teeters on the edge of a cliff, needed to be critical of the plan to continue to survive. Privately he is ecstatic that the Jordan River Valley will be in Israeli hands, and that a Palestinian state won’t be on his border. No surprise that the anti-American, anti-Israel president of Turkey was against the deal.

The plan not only states the obvious – that Israel must control the Jordan River Valley, especially in light of Iranian expansionism – but furthermore that Israel must have military control of a Palestinian state, the lesson learned from the 2005 Israeli disengagement from Gaza, where the ceded territory became the terrorist enclave of Hamas. A Palestinian state in the West Bank (Judea and Samaria) cannot be allowed to become a base for Iranian terrorism.

The pundits didn’t see the “Arab Winter” coming, and they didn’t foresee the possibility that Arab nations would not automatically take the Palestinian position on the Trump plan. Arab nations want to do business with Israel for their own self-interests, and need Israel as the most important regional ally against their most feared enemy, Iran. They are sick of Palestinian rejectionism, and know that resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is not what’s going to save them from Iran’s plans to overrun and control the region.

The onus to make peace is now on the Palestinians, whereas in the past peace deal attempts Israel was always the one pressured to concede more, in the vain hope the Palestinians would reciprocate.

Supporters of the Palestinians such as J Street, now appear much more pro-Palestinian than the Arab states, as they had nothing positive to say about the obvious essential Israeli security needs that were addressed by the Trump peace plan. While adhering to the Palestinian narrative, they continue to ignore decades of Palestinian rejectionism and statements of the illegitimacy of Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state, best expressed in their #PeaceSham campaign. They support and encourage the Palestinian counteroffer of “a thousand nos”.

If carefully handled, the administration’s out-of-the-box thinking may bear fruit in new opportunities that didn’t exist just a couple of years ago between Israel and Sunni Muslim States. Although the Middle East is still incredibly complex and problematic, and America cannot control the millennia-long tribal and religious hatreds, US and Israeli national security interests could be advanced in ways unimaginable until today. If this plan becomes a basis for negotiation, or more likely, the Palestinians reject the plan, they make themselves more irrelevant to their Sunni Arab brethren.

Too bad the Europeans with the exception of Boris Johnson of the UK are still delusional and allow the Palestinians Authority tail to wag the European Union dog, as they have now become the chief enabler of the corrupt Palestinian Authority to the enduring detriment of the Palestinian people.

Dr. Eric R. Mandel is the director of MEPIN, the Middle East Political Information Network, and the senior editor for security for the Jerusalem Report. Michelle Makori is the lead anchor and editor-in-chief at i24News in New York. She has worked as an anchor, reporter and producer for Bloomberg, CNN Money, CGTN, and SABC.

What’s Next After the Trump Middle East Trip?      

{Previously published in The Jerusalem Post}

Anyone who demands Israel accept an imposed peace plan must recognize the fragility of the Jordanian and Egyptian governments.

American perception is not reality in the Middle East.

A friend of mine keeps telling me that the “cold peace” with Jordan and Egypt is the model and proof that Israel can achieve a sustainable peace with the Palestinians; even if the enemy still believes you have no legitimate right to exist.

He says the benefits to Israel will accrue if Israel is territorially generous, even if the Palestinians teach their children that Israelis are interlopers and infidels who have no rights to any part of the land.

Idealists like my friend are unfazed by critiques that point out that to contemporary Muslims, any land once controlled by Islam, the land of Wakf, can never rightfully belong to non-Muslims.

Can conservative and Wahhabi Sunni states courted by US President Donald Trump accept a Jewish state? According to Prof. Ephraim Inbar, founding director of the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies, “the [Palestinian Authority] cannot conclude a ‘cold peace’ like Egypt or Jordan. Those two countries take their commitment seriously to prevent terrorism from their territory…

“In the West Bank, the PA… encourages terror by subsidies to jailed terrorists and by innumerable steps to eulogize the martyrs.”

Idealistic dovish organizations claim that the majority of Palestinians want a two-state solution. That is true if that is the only question you poll. They claim that Palestinian Arabs have no desires beyond the “green line.”

Yet those same Palestinians, when polled by Palestinian pollsters, reveal a much more troubling result. To the overwhelming majority of Palestinians, a two-state solution includes the unlimited right of return of Palestinian refugees to Israel, while a return to the ‘67 lines is not considered an acceptable solution. In other words, we are talking about 1948, not 1967, the goal being the effective destruction of Israel.

It is true that the Egyptian peace agreement has held for 40 years, even under trying circumstances, including the assassination of Anwar Sadat, and the rise of the Muslim Brotherhood in the aftermath of the Arab Winter.

Many people believe the final resolution of the conflict is clearly known, that it will be along the lines of the Clinton parameters of 2000. The Gulf States just need to be convinced to provide cover for the Palestinians, and if necessary pressure the parties to accept the resolution.

This is the “outside-in strategy.”

But with a $400 billion economic package negotiated with the Saudis, $110b. in military deals, will US National Security Advisor H.R. McMaster and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson tilt toward the Saudi perspective? Remember, the hard-fought 10-year US-Israeli military deal is dwarfed by the Saudi deal, $3.8b. vs. $110b.

When I inquire about the stability of an agreement with an Arab world that venomously hates Jews, not just Israelis, and with Hamas waiting in the wings to take over the West Bank the moment Israel leaves security control to the PA, I’m told it doesn’t matter.

The response is that Israel is so militarily superior that it can retake the West Bank in days with the world’s support if missiles start flying into Ben Gurion Airport from Ramallah.

When confronted with the current chaos in the Arab world, I am told this is not a problem, but an Israeli opportunity, because this is evidence that the Arabs have never been weaker and Israel never stronger.

I am also told that if authoritarian Arab leaders make a deal with Israel, their populace’s Jewish hatred is irrelevant, as they will go along with any agreement.

Memo to my idealistic friends: remember the list of authoritarian dictators overthrown by their citizens during the Arab Winter, who just months earlier were deemed secure by American intelligence.

When I ask my friend about the failed experience of the Israeli withdrawal in Gaza and the likelihood of a Hamas takeover in Judea and Samaria, Abbas’s explanation that the failure of the Gaza withdrawal was Israel’s fault for not coordinating it with the PA is recited.

When challenged with Israel’s international legal rights over the ‘49 armistice line, I am told that even if Israel has those rights, they are irrelevant because the international community and UNSC Resolution 2334 have made them irrelevant.

When confronted with the facts, that UNSC Resolution 2334 is a non-binding resolution and UNSC resolution 242 is still the prevailing document on the conflict confirming the green line artifactual, it does not move them.

The historical record of Sunni Arab animosity to Israel’s existence is discounted as my friend tells me the Gulf States are working with Israel behind the scenes against their common enemy, the Iranians. This is true but it confuses the difference between temporary shared interests and a real desire to end the state of war, which is continually reinforced by their conservative Islamism.

Is a Trump administration able to thread the needle of reconciliation between conservative Gulf States and Israel, where others have failed? An insight into the challenge any American initiative into the conflict will confront is best represented by a recent but illustrative diplomatic incident between Israel and Jordan. Israel’s erstwhile peace partner called Israel’s killing of a Jordanian terrorist in Jerusalem a “heinous crime.”

When your Sunni “friends” escalate instead of downplaying incidents like this, the long-term sustainability of any signed agreement appears doubtful.

Anyone who demands Israel accept an imposed peace plan must recognize the fragility of the Jordanian and Egyptian governments and their limited prospects as partners in peace with their neighbors and even with factions within their own borders.

Is Trump, the ultimate negotiator, willing to walk away from a Saudi proposed deal, if the only available deal turns out to be one that would seriously endanger Israel?

The author is director of MEPIN™, the Middle East Political and Information Network™. He regularly briefs members of Congress and think tanks on the Middle East. He is a regular contributor to The Jerusalem Post.

 

An Activist Media, Fake News, Editorialized Stories and Democracy

{Previously published in The Jerusalem Post}

If I were to counsel Trump, I would tell him to stop claiming that the media is making up the news, but explain to the public that his beef with news organizations is their slanted reporting.

A few years ago, I asked an editorial writer at Haaretz if he was troubled by accusations that his paper editorialized news stories to fit its agenda. His response was, “If you don’t like it, read another paper.”

A recent New York Times front page news story on media bias read, “Biased? Probably. Oppositional? Maybe. Essential? In theory, but the enemy? Not so much.” It should be no surprise to any informed consumer of news that media outlets practice activist journalism, commingling opinion and fact.
Most of the uproar regarding media bias is in response to the attacks by US President Donald Trump on an activist media. The president has referred to editorialized news as “fake news,” the media as the “opposition party” and the press as the “enemy of the American people.”

None of this is healthy for any democratic political system. Presidential or executive credibility is essential for a functioning democracy, and this type of rhetoric can undermine the public trust.

Transparency is essential for the media’s role as a watchdog for a democracy’s citizenry, but an agenda-driven media in both Israel and the United States perpetrates a fraud on the public.

An activist, agenda-driven press, or editorialized news passed off as straight news, deserves condemnation, but Trump’s calling it “fake” confuses the public, some of whom, especially those who already don’t like him much, will think he is denying facts.

Let’s be clear: presidents, prime ministers, their administrations as well as their political adversaries all cherry-pick facts to embarrass their opponents. But this has gotten much worse in both Israel and America.

Activist media assertions have been front and center in the US regarding many issues, none more contentious than the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Organizations like CAMERA, Palestinian Media Watch (PMW), NGO Monitor, MEMRI, Accuracy in Media and Honest Reporting have been created to make the public aware that many mainstream news organizations too often present facts out of context to advance what they consider a politically correct agenda.

Contempt and lack of civil respect for contrary opinions oozes from the columns and editorials of the New York Times, with far too many ad hominem attacks. The Times created its ombudsman position in part in response to cancellations of subscriptions due to its anti-Israel bias, disproportionately focusing on alleged Israeli transgressions while ignoring far more egregious stories in the Middle East and the world.

So which is more dangerous, editorialized news that is technically correct in some sense but is meant to fool the public, or truly fake news that has no or little factual content? Sometimes the bias is insidious, as in article placement, censorship by omission of information that contradicts an agenda, burying a countervailing viewpoint at the end of the piece where few readers will venture, or choosing someone who sounds not worthy of respect to present the opposing side.

I have interviewed some leading editors who have told me that if you are perceived to have a view not matching the agenda of the media outlet, you will be marginalized.

The press’s prejudice and influence is not just in the international arena, but has infected even the American judicial system.

Judge Lawrence Silverman, a senior judge on the US Circuit Court of Appeals, wrote in The Wall Street Journal that “the press’s orientation is sympathetic to activist results, which I think it is safe to say are largely on the left,” causing some justices not to be blind in rendering a decision.

A Supreme Court influenced by an activist press – is that good for democracy?

Which brings us back to fake news. Does the American or Israeli press present false news? The answer, overwhelmingly, is no. If they did, it would be much easier to deal with, as illegitimate facts are much easier to discredit than opinionated news bias cleverly concealed by biased journalists.

No Israeli prime minister or American president has ever had easy dealings with the press. That is why Trump’s charges of fake news remain credible to many of his supporters. If I were to council Trump, I would tell him to stop claiming that the media is making up the news, but explain to the public that his beef with news organizations is their slanted reporting.

There is no doubt that president Barack Obama received much less scrutiny than either president George W. Bush or Trump because of the media’s affinity for Obama’s agenda, but the Trump administration needs to have a tougher skin when it comes under legitimate criticism for policy differences.

Israeli media is less apologetic in its bias. At a meeting I had with a leading Israeli journalist a couple of years ago she referred to her paper as the anti-Netanyahu paper.

Donald Trump and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will be in the history books in a few years, but the biased media will still be with us.

The lesson for the American and Israeli people to learn is that an independent press is vital to their democracies, even when it presents uncomfortable truths. But they need to wake up and realize that their news sources are far too biased, and that they need to demand an end to editorialized news, as well as an end to demonization of the press.

The author is founder and director of MEPIN, the Middle East Political and Information Network. He regularly briefs members of Congress and think tanks on the Middle East.