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Trump Set to Shake Up the Mideast

By Katie Beiter | The Media Line

December 22, 2016

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Unpredictable might just be what the region needs

When political outsider Donald Trump claimed victory in the US Presidential elections, most of the world was shocked as no one had any idea what exactly his foreign policy agenda was, or if he even had one.

“I don’t believe that we have ever faced an international political reality that is as unpredictable as the one we are seeing develop in Washington today,” Gershon Baskin, co-chair of the Israel-Palestinian Creative Regional Initiatives (IPCRI), told The Media Line.

This unpredictability is especially evident in the Middle East, where analysts are primarily concerned with three main issues: the civil war in Syria, the Iran nuclear deal and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Trump has expressed contradictory views on regional issues. Some argue that will simply align himself with Putin, rip up the Iran nuclear deal and move the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.

Many analysts wonder, however, whether or not Trump will actually intervene in Middle Eastern issues. The one thing they do not debate, however, is his ability to shake things up.

“Anything is possible, but not everything is probable,” Dan Rothem, a senior policy consultant at Washington’s S. Daniel Abraham Center for Middle East Peace, told The Media Line.

It seems, though, this unpredictability might be just what the Middle East needs.

“As a Palestinian, I am more optimistic,” Suheir Jamil, a former researcher for the Brussels-based International Crisis Group, told The Media Line. “I have a belief that things, if they don’t get radical, then they won’t be solved.”

“Donald Trump is unpredictable, yes, but for the benefit of all,” Jamil added.

The Obama administration has often chosen non-intervention in the conflict-ridden region. “The Middle East lost a lot of its importance in the past five years even though it has become more and more problematic,” Mofid Deak, a former US diplomat of Palestinian descent, said. “I am not too sure that a US president wants to invest a lot of his time in resolving the issues of the Middle East.”

Some blame the Obama administration for the escalation of the conflict in Syria, for not doing enough to forge a peace process between Israelis and Palestinians, and for brokering a nuclear deal with a hostile enemy, Iran.

Trump campaigned on a pro-Israel, pro-Russia, anti-Iran platform and this is reflected in his choice of members of his cabinet and administration.

As an ardent supporter of Israel, Trump announced his support for the contentious plan to move the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem – a move that could incite violence from the Palestinians. Moving the embassy would recognize Israel’s determination of a united Jerusalem as its capital and solidify Israel’s control over East Jerusalem. Palestinians say that East Jerusalem must be the capital of a future Palestinian state. Moving the embassy could polarize the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

“For Israel, a Trump presidency means a complete reorganizing both of priorities in terms of policy and personnel,” Yisrael Medad, a volunteer spokesperson for the council that oversees Jewish communities in the West Bank, told The Media Line.

This could also be a way of provoking the Muslim world and many hardliners in both America and Israel would probably support this decision.

“The most important thing is that the new presidency will understand that the Islamic radicals want to change the world order and eventually make Islam great again,” Yossi Kuperwasser, Director of the Project on Regional Middle East Developments at the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs told The Media Line. “Whereas Trump says he wants America to be great again.”

Many believe that moving the embassy could trigger violence as it would be a clear symbol of support for the State of Israel and would halt any possible peace negotiations.

“The peace process is like a bicycle,” Deak said. “You have to keep cycling otherwise the bicycle will fall.”

However, according to Rebecca Bronstein, a researcher at MITVIM, the Israeli Institute for Regional Foreign Policies, “the two-state solution is not even on Trump’s agenda,” said.

The Iran deal, on the other hand, is.

The deal, in which the Islamic Republic of Iran agreed to limit its nuclear program in exchange for the lifting of most of the sanctions imposed on it, is hailed by some as US President Barack Obama’s finest foreign policy achievement and seen by others, like Trump, to be one of his gravest diplomatic mistakes.

Trump’s supporters in Israel want him to scrap the deal as they see Iran, which funds the militant Shia group, Hezbollah, as a threat, especially with nuclear weapons.

According to Kuperwasser, “this deal is a disaster.”

The deal’s supporters say that it was the best option for the Obama administration and that it has, in fact, decreased the threat of Iran’s nuclear program. While not perfect, many say it is better than what had previously existed.

Walking away from the deal could have serious ramifications in Iran as the republic gears up for presidential elections of its own.

Iran and Syria seem to be taking advantage of Obama’s lame duck period before Trump takes over. This is especially evident in the recent battle for Aleppo, which resulted in victory for Syrian dictator Bashar Assad and proved that Russia is a global superpower and is able to exert its influence in the Middle East.

According to Jamil, Trump will end the war in Syria this year. And, he will do so because of his connection with Putin.

Foreign issues were not at the top of Trump’s campaign agenda. Some analysts believe that he will focus most of his energy, at least at the beginning of his term, on domestic topics. However, Kuperwasser sees a lot of changes in store for the region.

“The entire attitude towards the US is going to change because, until now, radicals believed that they could benefit from the weakness of the West as manifested by the policies of President Obama,” he asserted.

Others, like Rothem, are unsure.

“The very foundation of the world order as we have come to know is put into question,” Rothem said. “Some issues are going to look very different in four years than today. It is very hard to guess which ones.”

Katie Beiter is a student journalist with The Media Line

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