Leaving behind his mounting legal problems, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu flew to Washington last Saturday to attend the annual policy conference of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), the powerful pro-Israeli lobby in the United States. On his five-day visit, Netanyahu met with President Donald Trump and congressional leaders.
The White House meeting with the American president is the second for Netanyahu. Last year, less than two months after President Trump was sworn in, the Israeli prime minister was the first Middle Eastern leader to meet with the American president. The second visit was described by an American official as “a routine check-in meeting.” Notwithstanding this characterisation, the visit demonstrates the ever-growing alliance between the United States and Israel.
American-Israeli relations have grown by leaps and bounds in the course of last year. The Trump administration, even though it had promised the Arabs and the Palestinians an elusive “deal of the century” from day one in office, it has adopted unprecedented pro-Israeli positions, even by American standards.
Unlike previous American administrations, the present administration has recognised Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, and the American embassy will be relocated to that city. When President Trump announced this decision, much to the consternation of the world, the American Secretary of State, Rex Tillerson had said that the move would not take place before two to three years. However, last February, the State Department took everyone by surprise by announcing that the United States decided to move its diplomatic mission to Jerusalem next May to coincide with the 70th anniversary of the establishment of the State of Israel.
In the meantime, these decisions have not been accompanied by measures to help the Palestinian cause and convey a certain resemblance of balance in American attitudes towards the Palestinians and the Israelis. In the early days of the Trump administration, American officials had stressed that they would come up with the “deal of the century” before year’s end. To the dismay of the Palestinians and the Arabs, the administration announced in the last quarter of 2017 that it would postpone its peace proposals to the first three months of 2018. Lately, one administration official pointed out that the American government “will release the plan when it is done and the time is right.” In the meantime, the Trump administration cut off some of its financial assistance to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) that is responsible for the welfare of Palestinian refugees living in camps in Syria, Jordan, and Lebanon. Furthermore, Washington also reduced its financial aid to the Palestinian Authority, in an apparent bid to coerce the authority to go along with the American peace plan, when offered.
The Netanyahu s visit to Washington this time was not geared towards peace with the Palestinians, but rather, the overall geopolitical situation in the Middle East, and, particularly, the growing influence of Iran in Syria, and its presumed permanent presence in Syria when the guns will grow silent.
Netanyahu has made Iran and the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), the nuclear deal of July 2015 among the Group of 5+1(the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council plus Germany) and Iran his main security agenda, portraying Tehran as a regional hegemon out to destroy Israel, and control the whole Middle East. He even has asserted, on many occasions, that his country has what he calls “Sunni allies” among the Arab states, ready to work with the United States and Israel, to confront and contain Iran and its regional proxies.
The American policies towards Iran have become completely aligned with that of Netanyahu. Expectedly, the senior American officials who are scheduled to speak at the annual policy conference of AIPAC—Vice President Mike Pence and Ambassador Nikki Haley, the permanent representative of the United States to the United Nations in New York—are going to identify with the Israeli positions concerning Iran, and stress, one more time, the iron-clad commitment of the Trump administration to defending Israel, and to push for a revision of the JCPOA to meet Israeli concerns in this respect. The administration would coordinate with the Israelis to approach more energetically the European Union to form a common front against Iran through an overhaul of the nuclear deal.
From an Egyptian, Palestinian, and Arab point of view, the second visit of Netanyahu to the White House will not make much of a difference. On the contrary, it could herald more insecurity and instability in the Middle East, and military confrontation across the region.
Hussein Haridy is former assistant to the foreign minister