Trump’s Mideast policies fuel global worries for region

WASHINGTON (AP) – President Donald Trump’s prospects for brokering the Mideast peace “deal of the century” plunged ever deeper as the US Embassy in Jerusalem opened amid bloodshed in Gaza. The day fuelled global concern that US policies are tipping the broader Middle East into deeper, intractable conflict.

At the same time, Trump is winning international support for his efforts to strike a deal with nuclear-armed North Korea.

But his contentious decisions in the Middle East are roiling a region where US administrations have traditionally sought perhaps their biggest diplomatic prize: an elusive peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinians.

The embassy move, which Trump hailed a “great day” for Israel even as dozens of Palestinians were killed in Gaza, damaged Washington’s stature as a mediator between those parties.

And it’s but the latest in a series of US decisions that may have set off a domino effect of unpredictable consequences.

“Traditionally we’ve tried to play a role of fireman in the Middle East. Now we’re playing the role of arsonist,” said Ilan Goldenberg, a former State Department and Pentagon official who runs the Mideast programme at the Centre for a New American Security.

Trump’s withdrawal last week from the Iran nuclear deal, against the protestations of European allies, appears to have emboldened both Israel and Iran to move more forcefully toward full-on confrontation.

President Donald Trump arrives at Walter Reed National Military Medical Centre in Bethesda, Md. – AP

In Syria, Trump’s eagerness to pull out US troops as soon as the Islamic State group is defeated has forced a reckoning by Iran’s enemies about the possibility that Tehran will fill the void.

Dan Shapiro, a former US ambassador to Israel, said Washington is not responsible for the fact that Iran acts as “the major source of tension and instability in the region.”

But he said the question is whether Trump’s administration, having pulled out of the nuclear deal, has a strategy to deal with Iran in its absence.

Shapiro, who is now at the Institute for National Security Studies in Israel, said that while some US allies have celebrated the pullout, the reaction “will soon be followed by some degree of concern about whether the administration is sufficiently focussed, prepared, staffed and able to devote the necessary attention when it’s also managing another major foreign policy challenge in North Korea at the same time.”

US officials insist the administration remains committed to restarting the stalled Israeli-Palestinian peace process.

In a speech at the embassy opening, Trump’s son-in-law, senior advisor Jared Kushner, said the US “is prepared to support a peace agreement in every way we can.”

Left unsaid was the fact that Kushner’s team has had to shelve Trump’s long-awaited peace plan indefinitely amid the Palestinian uproar over the embassy move, several US officials have said.

Since Trump in December recognised Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and announced the embassy would move, the Palestinians have effectively cut off all ties with the White House, a diplomatic chill that augurs poorly for the possibility that Trump can now introduce a plan the Palestinians would accept or deem fair.

“We’re going through a rough-patch,” US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman said on Monday on Fox News.

“It’ll last as long as it lasts. I can’t predict, but we will be back in a position I’m confident where we’ll be discussing peace.”

White House spokesman Raj Shah said the peace plan will be released “at the appropriate time.”

That time, by all accounts, is not now. Responding to the embassy opening, chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat dismissed Washington as “no longer a partner and a broker.”