Que sera, sera: It's Trump's turn to deal with Middle East. Let the guesswork begin in earnest

The presidential election is finally over and according to the rules of the American electoral system Donald Trump will be our next president (yeah, my bias is showing). That means it's that time in the journalistic election cycle to guess at what the president-elect may or may not actually do once sworn in.

Yes, guess work Is pretty much the state of affairs, at least as of my writing this post. We may soon have a better understanding, but for now candidate Trump's steady stream of contradictory, conniving, condescending and cockamamie pronouncements makes it hard for his opponents and supporters alike to know just what he plans with much certainty.

So sit back and watch as aspirational, personal projection and shot-in-the-dark journalism swarms the field.

Oh, wait.

It appears that aspirational, personal projection and shot-in-the-dark journalism have been on the field all along, given what the majority of political polls predicted, and what some of our best journalistic minds (seriously) said before being proved wrong.

Others at GetReligion have written extensively about the domestic side of Trump's victory. So as this column's title suggests, I'm going international, starting with the Middle East. I'll begin with Israel before getting on to the Arab and Muslim Middle East actors. (I'm skipping the Syria-Iraq situation in this post; it's a post itself.)

Prior to the voting, Israeli polls (yes, polls still matter) suggested that the majority of Israelis thought Trump would be better for Israel because he was unlikely to push the nation -- and, in particular, that Republican favorite, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu -- into making any unwanted concessions to the Palestinians.

At the same time, the polls said, the majority of all Israelis (and not just Israeli Americans holding dual citizenship) said that if they could, they'd vote for Hillary Clinton because they deemed Trump too unpredictable, as well as majorly unfamiliar with the myriad layers of complicated factors that afflict the Middle East.

For his part, Trump promised to move the American embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, Israel's actual but contested capital city. The preponderance -- but not all -- of his statements also gave Israelis realistic cause to believe he would not try to restart Middle East peace negotiations with the recalcitrant Palestinians, or even give Palestinian leaders so much as the time of day.

(Since Trump's election, Israel's right wing, buoyed by the result and believing that the president-elect will not pressure Israel in any way, has called for the end of the two state solution -- the official American and international position -- increased settlement construction and annexation of much of the West Bank.

(Aryeh Deri, the interior minister, who is ultra-Orthodox, reportedly called the result a miracle, asserting it would lessen the influence of liberal, non-Orthodox streams of Judaism popular in America, according to the New York Times. He was quoted In Monday's paper as also saying,  'We must truly be in Messianic times when everything will turn out favorably for the people of Israel.')

Candidate Trump also made a show of how he'd even tear up the American-Iranian nuclear agreement, which many Israelis simply do not trust, a nuclear Iran being an existential problem for them.

So guess what?

Since his big win, Trump surrogates have made contradictory comments about actually moving the American embassy. And of course the Palestinians have started screaming that should the "illegal" move actually occur, they'd raise the roof about it at the Palestine-friendly United Nations. (Understand that when Palestinians raise a roof they also tend to ratchet up violence against Israeli Jews.)

What about tearing up the U.S.-Iran nuclear agreement that candidate Trump continually disparaged as the worst deal he'd ever seen?

Here's a Times of Israel piece that quotes Trump foreign policy advisor Walid Phares walking back that promise as well.

Then there's this. A statement from the president-elect himself hinting, strongly, that he might actually take a stab at some new round of Israeli-Palestinian negotiations. Why? Because he is, after all, a deal maker and wouldn't an Israeli-Palestinian accord be some kind of "ultimate deal"?

Trump's remark came in an interview with the Wall Street Journal. If you don't have a subscription to that paper, this Times of Israel rewrite will allow you to ignore the Journal paywall.

Here's the top of the Times story.

US president-elect Donald Trump said he hopes to orchestrate “the ultimate deal” between Israel and the Palestinians that would resolve “the war that never ends."
Days after winning the US presidential election, the Republican victor said in an interview with the Wall Street Journal that “as a deal maker, I’d like to do… the deal that can’t be made. And do it for humanity’s sake.”

Ah, the slippery slope beckons. But what else can a narcissist who dwells in the art of the deal do other than to take up a challenge, no matter how formidable? At least he'd be doing it for humanity's sake.

Perhaps all that is assured for now is that generally more liberal (and solidly Democratic) American Jews are very likely to differ even more with their Israeli Jewish cousins, as this Israeli, New York Times opinion page contributor wrote.

Sunday's announcement naming Stephen Bannon -- he of alt-right Breitbart fame and charges that he's openly anti-Semitic -- as chief White House strategist certainly won't make it easier for American Jews, more than 70 percent of whom voted for Clinton, to accept Trump.

I mentioned the Palestinians above. What about other Middle East Muslims and Arabs? After all, the president-elect certainly made known during his campaign his highly negative opinions of Muslims and Arabs, including his threat to keep Muslims from entering the U.S.

Given that, what can we make of this story that received about zilch attention in the U.S.? The story, published in the international Arab press and picked up in Israel, states that Trump secretly reached out to Arab embassies in Washington to say they should simply ignore his anti-Muslim campaign statements

So now we're to understand that was just more overheated campaign rhetoric?

Of course the Islamist terrorist fringe said it welcomed Trump's ascendancy because he would serve their purposes by further alienating the Muslim world from the U.S. and the West. But don't you think that the jihadist wing would have said the same thing had Clinton won? I do.

Lastly, what about the Middle East's Muslim governments?

Iran, as you might also expect, said the nuclear deal was a U.N.-sanctioned international agreement that is impervious to any U.S. unilateral action. Other than that, it used the occasion to denigrate America once again.

Also as you might expect, the region's various Arab strongmen diplomatically welcomed Trump, who -- rightly or wrongly -- they consider a kindred autocrat who approves of their authoritarian ways, regardless of how much they step on human rights and democratic norms. Here's a lucid opinion piece from The Guardian that sums it up.

I just hope that Trump is realizing the enormous complexities and equally enormous stakes involved in Middle East policy making now that he's receiving full national security briefings.

God, do I hope he is and that he's taking it seriously. Very seriously.

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