Monday,28 May, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1345, (18 - 24 May 2017)
Monday,28 May, 2018
Issue 1345, (18 - 24 May 2017)

Ahram Weekly

Meeting religions and selling weapons

US President Donald Trump is due to start Saturday, 20 May, his first foreign trip since taking office two months ago, making stops in Saudi Arabia, Israel and at The Vatican. He is also scheduled to take part later in a NATO meeting in Brussels, and then conclude the tour by attending his first G7 summit in Sicily. 

While the right-wing US president thought to provide a “spiritual” aspect to the first part of his visit, saying he was happy to be in “the centres of three great religions”, (Islam, Judaism and Christianity), there is little hope that his stops would bring the world closer to peace that all world religions call for.

Saudi Arabia, that was extremely critical of his predecessor, Barack Obama, for allegedly being “soft” on Iran and Syria, has spared no effort to welcome the billionaire businessman. Meetings will be held in Riyadh with King Salman and top Saudi leaders, as well as with the Gulf monarchs and leaders of 56 Arab and Muslim countries in order to discuss means of combating the growing danger of terrorism worldwide.

Both before and after becoming president, Trump had criticised Riyadh for allegedly paying little in return for US protection of the oil-rich Gulf region. He said the same thing about South Korea and Japan. However, those statements didn’t seem to upset Saudi leaders, who are hoping that Trump would adopt a much tougher stand against Iran and its deep intervention in several Arab countries, namely Syria, Iraq and Yemen. Iran was also accused of being behind protests of the Shia minority who live in vital oil-rich regions in Saudi Arabia.

In return for stronger support by the Trump administration, Riyadh quickly responded to his request “to pay more” to assure continued US protection. News reports said the US was close to finalising a series of lucrative arms deals with Saudi Arabia, totalling more than $100 billion. Similar arms deals were also reported to be close with other oil-rich Gulf allies such as the United Arab Emirates, Qatar and Kuwait. Historically, US support for the oil-rich Gulf region has never been for free, and hundreds of billions of dollars have constantly created jobs in US arms factories and filled the coffers of the Federal Reserve.

While in Israel, Trump will first be greeted by his closest US ally, right-wing Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who has carved his name in recent years as one of the most hardline Zionists who has expanded illegal Israeli settlement activity in occupied Palestinian territories to unprecedented levels, practically ending any hope for the so-called two-state solution.

Contrary to UN Security Council resolutions, and the assumptions that ruled all efforts to reach peace between Israel and Palestinians since the signing of the 1993 Oslo Accords, the two-state solution clearly means little to Trump.

The new US president has surrounded himself since taking office by several right-wing extremists who are even worse in their blind support for Israel than Netanyahu. The clearest example of such appointments was his own choice for the US ambassador to Israel, who is not just known for his right-wing Zionist views, but also for being an activist in raising funds in illegal Israeli settlements in the West Bank and occupied East Jerusalem.

Hopefully, the meetings Trump is due to hold with Saudi, Arab and Muslim leaders in Riyadh will make him reconsider his election pledge to move the US embassy from Tel Aviv to occupied Jerusalem. But being Trump the businessman who offers nothing for free, delaying such a move will likely come only in return for concessions that nobody can yet guess from Arab and Muslim leaders.

Facing deep trouble at home following his reckless decision to fire his FBI director, that he had strongly praised while a presidential candidate for opening an investigation against his rival, Hillary Clinton, Trump is clearly looking for some good coverage of his first external trip, paying respects and exchanging handshakes with representative of all three religions. But that’s unlikely to change anything on the ground, except going back home with some expensive arms deals that are likely to make his constituency of supporters happier for benefiting the US economy.

Like former US presidents, maintaining the current status quo of turmoil in the Middle East region benefits the world’s superpower, because the countries of the region will continue “to pay more” by buying American weapons while seeking US intervention to make peace. Peace and stability in this region will never be achieved except by its peoples and governments, and not by a showy American president many observers believe may have trouble finishing his four-year term.

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