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Looking at the bigger picture of Trump and the Middle East
Concerns by Arab and Palestinian activists over what President Donald J. Trump might or might not do have been overly exaggerated. So far, Trump has not been as hostile to the Palestinian and Arab cause as they predicted. In fact, Trump’s initial foreign trip shows he has strong respect for the interests of the Arab World. Published in the Arab News Newspaper, May 26, 2017
By Ray Hanania
It’s too easy to forget all the fear mongering that swept through the Arab World and among Arab activists in anticipation of Donald Trump’s surprising election victory last November and the impact it would have on the future of “peace.”
All of the predictions were critical, portending an ominous shift to favor Israel and undermine not just Palestinian interests but the interests of the Arab World.
Pundits and partisan political activists warned that Trump would undermine peace, seal the coffin on Palestinian rights, and undermine stability in the Middle East creating an atmosphere of havoc that would fuel rising extremism.
And yet, we have seen just the opposite. In fact, President Trump not only managed to demonstrate faith in his support of Palestinian rights, but he also went to great lengths to prove that he is committed to strengthening the bond with the moderate leadership of the Arab World.
Rather than doom and gloom, Trump has given the Arab World, and Palestinians, a vision of hope and promise.
Although Trump’s style contrasts that of his predecessor, President Barack Obama who began his own presidency with a “New Beginning’s” speech to the Muslim World in June 2009 from Cairo that was filled with optimism and hope, but lacked substantive follow through.
More Palestinians died, settlements built and rights were lost while Obama was president than under any prior administration, demonstrating that Obama’s style of flowering rhetoric and good intentions don’t always achieve much.
Trump is a President of tough words who doesn’t easily share the details of his plans, something that actually is a good thing. Too often, Obama and others would openly explain what and how they hoped to achieve something only to be confounded by forces of opposition who were handed detailed blueprints on how to be obstructionists.
Obama was predictable. Trump is not. Obama was measured by his words. Trump clearly wants to be measured by his achievements and he hesitates to provide the blueprints on how he plans to pursue any goals.
That’s the difference between a politician and a businessman. A politician seeks applause and praise before achievement. A businessman seeks achievement first while treating every challenge as an important negotiation.
What was the most significant achievement of Trump’s first foreign trip to the Arab World this past week? It wasn’t the $110 billion deal he signed with Saudi Arabia that will benefit both countries, although that was important.
It wasn’t that he managed to shatter the perception that he would embrace Israel so tightly at the expense of Palestinian rights. The fact that Trump went to Bethlehem to meet with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas was a significant contradiction to the false expectations pawned by his political critics.
The most significant aspect of his trip to the Arab World, where he met with the leaders of Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Palestine, Jordan and then participated in a summit of 50 Arab and Muslim nations, is that Trump put to the lie that he was “anti-Muslim.”
How can Trump be “anti-Muslim” when his first official overseas trip began with respect, agreement and empowerment in the heart of the Muslim World, Saudi Arabia?
How can Trump be called “anti-Muslim” when he reinforced mutual trade with Saudi Arabia and the Muslim World, and signed a 28 point agreement covering everything from trade to security and confronting extremism by Iran, Syria, Hezbollah, while strengthening Iraq and Lebanon and expanding trade.
It makes no sense because the criticism of Trump is driven by the politics of failure. President Obama, and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton may have talked-the-talk of Arab and Muslim World needs, but they failed to back up their words with substantive action.
Palestinians and Muslims may not see how Trump will support their nations, but his actions so far paint a clearer portrait of a President who is not what his critics claim him to be.
By wrapping himself tightly around Israel – tighter than any of his predecessors have ever done, Trump is making it easier for him to pursue policies that Israel has a track record of blocking and rejecting, including Palestinian statehood, and tightening the noose around religious extremism originating from the Arab and Muslim World.
Trump’s priority is to defeat extremism and terrorist violence. And instead of worrying about how his words will be interpreted by his friends, has proven he can take the actions that his enemies fear.
It’s not the Palestinians, the Arabs or the Muslim World that should fear Trump’s policies. It’s the extremists and the fanatics like the regimes in Iran and Syria, and Hezbollah, who have to worry.
(Ray Hanania is a Palestinian American columnist and author. He can be reached at email@example.com.)
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Hanania writes weekly columns on Middle East and American Arab issues for the Arab News in Saudi Arabia at www.ArabNews.com, and at www.TheArabDailyNews.com, www.TheDailyHookah.com and at SuburbanChicagoland.com. He has also published weekly columns in the Jerusalem Post newspaper, YNetNews.com, Newsday Newspaper in New York, the Orlando Sentinel Newspapers, and the Arlington Heights Daily Herald.
Palestinian, American Arab and Christian, Hanania’s parents originate from Jerusalem and Bethlehem.
Hanania is the recipient of four (4) Chicago Headline Club “Peter Lisagor Awards” for Column writing. In November 2006, he was named “Best Ethnic American Columnist” by the New American Media. In 2009, Hanania received the prestigious Sigma Delta Chi Award for Writing from the Society of Professional Journalists. He is the recipient of the MT Mehdi Courage in Journalism Award. He was honored for his writing skills with two (2) Chicago Stick-o-Type awards from the Chicago Newspaper Guild. In 1990, Hanania was nominated by the Chicago Sun-Times editors for a Pulitzer Prize for his four-part series on the Palestinian Intifada.
His writings have also been honored by two national Awards from ADC for his writing, and from the National Arab American Journalists Association.
The managing editor of Suburban Chicagoland Online News website www.SuburbanChicagoland.com, Hanania's columns also appear in the Southwest News Newspaper Group of 8 newspapers.
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