Awaiting the backlash after US pulls out of the Iran nuclear deal

Dina Ezzat , Wednesday 9 May 2018

Trump’s decision to pull out of the Iran nuclear deal and the move of the US Embassy to Jerusalem leave the region on a knife edge

Donald Trump
File Photo: US President Donald Trump (AFP)

On Tuesday, US President Donald Trump pulled out of the Iran nuclear deal.

“I am announcing today that the US will withdraw,” he said, denouncing the deal as weak and poorly negotiated, one which leaves Tehran “on the verge of a nuclear breakout”.

Trump said that he would step up US sanctions on Iran and anyone that attempts to help it develop nuclear capacities though his statement provided no details as to when or how sanctions will be re-introduced.

Promising to continue to work with allies in Europe and the Middle East, Trump said that he is willing to negotiate a new deal with Iran that will “really” constrain its nuclear capabilities.

“We are unified in our understanding of the [Iranian] threat,” he said.

The announcement came as Al-Ahram Weekly was going to press, after weeks of speculation the US president would renege on the deal signed in 2015.

Following consecutive visits to the US capital last week German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Emmanuel Macron both expressed concern Trump was on the verge of withdrawing.

Trump’s decision may have caused trepidation in Europe’s corridors of power but in Israel it was met with glee.

Israeli Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu has spent the last couple of weeks being increasingly vocal over the dangers posed by Tehran. In a lengthy interview conducted mostly in English he spoke about the need to quell the Iranian threat.

Earlier this week an Israeli cabinet minister said Israel would not hesitate to “eliminate” Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad if he allowed Iran to use Syrian territories to threaten Israel. The Israelis have already made it clear to Russia they will act against Iran inside Syria whenever they sense a real threat.

“Clearly, the Americans and the Israelis have incredible support from Saudi Arabia to pile more pressure on Iran. This was a top issue in the talks the Saudis had with US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo,” said a Saudi-based European diplomat.

The newly appointed US secretary of state’s first visit to the Middle East took in Saudi Arabia, Israel and Jordan. According to diplomatic sources, on his first two stops Pompeo heard endless arguments about the need to pressure.

During an extended visit to the US earlier this year Saudi Crown Prince Mohamed bin Salman told the American press that when it comes to the Iranian threat Riyadh and Tel Aviv do not disagree.

Israeli officials have also spoken of joint assessments, not just with the Saudis but with other Arab states, most of them Gulf.

It was only when he stopped in Jordan that Pompeo was cautioned against any irrational action against Iran.

In Amman Jordan’s King Abdullah warned the US secretary of state about the backlash that could be prompted by a hasty announcement of a US Middle East deal that fails to acknowledge basic Palestinian demands, especially in relation to Muslim holy sites.

Concerns are growing over the possible consequences of Washington’s withdrawal from the Iran deal and its handling of the Palestinian-Israeli struggle.

The US Embassy is scheduled to move from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, and there has been a tidal wave of leaks flagging US plans for a final settlement that abrogates Palestinian rights, especially with regard to Jerusalem.

On Monday the first road sign was erected in Jerusalem pointing to the Embassy of the United States of America.

The embassy is scheduled for inauguration next week, to coincide with Israel’s celebration of its 70th anniversary, and the Palestinians’ marking of their dispossession.

Trump took the decision to move his country’s embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem in December. It was met with Palestinian outcries and sporadic Arab and Islamic denunciations but, as one Palestinian Authority source said, “there was no reaction substantial enough to even delay the move.”

There is some — albeit limited — speculation Trump may even attend the inauguration of the embassy in Jerusalem. Whether he does or not matters little. Of more concern is the fact that, in the words of one Palestinian Authority official, the “facts on the ground are changing fast, upending the traditional tenets of the Palestinian cause.”

After seven decades, attitudes towards the Palestinian cause have undergone a sea of change, say Arab diplomats.

Some blame this on the Arab Spring which consumed the energy of leading Arab states and distracted them from the Palestinian issue.

Others say long running inter-Palestinian disputes undermined any chance of defending Palestinian rights.

The Palestinian leadership is also blamed for failing to be realistic and secure gains “earlier in the game” that are no longer possible now.

According to one Egyptian diplomat, what Trump plans to offer falls well short of Bill Clinton’s proposals in 2000.

“At the time,” says a well-informed European diplomat, “we were at least talking about a Palestinian state that could have been viable.

Today the Israelis are very clear they are not talking about a Palestinian state at all, not even a demilitarised one. And in terms of land, a far smaller part of the territories is involved than was offered back in 2000.”

Israel already has good relations with Arab countries and does not need to offer anything in return, says a Palestinian official.

He adds that the Palestinian Authority has yet to see a final draft of the deal and has only been offered an outline of what it might contain. Initially, the outline contained no reference to East Jerusalem.

Today, he says, following joint Palestinian-Jordanian pressure, a reference has been introduced, but so vague as to lack any substance.

Nor did the original outline broach the issue of statehood. The latest drafts are moving closer to referring to the “right to statehood”, though mention of state remains firmly out of bounds.

An informed Arab diplomat agrees. “While the deal does not include any reference to the two-state solution it is obviously not about a one-state solution,” he says.

When is the deal likely to see the light of day?

In the words of one Washington-based source, “it is far from certain this deal will be proposed any time soon because both Trump and Netanyahu have another priority — Iran”.

“We are entering an intense week with the deal with Iran at risk, the situation in Gaza growing worse and the opening of the American Embassy in Jerusalem ratcheting up tensions not just in Gaza but across the Palestinian territories,” says the Washington-based source.

“It is hard to know if on top of all of this, and to coincide with the 70th anniversary of the Palestinian Nakba and the holy month of Ramadan, the Americans intend to throw in a deal that says no to a Palestinian state, no to the return of refugees and no to any Arab control of Muslim holy sites.”

*A version of this article appears in print in the 11 May 2018 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly with headline: Awaiting the backlash 

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