There is a time to be silent and a time to speak.
An unholy alliance of Donald Trump, Vladimir Putin, and Benjamin Netanyahu threatens to undermine world security. In December 2016, US secretary of state John Kerry ended years of US prevarication by voicing what everyone already knew: the need for a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Predictably, he was immediately attacked by those who defend Israel’s flagrant contempt for international law and for the UN Security Council.
Others hinted at a sinister coalition emerging among those willing to suspend disbelief in the face of a world that is losing its moral bearings. For example, in “Theresa May’s attack on John Kerry over Israel is extraordinary” (The Guardian, 30 December 2016), Azriel Bermant asked:
“Why would May attack Kerry for suggesting that settlements were the main obstacle to peace? Did she read his speech? In it, he stated that ‘settlements are not the whole or even the primary cause of this conflict’ and strongly condemned terrorism and incitement against Israel. More extraordinary still, why would the British prime minister criticise Kerry when her own government played a leading role in the passing of UN security council resolution 2334 which condemned Israel over its settlement expansion? Kerry ordered the United States to abstain while May’s government voted in favour.”
Elsewhere, Vladimir Putin is putting on a poker face. On the one hand, Russia supports the Palestinian cause and has backed Palestinian interests at the United Nations. It has also retained ties to regimes implacably opposed to Israel, supporting Iran’s nuclear programme (which Israel regards as an existential threat) and selling arms to both Tehran and to Assad’s embattled regime in Syria. On the other hand, Putin is not blind to the fact that Russia and Israel are nuclear powers in close proximity to one another, that high priority must be given to containing real or imagined threats from Iran, and that Europe is convulsed by internal problems of its own as well as the spectre of dismemberment.
As ever, Benjamin Netanyahu is intent on being as disruptive as possible to the Israeli-Palestinian peace process. Every opening is blocked; every renewed attempt at genuine negotiation thwarted. He is also counting on the Trump presidency to reverse recent setbacks and to guarantee a Memorandum of Understanding that will go into effect in 2018 and provide Israel with some $3.9 billion a year in military aid for 10 years.
Trump, of course, is a loose cannon. No one can predict which way he will jump (or be pushed) on any particular issue. This makes him all the more dangerous, especially with the nomination of a cabinet of billionaires, described by Peter Henning, a constitutional law professor at Wayne State University, as “unique in the volume of people with minimal, if any, government experience”. We all saw what happened when oil industry figures backed George W. Bush.
Global security is threatened by the probability of IS going underground and retaliating for recent losses; by increased tension between South and North Korea; by China’s imperialistic ambitions being contested by Japan and Taiwan; by the chaos of refugees, migrants and displaced peoples; and by catastrophic climate change and environmental degradation. Added to this is the likelihood of widespread turmoil and recession within Europe, once a voice of reason, whose self-belief and political integrity are steadily being eroded.
On to this stage steps a triumvirate for whom power and self-aggrandizement are pursued at the expense of people’s lives. And to make matters worse, the likes of the UK’s Teresa May, Turkey’s Recep Erdoğan, Hungary’s Viktor Orbán, and India’s Narendra Modi are clinging to their coattails. In this world of deep uncertainty, Trump, Putin, and Netanyahu will be playing both ends against the middle to the detriment of anyone who gets in the way. Palestine may be only the first casualty.