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Middle East will quickly teach Trump rules of the game

As US president, Donald Trump will have little option but to engage in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and when he does, judiciously.
Ultra-Orthodox Jewish man walk next to a poster of Donald Trump in Jerusalem's Mea Shearim neighbourhood, October 13, 2016. REUTERS/Amir Cohen  - RTSS53C

If the raw materials for predicting the Middle East policy of President-elect Donald Trump consist of his pronouncements on the issue during the election campaign, he will watch the Israeli-Palestinian bonfire from the sidelines, at best. At worst, the businessman, devoid of any diplomatic training or experience, will fuel the flames with gallons of gasoline. Trump’s victory in the Republican presidential primaries, and surprising victory in the general election, indicate that the man is far from being a pyromaniac. He will invariably also be quick to understand the rules of the game in the Middle East. As an ambassador who served in the Middle East for many years once told me, “We have learned that your region is like an automatic car with two gears — drive and reverse. There’s no neutral or park. If we don’t advance, we retreat.”

At the start of Ronald Reagan’s presidency, people also said that he would not go near the quagmire of the Arab-Israeli conflict. He was dragged in, however, by the 1982 Lebanon war and the evasive tactics adopted by the right-wing Israeli government to avoid autonomy talks with the Palestinians. Reagan ended up presenting Prime Minister Menachem Begin with a peace plan based on an Israeli withdrawal from the territories it had captured in 1967. After a furious Begin rejected the blueprint, Reagan lifted the US boycott of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) and launched talks with its leader, Chairman Yasser Arafat.

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