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The Demise of Kissingerism

The Kissinger Paradigm is Collapsing

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23 Oct 2018
The Demise of Kissingerism

The Middle East is known as a turbulent area. For decades, the international community has sought to maintain stability in the region through a policy forged by US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger. But I believe we are now witnessing the demise of “Kissingerism.”

In the Yom Kippur War of 1973, Kissinger brought the world back from the brink of nuclear war. Once Israeli forces recovered from the surprise Arab invasion and started advancing on Cairo and Damascus, the Soviet Union threatened to intervene militarily, even with nukes. Alarmed, Kissinger rushed to resolve the deepening crisis.

Shuttling between the various capitals, Kissinger halted the IDF advance at Kilometer 101 in the Sinai, and thereby positioned Washington as the primary mediator between Israel and the Arabs. His model for Middle East diplomacy was built on the premise that America is the only country that can bring Israel to heel, and thus the Arabs were wise to accept Washington as the main broker of peace between them and Israel.

Largely a product of the Cold War, this approach strengthened the West’s relations with the Arab world and ensured the free flow of Mideast oil going forward. Yet, it required that the United States (and its allies) adopt an even-handed approach to the Arab-Israeli conflict. Over time, this also meant that Israel’s historic rights and claims to its ancient homeland had to be put on par with Palestinian nationalist claims to the same land.

This contrived “neutrality” required, for instance, that for every condemnation of Palestinian terrorism there had to be an equal denunciation of Israeli settlements. Every foreign leader who visited Jerusalem and laid a traditional wreath at Yad Vashem was also obliged to visit Ramallah and lay a wreath at Yasser Arafat’s grave.

But today, the Kissinger paradigm is collapsing! This is especially true under US President Donald Trump, who is not afraid to take sides. For starters, he recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital without making any parallel concessions to the Palestinians. Trump also has:

  • distanced himself from the two-state solution;
  • refrained from openly criticizing settlement activity;
  • shut down the PLO office in Washington;
  • ending US funding of UNRWA; and
  • supported the Taylor Force Act, which freezes US funding to the Palestinians so long as their “pay-to-slay” policy continues.

Some also are hoping Trump will recognize Israeli sovereignty on the Golan.

The current move away from the Kissinger model is due to a combination of Trump’s unconventional approach to diplomacy, certain regional shifts caused by the Arab Spring, and the growing threat of Iranian hegemony. The ancient Sunni-Shi’ite rivalry has flared, especially in Syria, and Trump has sided with the Sunni Arab powers whose interests in containing Iran mesh well with Israel’s interests.

Israel also has established a cooperative relationship with Russia without undermining its close ties to Washington. The overall shift is so discernible even Saudi officials are warning that unless the Palestinians learn to compromise, history is about to pass them by.


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