If Presidents Trump and Putin do meet sometime in July in Europe (a July 15 meeting in Austria is under negotiation), one certain topic for discussion and negotiation will be Syria and the ongoing threat of a war between Israel and Iran. While I am told that there is no agreement at present between the US and Russia, the elements of a deal are clearly being pursued. Consider the following developments over the past several days: Over the weekend of 23-24 June, Russian planes began providing air support to Syrian Arab Army forces moving to take back territory south of Damascus. Russia has been pressing Iran and Hezbollah to stay out of southern Syria, to avert continuing Israeli air strikes there. Israel, which has been providing critical military and medical support to some Syrian rebel factions, including jihadists from Nusra under the idea that "the enemy of my enemy is my friend," will not accept an Iranian or Hezbollah presence in the vicinity of the Golan Heights. In the past month, Putin has hosted Netanyahu, Israel's Defense Minister Liberman, President Bashar Assad and a number of Iranian officials in Russia, pressing the need to avoid an Iran versus Israel escalation in Syria.
The United States, over the same weekend of 23-24 June, wrote to Syrian rebels from the Free Syrian Army in the south of Syria, informing them not to expect any American military support as they face off against the SAA. American forces, under the existing deconfliction agreements with Russia, will stay out of way as SAA forces and Russian fighter planes move to take back all of Syria south of Damascus.
Jordan's King Abdullah II was in Washington this week, with two agenda items to discuss with Trump officials: The Syria war and the Trump Administration's secret peace plan for Israel and Palestine. Apparently few Administration officials–President Trump, Jared Kushner, Jason Greenblatt and David Friedman–are the only ones privy to the details of the plan, which is supposed to be unveiled in the coming weeks. Kushner and Greenblatt just returned from a Middle East trip in which they visited with all key players except the Palestinians.
While the details remain secret, there are some developments that clearly hint at the broad outlines of the latest American scheme. Egypt has been brokering talks between Hamas and Israel over a long-term ceasfire. Elements of the deal include a return of Israeli prisoners being held in Gaza, a halt in attacks on Israel from Gaza, a lifting of part of the blockade of Gaza and the eventual construction of an airport and seaport. There is talk of a Gaza/Sinai industrial complex in El-Arish in the Sinai desert, to be staffed by Palestinian workers from Gaza. Egypt has extended the opening of the Rafah crossing through to 25 August. The Egyptian government is clearly active in this effort. Under Egyptian pressure, the Palestinian Authority has agreed to resume paying salaries for government officials in Gaza, and reconciliation talks are underway again between Fatah and Hamas.
Based on some comments by Kushner during his travels, it appears that the Trump "deal of the century" is long on economic incentives and short on the creation of a viable and contiguous Palestinian state. In an interview with the Palestinian newspaper al-Quds, Kushner was quoted: "At the end of the day, I believe that Palestinian people are less invested in the politicians' talking points than they are in seeing how a deal will give them and their future generations new opportunities, more and better paying jobs, and prospects for a better life."
Lobelog asserts that part of the Trump plan involves convincing the Palestinians to accept Abu Dis as their capital rather than East Jerusalem, leaving the Old City in Israeli hands. Saudi Arabia would be given some role in administering the Temple Mount, which is something that Jordan would strongly oppose, given that a basic point in the Israel-Jordan peace treaty is that the Hashemites retain status as protectors of the Temple Mount. And Israel would retain control over the Jordan River Valley.
If these reports are accurate–something I cannot confirm, other than those publicly confirmed pieces–we are on the cusp of a new diplomacy, which is far from an actual resolution. Any equitable deal will be far different than the fragments that have appeared so far in public. But given President Trump's obsession with "deals of the century" and the failure of every previous effort at peacemaking along the Eastern Mediterranean, we are in for something unpredictable. Israeli Prime Minister is facing hell on the home front, with wife Sarah's indictment and a string of indictments against himself pending later this year. And by now, Netanyahu has figured out that he doesn't really have a friend in the White House that he can trust.