Analysis: In praise of diplomatic quid pro quos

Trump’s critics blasted the Morocco-Israel normalization agreement as merely a transaction, rather than peace. They forget that deals based on mutual interests are the only kind that last.

By Jonathan S. Tobin, Editor-in-Chief, JNS

The news was greeted with jubilation by friends of Israel and the approximately 1 million Israelis who trace their roots back to Morocco. An agreement announced last week by the White House made Morocco the fourth Muslim country in the last few months to agree to normalize relations with Israel.

For Israelis and those who care about the way the boycotts and long siege of the Jewish state have fallen apart, it’s a welcome step. Along with the accords signed with the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Sudan, transforming the already warm under-the-table relationship with the North African kingdom into a permanent and public relationship is more than good for Israel. It not only strengthens the stability of the region, it serves as a major blow to rogue Islamist nations like Iran and its terrorist proxies and allies, and constitutes another diplomatic triumph for the Trump administration in its last months in office.

But for President Donald Trump’s critics, the prospect of his imminent departure from the White House has not moderated their unwillingness to reject anything he does as wrong, no matter how right it might be. Thus, the reaction to the agreement with Morocco from the foreign-policy establishment and many liberal pundits was dismay rather than happiness about another development that disproved the belief that Israel would never have normal relations with the Arab world until it somehow satisfied Palestinian ambitions. Which is to say that short of Israel agreeing to its own destruction, it would never happen.

This is not just resentment from Obama administration veterans like former Secretary of State John Kerry who were exposed as incompetent. Kerry’s infamous 2016 prediction that normalization would never happen should never be forgotten and remains a testament to the stubborn foolishness of three decades of American diplomats and foreign-policy experts who believed that the only way to peace was by appeasing the Palestinians and pressuring Israel. The return to power of individuals who subscribed to this idiocy in the incoming Biden administration probably means that the United States will not be helping to facilitate more such agreements.

But the common thread throughout a blizzard of negative commentary and Twitter contempt for normalization between Morocco and Israel was something different. The critique of the agreement was that it was a crude “quid pro quo” that should not be confused with progress towards peace. Even worse, some denounced the deal for shortchanging American interests in favor of those of Israel.

Arguments about Jewish manipulation of U.S. foreign policy have become increasingly legitimized in the last few years. However, in this case, it’s not just anti-Semitic radicals like Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) using them. Instead, it’s become a theme taken up by  otherwise respectable liberal journalists, newspapers like The Washington Post, websites like Bloomberg news or think tanks like the Atlantic Council.

Part of the problem is that the phrase “quid pro quo” has become something of a term of abuse since the Democrats used it as the main argument for their partisan attempt to impeach Trump last winter over his talk with the president of Ukraine. Hence, the mere use of the term to describe the arrangement was a signal to liberals on Twitter that normalization between Morocco and Israel had to be a bad thing.

This is absurd. After all, all agreements between nations are rooted in self-interest, even if the ultimate goal is altruistic.

In the case of Morocco, as with the other three nations that have normalized relations with Israel recently, the North African country was being asked to stick its neck out and risk the inevitable abuse from Islamists and their left-wing allies that comes with giving up support for the Palestinians’ futile century-old war against Zionism. Even more to the point, it makes the kingdom more of a target for terrorism.

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It is hardly unreasonable that they should ask something in return. What they got was American recognition of the Moroccan claim to the Western Sahara.

Acknowledging reality

This is being represented by Trump’s critics as a grievous concession to tyranny and imperialism, as well as an insult to the United Nations. It’s also a recognition of reality.

The territory—approximately the size of Britain—is a sparsely populated strip of desert adjacent to the Atlantic Ocean that used to be owned by Spain. When that former imperial power gave it up in 1975 once Spain embraced democracy after the death of dictator Francisco Franco, Morocco staked a claim to land that they considered had been stolen by Europeans. It was opposed by a small nationalist movement called the Polisario that, with the help of Algeria, waged a bloody and unsuccessful war against Morocco for 16 years before agreeing to a ceasefire in 1991. That left Morocco in charge of almost the entire country.

Much of the international community still supports the myth that the Polisario represents the territory. Continuing to prop them up in a war they can never win in order to create another unstable dysfunctional Third World country is what passes for enlightened diplomatic activity at the United Nations and in other international bodies. The Trump administration is merely acknowledging reality when it says that the Moroccans aren’t giving up land they think is theirs. And in exchange for that and encouraging investment, a significant regional player has formally aligned itself with the West against the radicals while further chipping away at the foundations of the effort to wipe out the only Jewish state on the planet.

That is not a solution congenial to people who hate the United States and Israel, or those who hold grudges against the Moroccans. But in terms of U.S. interests, that’s what the business world would term an easy “win-win” solution.

But the point to be understood here is not so much the wisdom of the American decision to give the Moroccans something they wanted in exchange for something the America and Israel wanted any more than that was the point of the Abraham Accords, which, despite some denials, also involved giving the UAE something it wanted in terms of arms sales.

The ability of the Trump foreign-policy team to succeed in doing something its predecessors failed to do was based on two factors. One was that its members were not blinded by ideology when it came to Israel and the Palestinians, as were the Obama, Clinton and both Bush administrations. The other was that they took a more openly transactional approach to diplomacy.

The foreign-policy establishment likes to dress up agreements based on mutual interests in high-sounding language about principles. But the Trump team, which was composed to a large extent of people like White House senior adviser/presidential son-in-law Jared Kushner with a background in real estate, didn’t get bogged down in such meaningless and ultimately counterproductive exercises, and stuck to dealing with the world as it is rather than as they’d like it to be. They strove to make deals that made sense for both sides. And as a result of what some consider a crass rather than a principled approach, they advanced the cause of peace far more than any of the experts who mocked them as shallow amateurs.

With American foreign policy about to fall back into the hands of Obama alumni, some are lamenting the Trump administration’s achievements in expanding the circle of governments with normal relations with Israel as boxing them and ignoring their obsession with forcing a two-state solution that the Palestinians don’t want. Instead, the Biden team should learn from their predecessors. More Trump-style quid pro quos—and less magical thinking and expert ideological condescension from Washington—will make the world a safer place.