Washington Wednesday: Peace in the Middle East

MARY REICHARD, HOST: It’s Wednesday the 29th of May, 2019. Glad to have you along for today’s edition of The World and Everything in It. Good morning, I’m Mary Reichard.

NICK EICHER, HOST: And I’m Nick Eicher. Peace in the Middle East.

It’s something every U.S. administration has sought. But—no surprise—solving centuries of problems doesn’t come quickly. The Trump administration is the latest to seek a peace deal between Israel and the Palestinians. The president’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, has led those efforts.

REICHARD: And earlier this month, the White House announced the first step in its plan: an economic workshop. That will happen in Bahrain late next month.

Here now to talk about this is author and speaker Michael Youssef. He was born in Egypt, pastors a church in Atlanta, and has written extensively about the Middle East.

Good morning!

YOUSSEF: Good morning. Good to be with you!

REICHARD: Let’s start with the economic conference happening in Bahrain. What do we know about it so far?

YOUSSEF: Well, we don’t know a great deal, but I can tell you this: I read the Arab press every single morning coming from all over the Arab world. And they’re laughing at it. 

I’ll give you an example: One of the members of the parliament in Jordan, before even reading what that peace plan is, they said this is a trick. It’s like creating a bribery where they’re trying to bribe us and calling for what it calls the third Intifada. And, I mean, even before seeing it.

So as long as Iran is there stirring the pot with Hamas and all of that stuff going on, I just really hate to be— I’m a positive, optimistic person by nature, but when it comes to this phony issue, I just don’t have a lot of optimism.

REICHARD: Well, what do we do next? If the Palestinian authority won’t even come to the summit in Bahrain and other countries are scoffing at it, then what else can happen?

YOUSSEF: Well, I think maintaining the status quo is about as good as you’re going to get—particularly I’m talking about the Islamists. Not the Muslims, per se, but the Islamists—that’s militant, political Islam. Some of them are thrown out of Egypt thanks to President el-Sisi and they are operating in Europe and the United States. Or the Islamists who are on the ground in Qatar and Turkey, you know, basically these are the people who are calling the shots. It’s not the poor Palestinian people. My heart really goes out to them because they are the ones who are caught in the middle with corrupt leaders.  They have no voice.

And I know they would benefit if they would give this a shot, but nonetheless, knowing the realities on the ground, I hate to say this, that I just think it’s dead on arrival.

REICHARD: Well, given that, what advice would you give to President Trump?

YOUSSEF: The advice I would give to him is that basically keep doing what you’re doing. Number one, he’s got two strikes against him right now. I’m supportive of what he did, but I’m just saying from their point of view. Taking the embassy into Jerusalem, that is one big strike. Then declaring the Golan Heights to be Israeli territory is the second strike.

Now, mind you, both of them are sound decisions, and he needed to make those decisions because the Golan Heights, if they were to return to Syria, my goodness gracious, that’s a suicide for Israel. And it was Congress’ decision to move the embassy because he’s the only one who had the courage to do it.

And so, I mean, he’s moving in the right direction, but by the same token, he is trying also to appeal to the Sunni government in the Gulf states—in Saudi Arabia, Egypt—and trying to form that alliance. However, it’s so complicated. And I have talked to people in the State Department who said, “We’ve not even seen the plan.” 

But, nonetheless, I wish to God and I would pray that somehow, somewhere any peace plan would find its way to reality.

REICHARD: I know you say it’s dead on arrival and that seems to be reflected in Arab media that I’ve looked at. But what can you tell me about what you do know about what’s in the deal?

YOUSSEF: Again, what I know is what’s in the press. I have friends in the administration, I’ve talked to some people, but they honestly don’t know. It’s all the biggest, best-kept secret so far—even from the State Department.

So all I know is that the two-state solution is going to be pushed hard, but the two-state solution is not going to be on equal level. They would give some autonomy to the Palestinians, but still under Israeli control. And that’s why I said it’s dead on arrival. They want Jerusalem, all of it.

But even the most moderate among the Palestinians would say, well, at least East Jerusalem as our capital where we’ll have our government. And the Israelis will never settle for that. They’ll never settle for it. They know this is a huge problem.

REICHARD: I know Jared Kushner has said if he’s going to fail, he wants to fail differently. He wants to fail in a new way and not just keep trying the same thing over and over again. Anything that you think makes this one is different, possibly?

YOUSSEF: Well, I cannot think of anything more generous and more, really, over the top than the agreement under Clinton with Ehud Barak and Yasser Arafat. Ehud Barak was giving away 98 percent of the land. Ninety-eight percent! And Arafat said no.

And that moment, that’s when I knew right away this is—they’re not interested in the deal. They’re benefitting. The leadership are benefitting. They’re becoming rich and wealthy on the backs of the poor Palestinian hard working people.

And so until something drastically changes within the Palestinian territories, there’s always going to be that cork in the bottle that’s stopping all the, keeping all the bubbles inside the bottle from going out. So that really is the only hope. It’s not going to come from America because anything that comes from America is immediately going to be treated as suspect by the Islamists. And, again, I wish to God that I would be wrong. I hope I’m wrong. I would like to be wrong.

REICHARD: What other aspects of this do you think are important? 

YOUSSEF: There’s a spiritual side that most people do not know because it will never make it to the media. There were churches in Egypt and I would say the vast majority of them, they were praying 24/7 for a whole year. And an anesthesiologist, she was telling me that during that year, when she finished her shift at 2 a.m. and going home and she would say, “Oh, probably nobody there.” And she would go to a church and she said it was standing room only. Believers were crying to God and God heard their prayers. And we must really never forget this.

And then came that uprising that brought a benevolent and kind person as el-Sisi was elected by a landslide. And so I think believers need to understand this is a spiritual issue. We can talk about all the politics of it. In the end, it is a spiritual matter and only prayer can really bring peace and can bring hope.

REICHARD: And therein is the hope. Michael Youssef is an author and speaker based in Atlanta. Michael, thank you so much for your insights this morning.

YOUSSEF: Pleasure. Thank you for having me.

(AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin, File) In this Aug. 29, 2018 file photo, White House Adviser Jared Kushner waves as he arrives at the Office of the United States Trade Representative in Washington. 

WORLD Radio transcripts are created on a rush deadline. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of WORLD Radio programming is the audio record.

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