Israel’s new alliance with Arab regimes is catastrophic for Palestinians but won’t last
Over the past couple of years, I've seen Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu gloat too many times about the rising warmth and cooperation between his government and Arab states. The latest occasion was two weeks ago at a Jewish New Year event at the Israeli Foreign Ministry, where he said, "What is actually happening with the Arab states has never happened in our history." He revealed that the cooperation between Israel and Arab states now exists "in various ways and different levels."
The quasi-alliance that Netanyahu is talking about started post-Arab Spring due to a mutual fear of the revolutions and Iranian expansion. At that time, Arab monarchies and dictatorial regimes rushed towards Israel for the sole purpose of self-preservation after they saw that US interest in the Middle East was declining and that America was not willing to protect them in the face of both a possible uprising and Iran. The alliance is a stab in the back for the Palestinians.
In 2002, the Arab countries proposed what became known as the "Arab Peace Initiative", whereby they offered the collective normalisation of relations with Israel in exchange for its complete withdrawal from the territories it occupied in 1967 along with a negotiated settlement on the refugee issue. The initiative was adopted by both the Arab League and the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), which would open the door for Israel to boost relations with 57 Arab and Muslim countries, including Lebanon, Syria and Iran. The refugee clause was later dropped, and the initiative was re-endorsed by the Arab League in 2007 and this year.
With the virtual absence of any international pressure on Israel, the Palestinians have always viewed the Arab world's conditional relations with Israel based on the two-state solution as their only leverage in negotiations. This is why the new alliance and cooperation between Israel and some Arab countries comes horribly and catastrophically at the expense of Palestine and the Palestinians.
Netanyahu and Israeli leaders have already established that their priority is peace with Arab countries which, in their own words, "will later lead to peace with the Palestinians." This statement doesn't make a grain of a sense to anyone seeking justice for the Palestinians, given that if Israel is at peace with the Arab countries, then there's no incentive left for its leaders to withdraw from the occupied territories. What's more, this is the same Netanyahu who, at an event last month commemorating the 50th anniversary of Israel's occupation of the West Bank, vowed never to evacuate any settlements there: "We're here to stay forever," he insisted. "This is the inheritance of our ancestors. This is our land."
Moreover, the Arab regimes couldn't care less about the Palestinians. They have wanted to establish relations with Israel for a long time for entirely selfish reasons and sometimes as a way of pandering to the Americans, but they knew that the only way to dodge popular anger would be by advancing a peace deal for the Palestinians. From around 2002 to-date, they have lowered their demands regarding Palestinian rights, all for the sake of normalisation with Israel. The level that this compromising on Palestinian rights has reached was made clear when the Gulf States proposed earlier this year near complete links with Israel if its government has a partial freeze on settlement construction and eases trade restrictions imposed on the Gaza Strip, as the Wall Street Journal reported.
Netanyahu and his colleagues now appear to be excessively pleased about the boost to relations with some Arab countries without have to make any concessions or pay any price. While this is certainly quite an achievement from the Israeli perspective, Netanyahu's tone when he speaks about the cooperation between Israel and Arab countries is that of someone who thinks he has constructed a lasting and unbreakable bond with them. The reality, however, suggests that this alliance is fragile and will be short-lived.
There has already been a major disagreement, with Israel's "Arab allies" taking a different approach to the main issue of their alliance: Iran. While Israeli leaders have been increasing anti-Iran rhetoric, and lobbying Washington and Moscow against Iran's presence in Syria, the governments in Saudi Arabia and the UAE seem to have acquiesced over the issue. Indeed, Riyadh and Abu Dhabi appear to be more accepting of the political reality that Iran is a major regional player, to the extent that the Gulf States have been trying to mend ties with Tehran and the Shia axis. Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman, for example, has asked Iraqi Prime Minister Haider Al-Abadi to lead on mediation with Tehran.
Moreover, even if Israel´s alliance with the Arab world survives, the regimes themselves probably won't. If we have learnt one thing from the Arab Spring, it is that dictators and oppressive regimes that were once seen as unshakable and invincible are actually weaker than anyone could have imagined.
A study of the science of political revolutions suggests that the Arab revolutions are not yet finished. The counter-revolutionary forces in almost every Arab Spring country are just a phase of the long-term revolutionary process, one that sees the revolution develop. It's the phase that brings more popular support, more maturity and more premeditation for the next upheaval.
In the span of a generation, maybe less, the Arab revolutions will reignite. This time they are unlikely to fail and a lot of academic research is already predicting that they will overwhelm the whole region, even the Gulf monarchies.
Those revolutions will result in governments that are democratic and representative of the Arab people who still reject any normalisation with Israel, and even measure their patriotism in the level of enmity towards the Zionist state. Hence, I don´t think that the alliance will go far as long as it lacks popular approval.
If Israel wants to have real, long-term and efficient relations with the Arab and Muslim world, the only way forward is to give Palestinians their rights, either though the Arab Peace Initiative of a two-state solution with some land swaps or by the one-state solution with equal rights for all citizens. In my opinion, there's no alternative. Israeli leaders are becoming well-known for their short-termism, but long-term thinking and simple reasoning both say that you can't maintain relations with the Arab countries, nor can you maintain international legitimacy for that matter, while the occupation of Palestine and the oppression of the Palestinians remain.