Israel-Arab peace cannot bypass Palestinians
By Ghassan Michel RubeizEnglish: Sept. 2: (l-r backs to camera): President Mahmoud Abbas and Special Envoy for Middle East Peace George Mitchell; (l-r facing camera): Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Secretary Hillary Clinton as they all share a laugh during their meeting at the State Department. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
(Washington D.C.) — If and when peace is established in the region-possibly in a decade or two- the Israelis might discover that the Palestinian people are closer to them than they realize, in aspirations, culture and temperament.
Peacemaking necessitates the full participation of all stakeholders. For years Israel and the US have excluded Hamas, the Islamic Resistance party, as a partner for peace. And now Netanyahu is even willing to try to marginalize all Palestinians from Israel’s next attempt at negotiations. Netanyahu’s latest idea is to make peace with the Arab states without first settling the Palestinian question.
Cairo’s response to the Israeli Prime Minister’s unusual notion was sobering. In a recent speech to the Gaza Reconstruction donors, President Abdel Fattah Sissi surprised Israel’s leaders with a firm call to accept the 2002 Arab Peace Initiative. This Initiative, which Tel Aviv has ignored for 12 years, offers a grand bargain: in exchange for acceptance of a Palestinian state -with 1967 borders- Arab states would offer Israel full recognition, normal diplomatic relations and economic cooperation.
Many in Israel are critical of Netanyahu for ignoring the peace process. A Haaretz editorial interprets the intent of the speech: .. Sissi’s speech was .. a message to Netanyahu, Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman and all the other ministers who have been fantasizing recently about a peace process that bypasses the Palestinians and involves no Israeli concessions – one in which Israel, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Morocco would establish ties and do business even as the occupation and the settlements continue in the West Bank. http://www.haaretz.com/news/diplomacy-defense/.premium-1.620434
This new peace strategy is gaining some track in the US. Dennis B Ross, the US chief negotiator for the Arab Israeli conflict between 1993 and 2001, sounds like Netanyahu when he claims that the (Sunnite) Arab states are currently pro-Israel and against Hamas: During the recent conflict in the Gaza Strip, there were demonstrations against Israel in Europe — but not in the Arab states. http://www.nytimes.com/2014/09/12/opinion/islamists-are-not-our-friends.html
In contrast to US tacit negligence of “Palestine” as a state, Europeans are gradually embracing the idea. Recently Sweden and the British Parliament recognized the rights of Palestinians to statehood.
One wonders what gives Netanyahu the idea that peace could be advanced without a historic sacrifice and the direct involvement of the Palestinians.
Three possible reasons underlie the confidence of the Israeli Prime Minister and his extra-conservative team in delaying peace: growing instability of Arab states, Egypt’s continued commitment to the Camp David Accord – despite rapid growth of Israeli settlements in the West Bank- and Saudi Arabia’s fear of Iran’s spreading influence in the region. The third reason makes Tehran a common adversary of Riyadh and Tel Aviv.
Netanyahu is reading too much in the implications of Arab states’ turmoil on the centrality of the Palestine question. The very weakness of Arab regimes precludes their ability to break strong regional norms. In attempting to forge regional peace with Israel without securing the approval of Palestinians first, the rulers of Saudi Arabia, Egypt and the emirates would be provoking the Arab street throughout the entire region.
Saudi Arabia may have in the past secretly encouraged Israel to strike Iran. But now conditions have changed on several fronts (e.g. ISIL’s impact) leading to Saudi apprehension of dealing with Israel unilaterally.
Moreover, Israel is less confident today of mounting an air strike on Iran as a result of partial progress already made in the international negotiations with the Islamic Republic. If Israel initiates a new war in the region it automatically galvanizes the region against “Zionism” and “Western imperialism”.
And finally, Egyptian President Sissi has been outwardly friendly with Israel for pure expediency; he is desperate to continue receiving Washington’s financial and military aid, and to sustain the tolerance of the Western world for his coercive regime against the Muslim Brothers movement.
Things are slowly changing in Egypt. Sissi has been trying to regain Egypt’s stability and to revive Cairo’s leadership in the region. He has secured substantial funding from the Arab countries and the West. He has developed some new economic projects such as the expansion of the Suez Canal. And he has been successful in mediating an extended cease-fire between Hamas and Israel.
Sissi’s call on Israel to adopt the Arab Peace Initiative and accept Palestinian statehood is part of a wider effort on his part to try to reclaim Egypt’s status in the region and to establish respect for Cairo in the Palestinian community.
With time peacemaking is not getting easier. All stakeholders need to be active in forging peace. Settling the Palestinian question will make life much easier for the Arabs and for Israel. There is no shortcut to peace. Israel’s long term partners will need to be its immediate neighbors.