Middle East Monthly Report, June 2016
Last month, the Israeli-Palestinian peace process unexpectedly came to the fore again the regional and international arenas. Dozens of foreign ministers gathered in Paris earlier this month to discuss the re-launch of negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians. This is the first meeting of this level over the past few years.
In Cairo, President Al-Sisi made a rare public statement calling on both sides - the Israeli political parties and the two main Palestinian factions - to reach an internal consensus and move towards a peaceful agreement. He also said that his country was ready to spare no effort in helping the parties find a solution.
In Jerusalem, Prime Minister Netanyahu reaffirmed his support for a two-way solution and made some positive remarks regarding the 2002 Arab Peace Initiative. This plan, which calls on Israelis and Palestinians to negotiate, is a continuation of negotiations between Clinton, Barak and Arafat, during which the exchange of territories was discussed with a view to finalizing the boundaries. Subject to implementation, this initiative offered the full recognition of Israel by all members of the Arab League. However, shortly thereafter, the Prime Minister refused to implement the Saudi plan and stressed that the region has undergone changes since it was proposed.
To be honest, peace is unlikely to come anytime soon, and the resumption of talks between Jerusalem and Ramallah at this stage is very unlikely. However, the dynamics of these recent diplomatic statements may indicate that the political climate in the Middle East is changing.
France’s attempt to take control of the peace process in the Middle East can be viewed as a direct result of the gradual withdrawal of the United States from the region. Since Russia attempted to occupy this place and dictate the new rules of the game through its military invasion of Syria, France decided to counter its diplomatic efforts to achieve the same.
And although Secretary of State John Kerry took part in the conference in Paris, he did it mostly to make sure that the French initiative did not get out of control in such a way that it would deprive Washington of its monopoly on the peace process, which lasts for decades. Despite the fact that Kerry depleted the final statement of the summit, the US participation confirms the continued efforts of the Obama administration to support diplomatic progress to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
The final statement contained only general statements about the need for progress, but Paris does not intend to give up this initiative. Egypt, for its part, is trying to push the peace process forward for its own personal regional considerations, and not out of concern for the future of the Palestinians. Seized between Iran’s dominant ambitions (the radical Shiite camp) and the threat of ISIS (the Sunni radical camp), the future of the entire Arab world is at stake, although the Obama administration often seems uninteresting.
This cruel reality has pushed the leaders of the Arab world, especially Egypt and Saudi Arabia, to the realization that resisting these threats, restoring stability and encouraging prosperity requires the cooperation of the entire region, in which Israel will also be one of the participants. This unexpected turnaround, reinforced by a common concern for Israel and the Arabs about the threat from Iran and ISIL, as well as an understanding of Israel’s unique capabilities in the areas of technology and security, changed the key points of the Jewish state’s perception of the Arab world. If earlier Israel was perceived in the Arab world as a source of regional problems, now it is considered as a potential strategic partner who can help with their solution.
At the same time, the Arabs will not accept an official alliance with Israel, or even a public improvement of relations, until the peace process moves forward. This explains why many Arab leaders want to see a resumption of negotiations between the Israelis and the Palestinians. Thus, the resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has turned from a task in itself and for achieving Palestinian goals into a means of meeting the global needs of the Arab world in a regional union on behalf of the Sunnis, in which Israel can play the necessary role.
The Israeli government, in turn, of course, wants to improve its relations with the Arab world and reach agreement with the Palestinians. However, there are still fears that it will be impossible to reach an agreement with the current leaders of Palestine.
Still, increasing international pressure left Netanyahu with no choice — he had to resume progress. His new efforts coincide in time with growing anxiety in various world capitals that bilateral negotiations have become obsolete, and the time has come to internationalize the conflict by dictating the parameters of the final status agreement.
Most of all, the Israeli government worries that the White House will not keep its promise to veto UN Security Council resolutions that seem to contradict Israel’s position on direct bilateral negotiations without preconditions, especially between the US presidential elections in November and the end of Obama’s term January 2017 of the year. Perhaps he is even more worried that the French will hold the second international conference in Paris before the end of the year, which will result in an international plan for resolving the conflict, which will be approved by the UN Security Council after the United States refrains from vetoing it.
The resumption of regional cooperation and the active participation of the Israeli government in it may be enough to force Obama to veto any unilateral decision of the UN Security Council on Palestine. In this direction, Netanyahu will still have to convince Al-Sisi to sponsor: unfortunately, given the current circumstances, it is hard to imagine Al-Sisi to agree.
As the United States dominates the region, the main Arab countries are trying to change policies in such a way that Israel becomes a strategic partner instead of the notorious "root of all problems." The chances are unequal, but such a development will inadvertently create such Obama wealth that no one could have foreseen.
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