I have often greeted the new year with a celebration of the one that just ended. 5780 brought much to celebrate, but we didn’t know how much, until the global pandemic transformed it into strange and dangerous year. So, with renewed optimism, I look forward to 5781, hoping that the coronavirus will recede before year’s end.
What was good about the past year was the paradigm shift concerning “peace” in the Middle East. For at least two generations a resolution between the Israelis and the Palestinian Arabs has been at an impasse. The West, specifically the UN and the EU, identified the problems of the region as Israel’s failure to satisfy the Palestinian Authority (PA) with ALL of the land beyond the 1949 Armistice Line, which they misidentified as the “1967 borders.” (A quick look at the historical records shows that the armistice line was emphatically declared by all parties NOT to be a border.)
Historically, there were optimistic feelings in 1993 about the Oslo Accords, which were formulated without the knowledge of Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin by his subordinate, Shimon Peres, who was premature in his dreams of a “new Middle East.” In any event, the idea of the accord was celebrated by the US, the UN, and the EU, in addition to some of the Arab states and other Muslim states.
President Bill Clinton was only too happy to bring the two parties together at the White House, where he was bookended by Chairman Yasser Arafat and PM Rabin in a celebratory handshake. My family and I were hopeful that after only two years living in Israel, the prospect of peace between Arabs and Jews was at hand.
Unfortunately, it was not to be. The “Land for Peace” theory proved to be insufficient; Arafat decided that he would go for broke with the Israelis by raining terror throughout the Land of Israel, on both sides of the 1949 Armistice Line, aka the Green Line. That uprising (intifada) went on for several years until the Israeli government realized that it had to retake many of the areas beyond the Green Line whose control had been ceded to the PA. Under General Arik Sharon (Operation Defensive Shield 2002), later a prime minister of Israel, terrorist gangs were rooted out by the IDF, which ever since has exerted constant efforts to prevent nearly all terror attacks.
To summarize, since then Israel has continued to build communities beyond the Armistice line on Israeli-controlled land allotted to Israel under the Oslo Accords (Judea and Samaria). The Jewish population there has reached 400,000+. The PA has countered this by crying foul to anyone who would listen while continuing to demand all of the land beyond the Armistice Line, including all of Area C. In this the PA has been supported wholeheartedly by the EU and other European states, who define Israel as the impediment to peace. That Chairman Arafat and President Mahmoud Abbas serially refused two ultra-overgenerous offers of territory and peace offered by former Israeli prime ministers Ehud Barak and Ehud Olmert is conveniently ignored.
It was only in the past year that a number of Arab countries decided that the failure of the Palestinian Arabs to come to an agreement with Israel was dangerous for those selfsame countries. With an expansionist Shia-Muslim Iran threatening them, two Sunni-Muslim Arab states decided to put their citizens first and ally themselves with the most powerful state in the neighborhood, Israel. No longer would the security of the Emirates (UAE) and Bahrain (by “allying” with Israel) be vetoed by Palestinian Arabs, whose demand is NO normalization with Israelis.
What moved these Gulf Arabs to not only enter a major alliance with what some Arabs call the “Zionist entity,” but to do it with the intention of having a “warm” relationship? This contrasts with the “cold” Egyptian and Jordanian atmospherics, which are markedly unfriendly except for security interests.
In contrast to the Gulf Arab states, Egypt and Jordan both are economic basket cases, among the worst in the Arab world. (Lebanon, which also borders Israel, is equally bad off.) Neither Egypt nor Jordan shares friendly cultural, touristic, or private commercial ventures with Israel, with few exceptions. Gulf states, with the exception of Qatar and Kuwait, have had unofficial but friendly commercial ties for years. These warmer relationships have prepared the way for a change of heart from remaining “loyal” to the Palestinian Arab “cause,” to putting their own countries first.
This sea change was enabled when President Trump entered office. Trump was eager to improve America’s relationship with Israel after his predecessor had downgraded it in favor of Iran with a very dangerous nuclear weapons deal (JCPOA). Trump’s iconoclastic moves were calculated to erase the effect of UN Security Council resolution 2334, which delegitimized Israel by declaring illegal its communities beyond the Armistice Line; its ancient religious sites to be Muslim, not Jewish; and its 3,000 year old capital Jerusalem, never to have been Israel’s capital. Instead, the incoming Trump administration declared Israel’s “settlements” not illegal, moved the American Embassy to Jerusalem, recognized the Golan Heights as part of Israel, and joined Israel in joint defense against Iran. Replacing the JCPOA and buttressing Israel’s role as America’s ally against Iran were major goals of Trump’s actions.
Another factor significant in motivating Gulf Arabs to cooperate with Israel is the waning of Arab oil supremacy. President Trump’s administration ended US dependency on oil from the Gulf states by allowing American industry to literally “drill its way out” in just a few years. In fact, the US is now the world’s largest oil producer. OPEC, which is majority controlled by Muslim countries (many are Gulf Arab states), no longer has the ability to shut down the world, as it did during oil embargo following the 1973 Yom Kippur War.
With this turn of events, the Emirates felt confident enough to come out of the closet and openly partner with Israel, soon joined by Bahrain. Several other Arab states have been mentioned as following the Emirates’ lead, which further worsens the situation of the PA, Gaza, and Iran (which is not Arab).
If this Arab “thaw” attracts even more Arab countries to normalize relations with Israel, the whole world will benefit, especially the West. The paradigm that Israel is the pivotal cause of strife in the Middle East is dead and buried. No matter who becomes the next president, that will not change. But, old habits die hard, as proven by this article published on September 24:
In Amman on Thursday, the foreign ministers of Egypt, France, Germany and Jordan and the EU special representative for the Middle East peace process met to discuss ways to advance a two-state solution based on the pre-1967 lines and the 2002 Arab Peace Initiative.
“We stress that the resolution of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict on the basis of the two-state solution that ensures the emergence of an independent and viable Palestinian state on the basis of the June 4, 1967, lines, living side by side a secure and recognized Israel, is the path to achieving comprehensive, enduring peace and regional security,” the diplomats said in a joint statement after the meeting.
They called on Israel to halt settlement activity, which they said was a “violation of international law that undermines the viability of the two-state solution,” and called on Israel to ensure that the suspension of annexation “should become permanent.”
We hope that during 5781 a vaccine will be developed which will control Covid-19. We hope that the world economy will rebound quickly and that the US and Israel will revert to their high economic growth rates. And we fervently hope that diplomats enmeshed in the discredited model of “land for peace” will wake to notice that things have moved on.
May all my readers have a good listing in the Book of Life for 5781!