For over seventy years Middle Eastern politics have centred on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Wars have been waged, territory ceded, and attempts at a diplomatic solution to the twice-promised land explored, including the much heralded Two State solution that has foundered in the face of Palestinian intransigence.
There was a window of opportunity that may have led to a peaceful outcome to this perennial dispute: Gaza. When Ariel Sharon decided to unilaterally withdraw from the Gaza Strip in 2004/5, against fierce opposition from Likud, there was optimism that, perhaps, this would lead to a moderate Palestinian response that would pave the way to the creation of a sovereign state on the West Bank.
Sadly, with the emergence of Hamas as the dominant political and military presence in Gaza, such hopes proved forlorn. So is there any room for optimism; is there any prospect of an accord being reached with the Palestinian Authority; are the aspirations for harmonious relations between Jews and Palestinians just a pipe-dream; and have events superseded the old rhetoric?
Ever since Israel reached an accommodation with Egypt in 1979 and Jordan in 1994, there was a sense of a turning point in Arab-Israeli relations. Making peace treaties with erstwhile enemies appeared to be a sensible alternatives to war, and although few thought hardline states like Syria were likely to join Egypt and Jordan, it was believed by many that other Arab states would be encouraged to establish diplomatic relations with Israel.
We have had to wait many decades for the realisation of this Middle Eastern Spring; but with four Arab League countries, Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates, Sudan and Morocco, establishing diplomatic relations with Israel in 2020, and with the prospect of Saudi Arabia softening its anti-Israel stance, the future is once again looking brighter after the disappointment of Rabin-Arafat Declaration of Principles in 1993.
What has changed? A great deal! Israel and the Arab nations have a vested interest in working together against a common Iranian threat; but there are even greater benefits than a potential military alliance: the economics of the future. Israel has an enormous capacity for invention and innovation; it has invested heavily in science and technology. These skills are exportable and are not dependent on the support of the USA. Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman is a forward looking politician whose dream to create a $500 billion desert city-state, dubbed Neom, may well signal a new era for the Middle East, one in which states will come together to form a substantial trading bloc, and the economic and social benefits will be mutually beneficial to Israel and her neighbours.
This inevitably raises the question: What about the Palestinians and their right to self-determination? That, is certainly, the mantra in the West, where many activists repeatedly condemn Israel for its unwillingness to cede land to the Palestinians. Such people conveniently ignore Israel’s concerns about her security; and use a tiresome lexicon of dogma to vilify Israel. Attempts to persuade governments to adopt a policy of BDS (Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions) against Israel, comparing that democratic state to Apartheid South Africa, is a fatuous parallel, when one considered the rights of Palestinian to be represented in the Knesset and to hold the same legal rights as Jews.
While anti-Israel leftist rhetoric is what fuels criticism of Israel, that has recently encouraged overt anti-semitism, as is witnessed by the escalating attacks on Jews in Europe and America, the Middle East has moved on, and the Palestinian cause is no longer the most pressing agenda among Arab countries. This disconnect between what is being voiced in the West with what is going on in the Levant is fascinating; there is a political realignment that bodes well for the future of the region; and, it could be, the Palestinians have forfeited the chance of their own homeland and have become an irrelevance not to just to many Israelis but to their fellow Arabs.