Mohamed Chtatou

Israel and the Arab World Today

Yesterday, Israel was the eternal enemy of the Arab World, the lackey of Western imperialism, and for some Arab socialists and leftists, the aircraft carrier of America in the Middle East حاملة طائرات أمريكية في الشرق الأوسط to keep its hold on Arab oil. For the pan-Arabists Israel was not a state but only ”an entity” planted by the Western world to emasculate the Arabs, it was known as al-kiyân as-Sahyûnî الكيان الصهيوني ‘’Zionist entity’’  and Zionism was equated with racism.  With the surge of Islamism in the 80s of the last century after the Iranian Islamic Revolution of 1979, Israel was seen as a tumor, warm ورم, on the Muslim body to be removed at once. The Iranians threatened, on and off, to wipe it out from the map. For the Islamists, Israel is the enemy number one of Islam.

The Arab world and Israel today

The end of the Cold War and the disintegration of the Soviet Union have completely changed inter-Arab relations and the nature of the stakes in the Arab-Israeli conflict.  All of the actors in the region are now looking to Washington and Western Europe to help the Middle East achieve political stability and encourage regional cooperation and economic development. Many questions remain, however, such as the profound gap between the Israeli economy, which has already integrated the technologies of the third millennium, and all the economies of the Middle East. The progress of the peace process between Israelis and Palestinians, between Damascus and Jerusalem, is essential to regional stability. New balances of power are thus being established in the Arab world.

As images of inter-communal violence between Jewish and Arab Israelis multiplied during the Hamas-Israel war in 2021, some used social networks to spread messages of peace. An attempt to preserve, at all costs, a fraternity that is now hanging by a thread.

The violence of the clashes, even within Israel, between young Arabs and groups of Jewish extremists, is a painful surprise for its inhabitants. Even if the conflict is not as serious as the one between the Israeli army and Hamas in Gaza, Jewish Israelis have become accustomed to reassuring speeches about the political and economic “integration” of their Arab fellow citizens.

Mansour Abbas, a Palestinian from Israel who is a member of the government coalition, broke a 70-year-old taboo on December 21, 2021, by officially recognizing the Jewish character of Israel. The leader of the Islamist Ra’am party seeks to change the nature of relations between Israel and its Palestinian population.

In an interview with the media personality Muhamad Majadla during the Israel Business Conference in December 2021, Mansour Abbas said:

“The State of Israel was born as a Jewish state. That is the decision of the people and the question is not concerning the identity of the State. It was born that way and that is how it will remain […] The question concerns the status of the Arab citizen living in the Jewish State of Israel.”

Recognition of Israel’s Jewish character has often been a precondition for negotiating a peace treaty between the two sides. Ariel Sharon, Ehud Olmert, and Benyamin Netanyahu have all insisted on its centrality. They have sometimes even used it to ensure that negotiations would not take place, knowing that it would be rejected. Until recently, there was a Palestinian consensus that this condition should not be accepted. For the Middle East Monitor Mansour Abbas ’lends support to Israel’s colonial narrative. ‘’

On the one hand, this was because it was widely believed that formal recognition of Israel’s Jewish character would directly infringe on the rights of Muslim and Christian minorities in the country. On the other hand, the Israeli desire for official and explicit recognition of the Jewish character of the country by the Palestinians is seen as a way to prevent the return of Palestinian refugees. Such a return would change the demographic balance of the region and make Jews a minority in the country, which would jeopardize the Zionist project.

Drive for Peace

The “Abraham Accords” generated a peace dynamic that goes far beyond the two small Middle Eastern monarchies (UAE and Bahrain) that initiated it and their 11 million inhabitants. Thus, at the end of October 2020 Israel, in parallel with the signing of economic cooperation agreements, established diplomatic relations with Sudan,  an immense Arab country with a population of 45 million inhabitants, whose surface area is three times that of France and a hundred times that of Israel. As a result, the United States granted a billion-dollar loan to Sudan and removed it from the list of states supporting terrorism on which it had been on since 1993, a sanction that hindered its relations with many countries. Unlike the two confetti states in the Gulf, Sudan, although far from the front lines, has participated in several of the Arab wars aimed at destroying Israel. Its capital, Khartoum, hosted the famous 1967 Arab League summit where the three “Nos” were decreed: No to peace. No to recognition. No to negotiation with the “Zionist enemy”.

The Sultanate of Oman, for its part, quickly welcomed the Israeli-Emirati agreement. But at the same time, it reaffirmed its attachment to the “rights” of the Palestinians to a “state with East Jerusalem as its capital“. The map of neutrality therefore coupled with mediation, Muscat also practiced balanced relations with both the United States and Iran. It should be noted, however, that Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu, then, had paid a visit to Oman at the invitation of the late Sultan Qaboos. Today, would his successor, Sultan Haitham, be in the same state of mind, that is the question.

Ties between Morocco and Israel – including, quietly, military ones – go back decades.  The two countries established diplomatic relations in the early 1990s before Morocco ended them at the start of the second intifada, the Palestinian uprising of the early 2000s.

Eleven months, that’s how long it took Israel to establish a more advanced relationship with Morocco than with any other Arab country.  Less than a year after the signing of the normalization agreements between the Hebrew state and the Sherifian kingdom, Benny Gantz made on November 24, 2021, in Rabat the first official visit of an Israeli Minister of Defence to an Arab state.

Saudi Arabia’s public position is that it has long supported normalization with Israel, provided that Palestinian rights and demands for statehood are guaranteed. Saudi’s official position was expressed clearly in the words of Faisal bin Farhan, Saudi Arabia’s foreign minister, in 2021:

“Normalisation (of relations) in the region can only succeed if we address the problem of the Palestinians and if we are able to achieve a Palestinian state within the 1967 borders that gives them dignity and grants them their rights’’

The sentiment of normalization was further made official on Friday 15 July 2022 when the kingdom enacted the opening of its airspace to the Jewish state. “A first step” and an important one for Israel in its rapprochement with the leader of the Gulf monarchies, and more broadly the countries of the Middle East.  This was a tacit recognition to build on for future full normalization in the Gulf area.

On the same day, Joe Biden took a seat on the first direct flight between the two countries, flying to Jeddah from Tel Aviv. This was the US President’s way of welcoming a “historic” decision, which would, undoubtedly, create, much-needed, momentum for further integration of Israel in the Mideast.

For a long time, however, Saudi Arabia, the leader of the Arab monarchies, made the settlement of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the recognition of a Palestinian state a prerequisite for any normalization with Israel. The economic stakes have largely redistributed the cards. Dubai is becoming a hub for Israeli companies that see South Asia, the Middle East, and the Far East as future profitable markets.

Negev initiative

The foreign ministers of Morocco, Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates, and Egypt met on Sunday 27, and Monday 28 March 2022 in Israel in the presence of the American Secretary of State, Antony Blinken. According to La Croix:  ”In the Negev desert, the new Middle Eastern alliance wants to counter Iran.’‘ And countering Iran is indeed the principal aim of this new political initiative but also economic cooperation in the MENA region.

However, Morocco whose king heads the al-Quds Committee, an agency of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation -OIC- aims silently and discreetly to attract the Palestinian Authority to the upcoming meetings of this new organization perchance to jack-start peace negotiations between Palestinians and Israelis.

This alliance comes in the aftermath of the Abraham Accords  that are slowly but surely changing the geopolitical configuration of the Middle East in which Israel is scoring high by changing the attitude of the Arab world towards the Jewish state and emphasizing its important place and role in the region.

The top objective of this very unusual meeting, according to an official close to Lapid, The Israeli Foreign Minister, then, and Prime Minister, now, during a briefing, was about discussing “advancing a regional security architecture” and countering multiple threats by “air, sea, and piracy.”  The same official stated that the meeting was “very warm, including embraces and friendly conversation.”

Conclusion: Looking ahead

The peace-building process launched by the Oslo Accords is today only remembered with nostalgia in the various “Middle East peace symposiums” organized here and there in Europe. At the same time, this same peace process is increasingly criticized because it has proved to be based on very fragile foundations and because it has not been able to overcome the limitations that were unfortunately already “genetically” inscribed in the DNA of the peace model it proposed.

The concept of peace can have very different meanings. Is it a positive peace, that is, a search for common objectives to be pursued in cooperation, or peace by default, which is nothing more than a suspended war? “Peace” can mean the end of a conflict, the fruit of a more or less equitable compromise, but also the total crushing of the enemy; it can also mean the return of law to bilateral relations, but also the capitulation of one of the two parties.

In a speech at the 77th session of the General Assembly of the UN, Israeli Prime Minister Yair Lapid pointed out that despite the obstacles, an agreement with the Palestinians, based on two states for two peoples, is the right thing to do to ensure Israel’s security, and economy, and to provide a future for all children, in the midst of a campaign for the November 1 legislative elections.

On the podium of the United Nations General Assembly on Friday 23 September 2022, the President of the Palestinian Authority, Mahmoud Abbas, acknowledged Lapid’s talk of the two-state solution, calling it a positive step. “The true test for the credibility of this task is to go back to negotiations based on the Arab Peace Initiative immediately,” he said. After pointing out that Palestine is committed to peace and fighting terrorism, he said that “we are ready for the initiative.”

The conflict between Israel and the Palestinians, which began in the aftermath of Israel’s founding in 1948, has now lasted for nearly seven decades. Most people agree that the two sides must find a way to coexist peacefully as neighbors, but their leaders remain far apart on many issues, including Israel’s security, the borders of an eventual Palestinian state, and the status of Jerusalem, which both Israelis and Palestinians claim as their capital.

The seeds of peace are well and truly there, what one needs to do is take the time to water them and maintain them to bear fruit. 

You can follow Professor Mohamed Chtatou on Twitter: Ayurinu

About the Author
Dr. Mohamed Chtatou is a Professor of “MENA region area studies” at Université Internationale de Rabat -UIR- and of “Education” at Université Mohammed V in Rabat, as well. Besides, he is currently a political analyst with Moroccan, American, Gulf, French, Italian and British media on politics and culture in the Middle East, Islamism and religious terrorism. He is, also, a specialist on political Islam in the MENA region with interest in the roots of terrorism and religious extremism. During 2015 he worked as Program Director with the USAID/CHEMONICS educational project entitled: “Reading for Success: A Small Scale Experimentation” in cooperation with the Moroccan Ministry of National Education and Vocational Training (MENFP). He recently taught cultural studies to Semester abroad students with AMIDEAST, IES and CIEE study abroad programs in Morocco insuring such courses as: “Introduction to Moroccan Culture,” “Contemporary North African History,” “Arab Spring,” “Amazigh Culture,” “Moroccan Jewish Legacy,” “Community-Based Learning” (internship with civil society organizations). He is, also, currently teaching “Communication Skills” and “Translation and Interpreting” to master students at The Institute for Leadership and Communication Studies –ILCS- in Rabat, Morocco and supervising several Fulbright students in areas of religion and culture in Morocco. He has taught in the past some courses in universities in the USA, Spain, France, Italy, England and Greece.