Peace: Arab States Not Waiting for the Palestinians

July 2, 2018  

By: Prof. Eyal Zisser

The pundits have declared U.S. President Donald ‎Trump’s Middle East peace initiative dead and buried ‎before it has even been introduced. They predict it has ‎zero chances of proving successful, over the ‎resounding list of previous failures to resolve the ‎Israeli-Palestinian conflict so far, but mostly ‎because it is a Trump administration initiative. ‎

Another reason for the skepticism the plan has ‎encountered has to do with the fact that Washington ‎does not hide its basic position, namely that Israel should ‎not be expected to simply capitulate to ‎international pressure and fall in line to appease ‎the Palestinians’ demands and aspirations. ‎

Trump’s premise is rooted in reality on the ground and the need to devise a ‎realistic, sustainable solution, rather than an ‎agreement based on absolute justice according to the ‎Palestinian interpretation of the term.‎

The pundits’ predictions aside, Trump’s peace ‎initiative is alive and well, and there are those ‎who are willing to accept it as the basis for an ‎Israeli-Palestinian peace deal, first and foremost ‎the leaders of the moderate Arab countries, who have ‎decided it was time to stop being held hostage by ‎the Palestinian’s whims and overall inability to ‎make historic decisions that will extricate them ‎from this endless stalemate. ‎

These Arab countries also seek to promote Trump’s ‎plan to advance their own relations with Israel and ‎promote their own regional interests.‎ This is a significant development because, in the ‎past, it was generally accepted that there was no ‎way around the Palestinian leadership, as no Arab ‎leader can – or would even try – to impose a ‎peace deal that failed to meet 100% of the ‎Palestinians’ demands. ‎

As it turns out, this is no longer the case. Arabs ‎leaders have grown tired of waiting for the ‎Palestinian leadership to come to its senses. It ‎seems they have also come to the realization that ‎the impasse plaguing the Israeli-Palestinian peace ‎process does not serve and is even detrimental to ‎their interests. This is a different breed of ‎leaders, younger and more determined, who are ‎undeterred by domestic criticism.

King Mohammed VI of Morocco‎ declared last week at ‎the fifth International Conference on the Question ‎of Jerusalem, which he led, that while the ‎spiritual, religious and cultural character of the ‎holy city must be preserved, a political agreement ‎must be devised based on the current reality in ‎which the city exists. ‎

The Moroccan king’s comments came on the heels of ‎a report that Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed has demanded ‎that Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas ‎accept the city of Abu Dis, just outside ‎Jerusalem, as his capital, as well as agree that ‎most of the Israeli settlements in Judea and Samaria ‎remain in place. ‎

Meanwhile, Egyptian defense officials have recently ‎demanded that the Palestinians consider declaring Ramallah ‎‎– the seat of Abbas’ government – as the Palestinian ‎capital. ‎

Many in Israel, myself included, have thought in the ‎past that any change in Arab-Israeli relations was ‎inextricably linked to progress in the Israeli-‎Palestinian peace process. The same was assumed in ‎the early 1990s, when many believed that King Hussein ‎of Jordan would never sign a peace agreement with ‎Israel before a similar deal was reached with the ‎PA and Syria. But at a certain ‎point, Hussein decided that his kingdom’s interests ‎were more important and, to his critics’ chagrin, ‎he did the unbelievable and signed a peace deal with ‎Israel in 1994.‎

Arab leaders are slowly walking down the same path. ‎Saudi Arabia already allows Israeli planes to cross ‎its airspace and Sudan is inclined to do the same. ‎The Jordanian king met with Prime Minister Benjamin ‎Netanyahu in Amman last week, and defense ties ‎between Jerusalem and Cairo grow stronger by the ‎day.‎

The current Arab interest is to join forces against ‎Iran, which is rightly perceived as an existential ‎threat to the regimes and states in much of the Arab ‎world. ‎

Another interest is the need to promote Arab ‎economies, which are burdened by recurring domestic ‎issues that threaten to plunge them into chaos and ‎leave them at the mercy of radical Islam. Achieving ‎this goal and avoiding this threat entails promoting ‎an Israeli-Palestinian settlement and it seems the ‎Arab leaders are determined not to let the ‎Palestinians sabotage their efforts, as they have in ‎the past. ‎

Eyal Zisser is a lecturer in the Middle East History Department at Tel Aviv University.

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