Cozying up to Israel: A short-sighted Arab betrayal of Palestinians

Cozying up to Israel: A short-sighted Arab betrayal of Palestinians
Comment: While Arab leaders pursue ties with Israel for their own self-interest, popular outrage will eventually turn the tide in favour of the Palestinians, writes Ali Adam.
6 min read
06 Oct, 2017
Arab states have grown increasingly closer to Israel in recent years [AFP]
Over the past couple of years, I've seen Israel's Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu gloat dozens of times about the rising warmth and cooperation between his government and Arab states.

The most recent of these was a few weeks ago at a Jewish New Year's event at the Israeli foreign ministry in Jerusalem, where he said: "What is actually happening with the Arab states has never happened in our history."

He said that cooperation between Israel and Arab states now exists "in various ways and different levels". 

That quasi-alliance has come about since the years of the Arab Spring due to mutual fear of the same enemies: popular revolutions and Iranian expansion.

As waves of protest washed across the region, Arab monarchies and dictatorial regimes rushed towards Israel for the sole purpose of self-preservation. They knew that US interest in the Middle East was declining and that Washington was not willing to protect them any longer.

A stab in the back for Palestinians

Back in 2002, Arab countries proposed what became known as the "Arab Peace Initiative", in which Arab countries collectively offered full poltical, diplomatic and trade relations with Israel in exchange for a complete withdrawal from the territories occupied by Israel's military since 1967, along with a negotiated settlement on the refugees' issue.

  Any cooperation between Israel and Arab states comes horribly and catastrophically at the expense of Palestinians  

The initiative was adopted by the Arab League and the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, which would open the door for Israel to boost relations with 57 Arab and Muslim countries, including Lebanon, Syria and Iran. The demand for a settlement to the refugees' return was later dropped, and the watered-down initiative was re-endorsed by the Arab League in 2007 and again in 2017.

With the virtual absence of international pressure on Israel, Palestinians have always viewed Arab nations making relations with Israel conditional on the two-state solution as their only hope and their only real leverage on the negotiations table.

So any cooperation between Israel and Arab states comes horribly and catastrophically at the expense of Palestinians.

Netanyahu and other Israeli leaders have already established that their priority is peace with Arab countries which, in their own words, "will later lead to peace with the Palestinians". It is a statement that doesn't make a grain of a sense, given that, if Israel had peace with Arab countries, there's no incentive left for the Israeli leadership to withdraw from the occupied territories.

This is the same Netanyahu who, at a recent event commemorating the 50th anniversary of Israel's occupation of the West Bank, vowed to never evacuate any settlements from the West Bank saying, "we're here to stay forever. This is the inheritance of our ancestors. This is our land."

On the other hand, Arab regimes couldn't care less about Palestinians. 

Arab regimes have long wanted to establish relations with Israel for their own interests, and sometimes as a way of pandering to the Americans, but they knew that the only way to dodge popular fury would be to advance a peace deal for the Palestinians. As time passes, Arab rulers continue to lower their demands for Palestinians' rights, all for the sake of normalisation with Israel.

This became starkly clear when Gulf states in early 2017 proposed an almost-complete normalisation of relations with Israel if the Israeli government merely conducted a partial freeze in settlement construction and a partial ease of trade restrictions on the Gaza Strip.  

What Netanyahu and Israeli leaders seem now to be excessively smug and pleased about is the boosting of relations between Israel and certain Arab countries without Israel conceding anything and without paying any price.

While this is certainly quite the achievement from the Israeli viewpoint, Netanyahu's tone when he speaks about cooperation between Israel and Arab countries is the voice of someone who's constructed a lasting and unbreakable bond with those countries. Reality, however, tells us otherwise - that this alliance is fragile and it'll be short-lived.

  Even if Israel's alliance with those regimes survives, the regimes themselves won't  

This alliance has already seen a major disagreement, in which Israel's "Arab allies" took a divergent approach from Tel Aviv. Israel's leadership has recently been doubling down on their rhetoric against Iran, and furiously lobbying Washington and Moscow against the Iranian presence in Syria. Saudi Arabia and the UAE, however, seem happy to acquiesce to Iran being deeply entrenched in Syria, and seem more accepting of the political reality of Iran as a powerful regional player.

Moreover, even if Israel's alliance with those regimes survives, the regimes themselves won't.

One of the things that we've learned in the Arab Spring is that those dictatorial and oppressive regimes, that once seemed unshakable and invincible, are weaker than anyone thought.

If you studied the political science of political revolutions, you'll know that the Arab revolutions are not yet finished. You'll also know that the counter-revolutionary forces that defeated the revolution in almost every Arab Spring country is just a phase of the long-term revolutionary process, and is the phase that ripens the revolution. This is the phase that brings more popular support, greater maturity and more premeditation to the next revolutionary attempt.

In a span of a generation, perhaps less, the Arab revolutions will reignite. This time it's highly unlikely to fail - and already a lot of academic research predicts that it'll overwhelm the whole region.

Those revolutions will result in governments that are democratic and representative of the Arab people who still hate Israel's occupation and subjection of Palestinians, and who continue to vehemently reject any act of normalisation with Tel Aviv - and who even measure their patriotism through the prism of enmity towards Israel. 

This alliance will never last without the approval of the Arab public.

If Israel wants to have real, long-term and efficient relations with the Arab and Muslim world, whereby the Arab people themselves will accept normal international ties with Israel, and whereby peace agreements will be upheld and honored by future Arab leaders, there's only one way forward. That's by solving the Palestinian plight and giving Palestinians their rights, either by fulfilling the Arab Peace Initiative of a two-state solution with some land swaps, or by the one-state solution with equal rights towards all citizens. There's no dancing around it.

Israeli leaders are becoming well-known for their short-term thinking, but long-term thinking and simple reasoning both say that you can't maintain relations with the Arab countries nor can you maintain international legitimacy, for that matter, while remaining an occupier of a nation and an oppressor of a people.

The author is writing anonymously to protect their identity

Opinions expressed in this article remain those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The New Arab, al-Araby al-Jadeed, its editorial board or staff.