Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Consolidating vision and reality - Zalman Shoval




by Zalman Shoval

-- the equation of American support to Saudi Arabia in exchange for peace with Israel could backfire and create an equation of normalizing relations between Saudi Arabia and Israel in exchange for Israeli concessions to the Palestinians.

Some people used to say that neutralizing the Iranian threat is contingent on finding a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict -- an irrational claim, as Iran is not interested in settling the Palestinian problem, but rather in continually fueling the fire between Israel and its Arab rivals. 

Even U.S. President Donald Trump wants to create a link between the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the Iranian issue, but in the opposite direction: In his eyes, the proximity of interests between Israel, the Sunni Arab countries and the U.S. on the Iran issue will be a stimulus for advancing peace.

That is how his deal will look, at least in theory. The question is if these ideas, which in themselves are positive, match the reality of the Sunni Arab world and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. 

In truth, the alliance mentioned is between Arab countries and America, not Israel. They share pragmatic interests on the Iranian issue, but no more than that. Not only is Saudi Arabia averse to the principles at the heart of Israeli democracy, the Arab street -- including in Egypt and Jordan, which are at peace with Israel -- does not seek normalization with Israel, but rather sympathizes with its enemies.

Since this is the case, how much would Arab leaders be willing to endanger their standing with their people in exchange for genuine rapprochement with Israel?

The only possible deal is not the ultimate solution Trump wishes to achieve. At most, the deal will achieve interim agreements on some issues. The development of pragmatic relations between the Arab world and Israel must be seen in a positive light.

But the question of whether this will indeed bring about a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, as Trump plans, is still far from being answered, especially when the American president learns that, contrary to Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas' messages of peace to a left-wing rally in Tel Aviv Saturday, the Palestinians have neither the desire nor the ability to meet even the most minimal requirements for any potential peace deal. 

A solution to the issue of Jerusalem does not seem at hand in the current atmosphere, either. Trump wishes to untie the Gordian knot by reaching an agreement on borders early on in the negotiations, but the future borders between Israel and any Palestinian entity would be the result of achieving a consensus on most of the other issues, including security -- not the other way around. 

According to Palestinian sources, the Americans are currently promoting an initiative that would bring about a meeting between Trump, Abbas and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Washington, which would set negotiations in motion under a nine-month time restriction. One must remember that the negotiations promoted by former Secretary of State John Kerry were also allotted a time frame, and we all know what became of it. 

The current American initiative may elicit a feeling that perhaps, the processes the new administration seeks to put in motion are not so different from those suggested by its predecessors. Additionally, one should remember that the equation of American support to Saudi Arabia in exchange for peace with Israel could backfire and create an equation of normalizing relations between Saudi Arabia and Israel in exchange for Israeli concessions to the Palestinians.

Trump said an Israeli-Palestinian peace deal would bring peace to the entire Middle East. An honest expectation, but one cannot help but be reminded of the traditional argument made by various experts in different foreign ministries, as if the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is the source of all that ails the Middle East. 

Hopefully, Trump's foreign policy will not foster the understanding that American interests in the Middle East, including its alliance with Saudi Arabia, are conditional on progress in the Israeli-Palestinian negotiations, and the realistic, pragmatic Trump administration, whose friendship with Israel cannot be questioned, will not repeat the mistakes of his predecessors.


Zalman Shoval

Source: http://www.israelhayom.com/site/newsletter_opinion.php?id=19129

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