There are certain phrases that simply sound better in French. Plus ça change,
plus c’est la même chose, is one of them. The more things change, the more they
stay the same sounds much better than the other French expression that sprang to
mind last week: A la guerre comme à la guerre, in time of war you must act as if
at war, or when times are hard you must accept that and act
Actually, it was talk of peace that was buzzing around –
again – this week when the small but powerful Qatar proposed an old-new
initiative, saying the Arab world wouldn’t demand a full return to pre-1967
The timing was unexpected: I had barely finished reading about the
probably Hezbollah-launched drone downed in the North; the fatal terror stabbing
in Samaria; and the successful IAF targeting in Gaza of a terrorist reportedly
behind the firing of Grad missiles from Sinai on Eilat in the South. Syrians
were still massacring each other just over our northern border, amid talk of the
use of chemical weapons, and the IDF held a call-up exercise that was such a
surprise that some reports said Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon himself had been
unaware of it in advance.
I was less taken unawares, however, by the
initiative itself. Not only is Qatar putting itself on the map wherever it can,
it is also interested in rearranging the map. It is even an associate member of
La Francophonie (OIF), an organization representing French-speaking communities
around the world, although perhaps 1 percent of its population speaks the
language, while Israel, where some 10 percent are French-speaking, has been
denied membership. Money talks, and the larger the amounts the more multilingual
Qatar’s investments can be found in places as diverse as the
German car industry, the Italian fashion scene, French soccer, and significant
London landmarks like Canary Wharf, the new Shard mega-tower and the world-famous
Harrods store and Park Lane InterContinental Hotel.
In a report in The
Guardian on the Park Lane purchase, the paper said: “The latest announcement
comes after a run of deals that are thought to have resulted in Qatar investing
£3bn in European real estate in the 12 months to mid-August 2012, the equivalent
to six weeks’ revenue from the country’s liquefied natural gas exports,
according to Reuters.”
That it invested some $400 million in housing and
infrastructure in Gaza, by these standards, seems to be small fry in financial
terms, but it is obviously noteworthy in the geo-political sense.
Emir Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani has managed to foster – or purchase – the
image of a progressive pro- Westerner, particularly among those who (equally
absurdly) talk about Saudi Arabia (the sponsor of the original peace initiative)
But, as the Arabic proverb puts it, the enemy of my enemy
is my friend.
There are reasons that Qatar and other Gulf states are
interested in getting involved in the peace process – and it has very little to
do with wanting to see Binyamin Netanyahu and Mahmoud Abbas pleasantly sharing a
plate of humous. Jerusalem’s Teddy Stadium, unlike many other Western football
stadiums, won’t be displaying the Fly Emirates logo anytime soon, even though
quiet trade contacts between Israel and the Gulf exist, to the benefit of
It wasn’t any French-speaking state that recently banned Hezbollah
as a terrorist organization. Bahrain last month became the first Arab country to
blacklist Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah’s Shi’ite terror movement. And it wasn’t out
of concern for what Nasrallah now and again threatens to throw at Israel. It was
partly because the Sunni minority that rules Bahrain is scared of further unrest
like the protests by the Shi’ite majority that swept the country during the Arab
Spring, and were quelled with the help of Saudi Arabia and the United Arab
Above all, the Gulf countries are afraid of the influence and
power of nuclearizing Iran.
In a strange confluence of interests, Israel
finds itself on the same side as the Saudis and UAE. It is the same reason that
Israel and Turkey need to calm the stormy waters surrounding the Gaza flotilla
of May 2010. The reason is the threat from Syria and Iran.
matter what Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan really thinks of
Netanyahu; what matters are the mutual dangers and enemies (and if Jerusalem and
Ankara can also patch up trade ties, so much the better for both).
is also reportedly interested in ensuring it will be allowed to fly in Turkish
airspace if necessary.
The Hezbollah drone, by the way, was not the only
significant aircraft spotted in the Mideastern skies recently. According to a
report in the foreign press, Jordan has opened its airways to Israeli pilot-less
planes monitoring the border with Syria.
Just as Israel is not alone in
fearing Iran’s nuclear ambitions, it is not the only one keeping a wary eye on
the possible spillover from the Syrian civil war, and Jordan is at least as
concerned as Israel with the potential for a Palestinian uprising in the West
Bank that could topple the Hashemite monarchy.
Meanwhile, Israel, Jordan
and Sunni-dominated Arab states are all interested in preventing Iran expanding
its power base in largely Shi’ite Iraq once the US pulls out.
hemmed in by the Palestinians, Iraq and Syria does not make the Jordanian ruler
feel any safer than Israel feels with Hezbollah and Syria to the North and Hamas
and the Muslim Brotherhood’s Egyptian regime to the South.
current circumstances, there is an opportunity for new alliances. The old/new
initiative and American efforts notwithstanding, peace with the Palestinians
looks as unlikely as ever, but undoubtedly intelligence is being shared among
all those who fear that weapons and particularly the means of unconventional
warfare could fall into extremist hands. For while I snigger at the thought of
Saudi Arabia being considered moderate, I realize it could be worse: There are
Islamists who make the Saudis seem like a benevolent democracy.
why the US recently promised major arms deals to Israel, Saudi Arabia and the
In an ideal world, we would be drawn together by the common
dream to develop and grow. But this is the far-from- ideal Middle East. Here, we
are driven by the need to defend ourselves.
The Saudi initiative, which
turned into the Arab League initiative and has been rebranded under Qatar’s
banner, is nothing new. Yet it brings with it a message of peace: not with the
Palestinians, but with the Arab states that face common threats.
We can –
and will – argue over borders but the latest move is a sign that the Arab League
recognizes that Israel is here to stay. More important it recognizes that
Israel’s stability and survival is vital for their own defense.
be bought by Qatari money, but now would be a good time for Israel to cash in on
the common interests.
The writer is the editor of The International