PARTICIPANTS POSE for a photo during the Middle East summit in Warsaw earlier this month..
(photo credit: REUTERS)
The 60-nation strong conference held in Warsaw last week, intended to “Promote a Future of Peace and Security in the Middle East,” might actually bear fruit. The overarching goal was to achieve a durable peace with normalized multilateral relations between pragmatic nations in the Middle East, or the “ultimate deal,” as US President Donald Trump refers to it. Such peace will unfortunately take more time to ripen, but several key achievements were accomplished in Warsaw en route to the grand goal.
The first is in the conference commencement itself. The fact that a key European capital hosted 60 world leaders, united to confront one common and critical threat – Iran – is significant. Reversing the futile policy of appeasing Iran, which began with Trump’s “Riyadh address” in May 2017, has now become a reality with a large alliance committed to resist Iran’s aggression and manipulation. Even if Germany, home to the conglomerate that helped build an Iranian reactor, has once again chosen the wrong side of history, the alliance against the Iran regime is strong and mounting.
After discrete diplomacy between Israel, the UAE, Saudi Arabia, Oman and others in the region over the past decade, this is the first time the leader of the Jewish state and leaders of the prominent Muslim states candidly and productively conversed with a common goal for all to see. Dennis Ross, the US diplomat who served as special Middle East coordinator under Bill Clinton, and who chaired a panel at the conference, said, “There were actual exchanges. That was new and different.” The late Shimon Peres might have envisioned the New Middle East to look like this.
Those who don’t fully realize Iran’s concern over the summit should tune into its state-run Press TV broadcasts to appreciate the conference’s achievement and the Ayatollahs’ attempts to downplay it. A few Western critics also tried downplaying the dramatic setting, dismissing it as nothing more than a politically motivated stunt, timed and intended for internal affairs related to the reelection of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and to bolster opinion polls for the American president, with 58 leaders of other world powers serving as props.
The same critics made similar statements after Netanyahu’s 2015 speech before a joint session of Congress and a disgruntled president, in an attempt to derail the nuclear deal with Iran. The byproduct of that speech did help Netanyahu get reelected, but more importantly, it eventually helped convince American lawmakers to promote a withdrawal from that dire deal.
TIME WILL TELL if the 2019 pact in Poland was as historic as some see it. In the meantime, we can ponder on the statements made by Bahrain Foreign Minister Khalid bin Ahmed Al Khalifa, who said, “We grew up talking about the Palestine-Israel dispute as the most important issue that we have to see solved... but then at a later stage we saw a bigger challenge. We saw a more toxic one – in fact the most toxic one in our modern history – that came from the Islamic Republic of Iran.”
And Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir said, “Iran plays a destructive role everywhere in the region. Look at the Palestinians – who supports Hamas? Who is making a mess in Syria? Iran. Who is trying to smuggle chemical weapons to Kuwait and Bahrain? Iran... If we want peace and stability in the Middle East, we must make clear to the Iranians that they have to behave like a normal country.”
Iran was not the only bystander that took notice of the conference and the change it represented. So did the Palestinians, who once again did not miss the opportunity to miss an opportunity by boycotting the Warsaw gathering. Their leaders might still recall the ill-fated Oslo Accords, signed over 25 years ago, which achieved little else but bloodshed, and a lost generation of leadership for Palestinians. It is now realized that Palestinian veto power to stop normalization in the region is becoming obsolete. Cooperation in the region, for the common good of the pragmatic states, can progress despite Palestinian rejectionism.
The world understands that even if Iran’s plans materialized, and Israel were to somehow disappear, the war in Syria would continue, as would the instability in Iraq and the humanitarian crisis in Yemen. So would the civil war between Shi’ite Iran and Sunni Arabs led by Saudi Arabia. The pragmatic nations of the world realize that in the quest for a solution, Israel has more to offer than its remote real estate. A clear sign of such recognition was shown this week when Hungarian, Czech Republic, and Slovakian officials announced diplomatic offices in Jerusalem.
The Palestinians will soon need to choose between Iran and pragmatism. Time is not necessarily on their side, and until they are prepared to accept the legitimacy of the Jewish state – which they have never done – there will be no peace. In the meantime, their negotiating leverage might continue to deplete. Since taking office, Trump has taken “Jerusalem off the table,” and casually dismissed a US commitment to a two-state solution, saying the sides will decide on the matter, while indicating that he is fine with the one Jewish state. If the Palestinians continue to boycott talks while praying for an impeachment in America or Israel, they may find area C in the disputed territories annexed and the “demand of return” into Israel proper become a non-issue.
The Jared Kushner-organized conference was a powerful follow-up to his father-in-law’s “Riyadh address.” Between the address and the conference, the president has withdrawn from the dubious nuclear deal, imposed stifling sanctions on the Ayatollahs, and more. It’s now time the Saudis and other Sunni states to do more. Their active participation in Poland – alongside America’s vice president and secretary of state, the United Kingdom’s foreign minister, and the prime minister of Israel – was a good sign that a meaningful and pragmatic pact set in Poland is possible.
The writer is a visiting scholar at Georgetown University and a research fellow at the Institute for Counter Terrorism. The views expressed here are his own.
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