2018: Beginning of the End for the Arab-Israeli Conflict

 Last year, there was a trickle of articles & headlines in the media about a detente between Israel and many of its Arab neighbors. The past 3 months or so, that trickle has become a deluge. The Palestinian issue--once seen as being the main cause of Middle Eastern unrest--has largely dissipated from the regional agenda. When US President Donald Trump issued an historic statement last month recognizing Jerusalem as the Israeli capital and beginning the process of moving the embassy there from Tel Aviv, "experts" and journalists predicted that there would be massive turmoil, war, and terrorism. Indeed, the Palestinians made calls for intifada, launched protests, declared the peace process to be over, and went to the UN to condemn the move. But there was no wide regional chaos. While Arab states issued minor statements of disappointment, recent recordings have come forth that actually reveal tacit Saudi-Egyptian understandings with the US on Jerusalem. Bahrain declared Trump's Jerusalem declaration to be a "side issue," wanting instead to focus on the threat of an imperialist Iran. Just a few days later, it sent a renowned pro-peace Bahraini interfaith group to visit Israel, including holy sites in Jerusalem. And while Saudi Arabia's king denounced the embassy move, his heir to the throne couldn't care less. When questioned about Jerusalem by a reporter who'd visited Saudi Arabia many times in the past, Mohammed Bin Salman merely stated that he had plans for normalization with Israel. Saudi Arabia's media has downplayed the declaration & increasingly touted Jewish ties to the city, while religious clerics forbid violence against Jews and visit rabbis abroad. 
Israel and its Arab partners are still "on the down low" when it comes to their tacit alliance, but it is perhaps the world's worst kept secret. The Jewish state shares concerns with its "moderate" Sunni-Arab neighbors about both Sunni Islamist terror organizations that are destabilizing the region, as well as Iran's proxy network in Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Yemen, and the Gaza Strip. Furthermore, the possibility of economic ties amidst reform in Arab economies (and growing need for reform in Israel) is very attractive to businesspeople on both sides. So what has happened to the traditional, pro-Palestinian and anti-Zionist stance of these Arab countries, which existed on a strong level just a decade ago? Realpolitik and fatigue of the Palestinian problem seem have to come to the forefront in Cairo, Abu Dhabi, Manama, Riyadh, and Kuwait City. For decades, the Arabs championed the Palestinian "cause," though largely because of the opposition to Israel rather than any genuine sympathy for Palestinians. The Oslo Process and the Arab Peace Initiative brought forth the ideas that Israeli partnership and normalization with Arab states would come only after a peace agreement with the Palestinians--something most experts and politicians agree with to this day. However, Arab regimes are more likely nowadays to open some sort of relationship with Jerusalem. Public statements in the form of recordings or in the media about growing closeness with Israel would never have occurred even 5 years ago. Some of these gestures could only occur with the approval of the regimes themselves. Part of this stems from the Palestinians increasingly relying on rivals of the "moderate" Arab states--notably, Turkey & Qatar's Muslim Brotherhood-style politics, or Iran. It's extremely likely, too, that these gradually-revealed ties are meant to demonstrate to Palestinian leadership that the Arab World cannot wait on them forever. 
Foreign powers that once adopted the viewpoint of the Palestinian issue being responsible for Middle East unrest are waking up. After all, the chaos in Libya, Yemen, Iraq, and Syria has nothing to do with Israel and "the occupation." Neither do the protests against Middle Eastern dictatorships or the blockade on Qatar. Moreover, the Palestinians have overplayed their hand and made a number of near-fatal mistakes in their quest for statehood. While most Israelis have come to the conclusion that some of the West Bank/Judea & Samaria must be surrendered to the Arabs for eventual peace, as Gaza was, the Palestinians continue to hold onto unrealistic goals. Their call for a right of return for millions of Arab refugees & their refusal to recognize Israel as a Jewish state makes many question if they are truly seeking a two-state solution to the conflict instead of a single Arab-dominated state. Palestinian incitement to terrorism, pay-to-slay programs, and terror attacks, only add on to this suspicion, which makes Israelis less likely to want to negotiate and makes international powers less likely to see Palestinians as saintly victims in this conflict. Rather than ceasing anti-Semitic activities and leaving the "right of return" idea behind, the Palestinians have sought to delegitimize Israel on Western college campuses with the BDS movement, in addition to turning to the United Nations and European Union to place pressure on Jerusalem. These moves have largely failed. BDS, for all its attention and the concern pro-Israel groups have about it, is a very vocal minority that mostly fails in its goal of isolating and destroying the Jewish state. Sure, there is anti-Semitism from the fringe left and from some Muslim groups on college campuses that once didn't exist. A few artists may back out of performing in Israel for fear of backlash, and there are protests against Zionism that are often tinged with racism. Largely, BDS motions are rejected either by the student body or by the administrations on college campuses. Some of the movement's most popular figures are becoming associated with anti-Semitism and turned away. Israeli hasbara is beginning to adapt to his challenge, and it has the resources to train advocates to combat and dispel anti-Zionist boycotts or protests. The shuttering of the SodaStream plant in the West Bank harmed Palestinians, whereas the BDS movement has failed to cripple the Israeli economy in any meaningful way. Multiple renowned artists continue to perform in Tel Aviv. Investment in Israel is growing, and even pro-peace advocates generally shy away from the movement. 
And what of the "diplomatic war" being waged by Ramallah in Brussels and New York City? Under President Obama, who was very critical of the Likud government, Europe and its United Nations allies were encouraged to slam the Israeli government's settlement building while largely ignoring Palestinian transgressions. In 2016, however, Britain voted to leave the European Union. The migration crisis and rise of far-right politicians in the continent has simultaneously decreased Brussels' political power & influence while also causing it to focus on domestic issues more. Furthermore, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has cultivated close ties with southeastern European countries and broken the EU's reflexive pro-Palestinian consensus. The United Nations, as countries increasingly are seeing it, has no teeth. It is largely ignoring political crises and human rights abuses in Iran, China, Turkey, Russia, and Venezuela, but instead devotes time to condemning Israel to the point of ridiculousness. The anti-Israel resolutions that are not vetoed by the US under the pro-Likud Trump are largely meaningless, symbolic moves that only provide a small boost in ego to the corrupt Palestinian Authority in Ramallah and segments of its subjects. But even they, increasingly, are seeing that the "internationalization" of the conflict brings no changes on the ground. Israel has embarked on a diplomatic campaign of its own with Third World countries and eastern European ones to break the pro-Palestinian consensus in the UN. While the Palestinians now say they want to turn to the UN, EU, China, and Russia to mediate the conflict instead of the US, there are a number of problems with these strategies. One is that, in response, the US has threatened to cut aid to the Palestinians and UNRWA. Furthermore, the possibility of the Taylor Force Act being passed by Congress, or the shuttering of the PLO office in Washington, is not off the table. Secondly, the Israelis are never going to accept a peace process unless it is led by Washington, as it historically has. The European Union, while displeased with Trump's moves, has continued to back this position. Russia and China have neither the clout nor the desire to head the process. China is busy with economic reforms at home and strengthening its military in the South China Sea, while Russia is focused on Syria. Furthermore, Beijing, Moscow, and Jerusalem have been strengthening their ties in the past few years. None of these powers have the economic ability or desire to replace the US as a large donor of aid to Ramallah or Gaza either---as it is, the Palestinians have seen a decrease in foreign aid. Other issues, such as the Syrian and Yemeni wars, have taken the priority in terms of humanitarian needs. And finally, while Israel has built for itself a technological empire that has much to offer developing countries, the Palestinians have not. The Western countries that condemn Israel for building settlements rely far too much on Israeli intelligence and counterterrorism training to ever truly abandon it. African, Asian, and Latin American nations, along with segments of the Arab World, are relying on Israel for the same, as well as arms sales, military training, agricultural technology to help with farming and with ending drought, and emergency response to natural disasters. The Palestinians offer strawberries and outdated, Cold War rhetoric/propaganda about "revolution." Palestinian human rights abuses and corruption have also planted the idea among wealthy countries that investment in a Palestinian state or foreign aid to the current governments is not a wise idea. While leaders of these countries may join Europe and the UN in publicly denouncing Israeli settlements or the US move on Jerusalem, that is about the extent of what they will do against Israel---and even these moves are fading in prominence. 
The Palestinians are climbing down a hole they cannot escape. Some hold on to the hopes of violence or a binational state to win their rights. These are failed bids, however. Israel does not seek an escalation in violence, and neither do some of the leaders of the PA. However, Israel is by far more militarily powerful than any of the Palestinian factions, and can put down an uprising or war with relative ease. Palestinian terrorism is likely to garner more international support or understanding for the Israeli position anyways, and a war would only devastate the Palestinian economy and infrastructure even more than it already is. A binational state is not something most of the world wants to see or views as realistic. Moreover, many Palestinians back the two-state solution because they do not believe they would ever have equal rights with a one-state solution. And the rising Jewish birthrate with the potential waves of aliyah from increasingly anti-Semitic Europe and Turkey is likely to undermine any hopes the PA has for achieving an Arab majority state. As it is, the Arab birthrate is already on the decline, and Palestinians are leaving in droves. Many more would be willing to move, if only they had the resources. The likely outcome of these recent moves is a stalemate in the peace process for a while. Israel is likely to take unilateral steps, such as perhaps an annexation of its settlement blocs, an increase in settlement in certain areas, and a redrawing of the boundaries of Jerusalem to retain a Jewish majority. The Palestinians may protest against the US, Israel, and other countries that tacitly support their moves. In the long term, however, pressed by economic woes, corruption, and human rights abuses, they are likely to demand some kind of changes in their government. The US, Israel, and all others interested in a two-state solution or regional peace should push for the Palestinian government to reform and moderate. Terrorism will be decreased with an increase in job opportunities. Israel would see the Palestinians as a legitimate peace partner if they strengthen their institutions and economy, and accept Israel's right to exist as a Jewish state. Ramallah should also accept that a "right of return" and division of Jerusalem will never happen. The Palestinians simply cannot afford to take in thousands--or more--refugees, which could further inflame or destabilize their government. If the Palestinians wish to encourage/pressure Israel to negotiate, they must turn inwardly to improve their institutions and society. They will gain more allies in doing so, including in Israel. Sadly, it looks like they aren't quite yet ready to move forward from their failed bid to internationalize the conflict. In doing so, it is they, not Israelis, who are being isolated and left behind by the world. The Arab-Israeli Conflict is slowly coming to an end--whether Ramallah likes it or not.