Arab-Israeli normalization initiative needed to advance Middle East peace

Arab-Israeli rapprochement can continue with or without America acting as facilitator.

United Arab Emirates delegates wave to the departing El Al plane at the end of IsraelUAE normalization talks in Abu Dhabi on September 1 (photo credit: EL AL)
United Arab Emirates delegates wave to the departing El Al plane at the end of IsraelUAE normalization talks in Abu Dhabi on September 1
(photo credit: EL AL)
Former US president Donald Trump’s record in office may be under attack in America and elsewhere, but some around the world feel a tinge of regret at his departure and, hopefully wrongly, are uneasy about a possible reversal of his policies under the new administration.
Hong-Kong pro-democracy activists and Uighur Muslims of Xinjiang, for example, may miss a vocal sympathizer who, even if for reasons of his own, did not hesitate to sanction Communist bigwigs suspected of human rights abuse; Syrians may no longer be sure of the end of chemical attacks, which went on until the American missile strikes of April 2017; for Iraqi protesters, possible removal of American pressure on militia bullies may dampen hopes of ridding their country of years of corruption and discord.
And to go by social media posts, many Iranians – long accustomed to Western governments’ practice of verbally censuring the regime’s human rights records while secretly wooing it – tend to agree more with the opinion of a recalcitrant member of the ruling oligarchy that she preferred Trump “for the benefit of Iran” rather than enthuse about their foreign minister’s claim of acquaintance with, and praise for President Joe Biden.
Still, Trump’s rather unorthodox foreign policy approach will probably be remembered more for obtaining four yeses from Arab states to normalization of relations with Israel against predictions of “No, no, no and No!” Today, the ex-president can no longer be held to his words that more Arab and Muslim states will soon follow suit, but it will be to America’s great loss if the new administration’s overhaul of foreign policy puts the Middle East initiative on the back burner.
And there may be cause for concern. Frosty US-Israel relations during Obama-Biden administration are still fresh in minds and Biden’s “America is Back” pledge to restore America’s global leadership, allegedly damaged by Trump, seems centered more around returning to old ties with Western allies than consolidating American recent gains in the Middle East.
Abandoning efforts to persuade Israel and Arab countries to normalize relations and, hopefully, reach a fair and final solution for the Palestinian issue, would not be just a setback in ending a potentially explosive conflict in a sensitive region of the world. It can jeopardize America’s regional standing and regardless of whether the normalization project progresses or stalls, can harm its prospects of long-term global leadership.
THE MIDDLE East conflict has gone on for an absurdly long time not because Arabs and Jews carry genes of mutual enmity, but because for decades, regional dictators have tried to instill in their people feelings of vengeance, fear and hatred of Israel and exploited this to justify and prolong their corrupt and incompetent rule. The byproduct of this strategy has been an environment of oppression and deprivation that breeds fanatics who glorify blind violence. And not merely against Israel. Today, with the world growing smaller, the ideological and operational tentacles of terrorism extend well beyond its birthplace and unleash carnage everywhere, including faraway America. Conclusive defeat of extremism cannot be achieved in the battlefield. Its breeding grounds must be removed.
Of course, there is no reason why Israel and Arab countries themselves should not continue to normalize their relations. Modern information technology has brought the younger generation throughout the world, including in this region, closer together in shared interests and aspirations for freedom and prosperity. In Iraq, Iran, Lebanon, Syria and elsewhere, those in power find it increasingly difficult to mass-brainwash the young into blind political compliance and mindless resentment. This generation rises for its rights and directs its fury at those who deny it a better future. It can no longer be cajoled and manipulated by tales of made-to-order bogeymen. What better evidence than the extremists’ dismal failure in inciting widespread protests at recent Arab-Israeli reconciliation.
Turning decades of misunderstanding, suspicion and hostility into understanding and cooperation may not come about in a day or two, but Arab-Israeli rapprochement can continue with or without America acting as facilitator. If it does, the combined technological, financial and human resources of regional countries can readily give rise to a new power bloc which, depending on America’s attitude and place in the reconciliation process today, would bolster, or pose a challenge to its future global leadership.
The writer is an Iranian political analyst and former journalist currently living in the UK.