When South African immigrant Eli Kay was killed in a recent Hamas terrorist attack, the Israeli people were once again painfully reminded of the seemingly perpetual nature of their conflict with the Palestinians.
More than 1,300 miles away from Jerusalem, in the South Caucasus, Armenia and Azerbaijan in mid-November engaged in their deadliest clashes since the end of their six-week 2020 war. While last year’s war resulted in Armenia’s surrender and subsequent withdrawal from Nagorno-Karabakh, the internationally recognized Azerbaijani territory that was under Armenian occupation for three decades, the countries’ recent border flare-up exhibits how an enduring peace in the region remains elusive.
At the same time, although these conflicts feel intractable, key signs of progress are emerging in both the Middle East and Eurasia.
While the Israeli-Palestinian peace process is stalled, Israel’s normalization deals with four Arab states – the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Sudan and Morocco – continue to bear fruit a year after their signing. Most recently, Israel and Morocco reached a new defense agreement. There are even indications that Israel-Turkey tensions are thawing, with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan telling his Israeli counterpart President Isaac Herzog that “disagreements could be reduced to a minimum if both sides acted in mutual understanding in terms of bilateral and regional issues.”
Meanwhile, European Council President Charles Michel revealed that following his phone calls with Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev and Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan, a meeting between those leaders will take place on the sidelines of the December 15 Eastern Partnership summit in Brussels. Additionally, “a direct line has been established between defense ministers of both countries,” Michel tweeted.
The prospects for peace in these regions are also more interconnected than what meets the eye. Azerbaijan is a rare example of a country which has strong relations with both Turkey and Israel. In fact, Baku earlier this year expressed willingness to host a trilateral summit with Ankara and Jerusalem. Azerbaijani presidential aide Hikmet Hajiyev said: “Turkey is a sister country of Azerbaijan and Israel is our strategic partner. We want our friends to be friends with each other. If the sides agree to such an initiative, then Azerbaijan will always welcome them.”
Additionally, the UAE’s de facto ruler, Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed, visited Turkey last week for his first in-person meeting with Erdogan in nearly a decade.
Simultaneously, it is crucial for the diasporas of parties to these conflicts to avoid actions that undermine prospects for peace. For instance, Alex Galitsky, communications director for the Armenian National Committee of America (ANCA) lobby, tweeted on November 20 that “Armenians don’t want peace, we want liberation.” The ANCA has also routinely rejected the OSCE Minsk Group’s Madrid Principles for resolving the Armenia-Azerbaijan conflict, mirroring the pattern of Palestinian intransigence in the conflict with Israel.
When it comes to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the respective diasporas have also transformed into a prominent battleground. This past May’s Israel-Hamas war triggered a surge of antisemitic attacks in the US and worldwide, as well as countless salvos on social media. Corporate actors such as Ben & Jerry’s, with its boycott of Israeli settlements, are also inflaming the conflict under the guise of social responsibility.
If positive momentum in the diplomatic arena continues in both the Middle East and Eurasia, 2022 could be a banner year for peace in conflict zones where peace previously seemed unattainable. Yet hopes for substantive progress will hinge on not only the countries embroiled in the conflicts, but their advocates around the world.
The writer is managing editor of the San Diego Jewish World, the former editor in chief of the Jewish News Syndicate, and the founder of Stellar Jay Communications, a PR firm representing Azerbaijan.