Do the Arabs want peace?

Several Mideast countries have gained political prominence because of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. Is a peace deal in their interest?

Arab League 311 (photo credit: AP)
Arab League 311
(photo credit: AP)
Arab League states have announced their support of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas’s call for a complete halt of all settlement activity in order to resume negotiations. This decision is not all support for Abbas, as freezing the settlement activities has recently been an Arab states’ demand rather than a Palestinian one.
Recently, King Abdullah II of Jordan addressed the United Nations and said the settlements posed a major threat to the peace talks, and could actually lead to a major war.
This sentiment has been promoted heavily by the government-controlled Arab media.
This is not the first time Arab states have rushed to create mythological obstacles to peace; they have a history of obstructing their Palestinian brothers’ quest for their own state.This goes back to 1947, when the Arab League rejected UN General Assembly Resolution 181, which would have created an Arab state and a Jewish state side by side.
Abbas’ predecessor Yasser Arafat, despite his dogmatism, still came under excessive anti-peace pressure even from Arab countries allegedly most supportive of peace. After his death, some of Arafat’s advisers claimed Arab interference played a role in his lack of resilience on issues like Jerusalem and the “right or return.”
Therefore, Arab leaders’ ranting about Israeli settlements is the most recent episode of an old trick – playing both ends (the Israelis and the Palestinians) against the middle. Once those leaders have labeled any issues as a “red line” or a “sacred Arab right,” it becomes difficult for the Palestinian Authority to negotiate freely over any of them.
Some Arab countries have been playing this game very well, and are putting pressure on the Palestinian leaders to make extreme demands for Israeli concessions and thus bring peace talks to failure every time.
Arab states’ influence does not stop with Abbas, as they have a level of influence in America that collectively outpowers the Israeli lobby.
With the above dynamics in action, it seems that many Arab states do not desire the Palestinians to reach a peace agreement; which prompts the questions about what motivates them.
SEVERAL ARAB countries have, in fact, gained political prominence because of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. The no-peace-no-war paradox has formed a political lifeline for many of those countries, and therefore it would be irrational to believe they would want the cause of their significance to end, even if only for a while, let alone in “a permanently lasting peace.”
This explains why Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Qatar have been very supportive of the peace process, as those countries have a genuine political presence in the region. Therefore achieving peace would just add to their political prominence. This may not be the case for many other Arab countries, and therefore the way they approach the peace process is much different.
Another reason peace may not be in the best interest of some Arab countries is the fact that all Arab countries hosting Palestinians still label them as refugees, even where they make up the majority, and therefore those countries receive substantial international aid for “hosting” their “refugee citizens.” Progress in peace talks will eventually solve the issue of Palestinians living in Arab countries, and would end the economic privileges the so-called host countries are enjoying.
In addition, Arab countries neighboring Israel realize that a future Palestinian state must naturally seek a demographic and a geographic outlet, which poses a threat for those countries’ political regimes, as some fear that the dominating Palestinian influence would crush their ruling-class makeup.
Arab states lobbying against peace talks and pushing the Palestinians to adopt extreme positions are jeopardizing the region’s stability and therefore the world. Arab states alleging friendship to Israel and the US must officially acknowledge that peace requires sacrifice from all parties, including Arab states, especially on issues such as the Palestinians living in Arab countries, settlements and notions about Jerusalem. If they are not willing to do that, then they can at least stop distorting peace efforts with their lavish propaganda.
An Arab proverb goes: “God save me from my friends, then from my enemies.”
As talks are progressing, both Israel and the Palestinian Authority should be very careful while listening to their Arab “friends.”
The writer, a Jordanian of Palestinian heritage, is a researcher at the University of Bedfordshire.