By, Issam khoury
Date: July 07, 2018
“If the all Arabs united and marched under Hafez al-Assad unarmed to Israel, they would easily outnumber and overthrow the Israelis, but what hinders them from doing so is that the Arab leaders do not want to unite under the banner of the Baath Party.” This idea was always mentioned within the National Culture classes in the Syrian schools.
Today, sixty years after the birth of Israel, it is quite evident that quantity of population does not stand a bit and means nothing compared to organized discipline. Moreover, propaganda can be easily launched on paper or in educational curricula or even through social media and the internet, yet in the end it remains empty and meaningless unless articulated through an organized work strategy. The Israeli state has indeed become a successful country in the Middle East that has investments throughout the world, whereas The Syrian people have been torn among regions of influence, which divided Syria and turned it from the unified state beneath Hafez al-Assad, to the states beneath the Bashar al-Assad who killed the members of his Sect in a futile war in order to continue his rule under the authority of the Iranians and the Russians.
The Peace Agreement and the Deal of the Century in the Middle East:
The researcher at Hertselia Center for Studies, Ofer Isreli, has written an interesting article in the
“Jerusalem Post”, which talks about a new Israeli peace initiative for the Arab world. Certainly, this article carries an approach with quite a high expectation on the Israeli side, prior to the announcement of the “Deal of the Century,” which is being prepared by the Trump administration in order to end the Arab-Israeli conflict. The most prominent items of this initiative according to Ofer’s article are the following:
- The Formation of a stable and prosperous Palestinian entity “Secured” by international obligations and by forming a single federal government with Egypt and Jordan.
- Arab recognition of the State of Israel with Jerusalem as its capital.
- Guaranteeing the Israeli country as a Jewish country, and the right of demographic separation from the Palestinians as well as ensuring the control of the Israeli country over parts of the West Bank.
- Solving the issue of the Palestinian refugees by nationalizing them in their countries of residence with international financial support.
- The dissolution of the Hezbollah party and the restoration of Lebanon’s stability.
- To fight Iran’s destabilizing influence in the region and to put an end to its nuclear program.
- Recognition of the Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights as a future solution with Syria.
However, if we closely look at the details of the seven items, we notice that all these items serve Israel and the only items that serve the “Saudis and the Emirates” are the fifth and the sixth items. The recent Saudi-Emirati statements have had a strong Arab demand that stresses the need to “end Iranian expansion in the Middle East”, especially after the domination of Iran over Iraq, Syria, and Lebanon, and its incursion into Bahrain and Yemen, in addition to its economic and media cooperation with Qatar, while the rest of the items are not essential for both the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia.
In a close consideration regarding the possibility to achieve each item separately we view the following data:
- The Formation of a stable Palestinian entity and the formation of a confederation with Egypt and Jordan: In reality, this item means the formation of a union between a sovereign state such as Jordan, and the state of the Republic of Egypt, along with a Palestinian entity dispersed between the Hamas party and the Palestine Liberation Organization, which is very complex on the constitutional part, and raises a number of questions, notably as:
Who will be the governor of this union? Is it King Abdullah, whose government is experiencing economic disorders, or the military government of Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, which could not eliminate the Islamic State group “ISIS” in Sinai.
Will Hamas movement be subject to the Egyptian army in Sinai? And If so, it means that the movement will end militarily, so will the movement approve the first point?
Despite the difficulty of achieving such a project, the most logical option for this item is that the West Bank government fuses with the government of Jordan, and the fusion of the Gaza government with the Egyptian state, while ensuring the achievement of long-term investment projects within both Egypt and Jordan without addressing the draft of a federal union.
- Arab recognition of the State of Israel with Jerusalem as its capital: This recognition means that Arabs abandon the Arab peace initiatives, which was announced with the blessing of King Abdullah bin Abdul Aziz in 2002, whose broad lines tend to achieve the following:
- Israel’s full withdrawal from all the occupied Arab territories since 1967, In accordance with the Security Council resolutions (242) and (338), reinforced by the Madrid Conference resolutions of 1991 and the principle of land for peace.
- The establishment of an independent and sovereign Palestinian State and its capital in East Jerusalem.
- That the Arab states establish normal relations within the framework of a comprehensive peace with Israel.
On May 14, 2018, the United States Embassy in Jerusalem was opened where 32 countries from different continents attended the ceremony, namely:
Austria, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Romania, Albania, Macedonia, Serbia, Georgia, Ukraine, Ethiopia, Angola, Cameron, Kenya, Nigeria, Rwanda, South Sudan, Tanzania, Zambia, Congo, The Democratic Republic of Congo, Côte d’Ivoire, Dominican Republic, Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Panama, Peru, Paraguay, Myanmar, Philippines, Thailand, and Vietnam.
Of course, the symbolism of attending such an event is to promote the idea of “Jerusalem as the capital of Israel”. It is true that many countries in the world rejected this idea, but the Israelis, through the pressure of their active lobbies all around the world, insist to support this idea and increase the number of countries that believe this. On the other hand, the Palestinians are active in aborting this idea, where they try to exploit the religious cause of the city to mobilize the Muslim world with them. The Palestinian liberals, in cooperation with Israeli peace organizations, are also trying to promote the idea of turning Jerusalem into a capital of world heritage, rather than giving it a governmental notion.
Moreover, in light of the Gulf conflicts between Qatar on one side and the Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia on the other side, the media is active on both sides trying to promote the cause of Jerusalem in order to embarrass any party from recognizing Israel’s right to Jerusalem, so we see a unified letter from all the Arab governments that refuses to turn Jerusalem into the capital of Israel.
As a result, this item will be a problematic issue if it is not accomplished in a comprehensive deal that takes into account the religious specificity of this city in the Islamic world which exceeds 1.6 billion, 23.4 % percent of the world’s population.
- Guaranteeing the Israeli country as a Jewish country, and the right of demographic separation from the Palestinians as well as ensuring the control of the Israeli country over parts of the West Bank: with the increasing of the Israeli right-wing movements in the Israeli government, we notice the possibility of voting in the Israeli Knesset to turn the Israeli state into a religious state as a reality, despite the fact that such an issue may blow up the concept of democracy in the Israeli state, where Achieving democracy in religious countries becomes a problematic issue and contradicts with the constitution, especially in a multi-ethnic state such as Israel.
But this proposal could justify achieving another project for the Israelis, one that horrified Palestinians who oppose Israel in 1948, which is “exile”. In other words, the expulsion of Palestinians, who do not believe in the Jewishness of the state, to outside Israel. This is exactly why all the Jewish extremists are going to support this project.
Another aspect of this item shows Israel’s desire to expand its settlements towards the West Bank, in other words, Israel is moving toward expansion over the lands of the Palestinian in the West Bank. Palestinians will never approve or accept Specifically this section of this item and will face a mass public opposition and may overthrow any Palestinian government that accepts to negotiate such an idea, because approving it means the end of the Palestinian dream forever, and the Palestinians, just like the Israelis, are clinging to the idea of the land. This is exactly what justifies the efforts of both the Mahmoud Abbas and Ismail Haniyeh governments to promote Iran, Israel’s adversary, where al-Fateh organization stood out clearly since day one with the Syrian regime. Recently Hamas has also announced that it retreated from its attitude against the Syrian regime, Iran’s partner in northern Israel. Thus, adopting such an attitude, the Palestinian distant themselves from the Saudi-UAE axis and convert towards the Qatari-Iranian axis.
- Solving the issue of the Palestinian refugees by nationalizing them in their countries of residence with an International financial support: This may be possible in Syria, Jordan, and Palestine, but it is very difficult in Lebanon, since the Lebanese government has always opposed this matter at the time of Syrian guardianship. Currently in Lebanon there is a very intransigent trend towards the issues of refugees represented by the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Gebran Bassil, followed by a large section of the Christian population, which is quite anxious about the increase in the percentage of the Shiites and Sunnis population in Lebanon within a sectarian constitution. However; the issue of the Palestinian refugees in Lebanon may be solved through Syria, in case of the existence of a huge international support for them, since Syria is a country with a Muslim majority, and the Syrian people are not at all racist in their dealings with the Palestinians; The Syrian state is currently devastated and needs funds for reconstruction, so embracing the Palestinians may be a new financial resource.
On the Palestinian side, this item will be rejected, But the Palestinians have no other option, especially after the suspension of the US financial aid to the UNRWA, and the growing burden of the Palestinian refugees as their population in the displaced countries grows.
- The dissolution of Hezbollah and restoring Lebanon’s stability: Hezbollah is a religious and military party and the process of dissolving it is not possible neither politically nor constitutionally through the Lebanese parliament, the only option to achieve this item is a ground invasion of Lebanon like the one that took place on June 1982 by Israel. After the spread of Hezbollah in Syria, the Israelis should draw up plans to activate the invasion so that it includes southern Syria. However, the success of such an invasion is not guaranteed, where on July 2006 war, the Israeli tanks did not succeed in achieving significant ground progress and Hezbollah fighters have proven their ability to deter Israelis on land.
Furthermore, the geo-military presence of the Russians in Syria will not allow massive land incursions. The Russians seek to place Lebanon and Syria under their tutelage. In their meetings with the Israelis, they try to convince them that they seek to stabilize the north of Israel and making it an area that does not threaten Israel’s security.
The Saudis and the Emirates will certainly approve any war against Hezbollah, they may also secretly contribute to financing the expenses of such a war. Hezbollah’s Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah made it clear in most of his speeches that he supports the Houthis in Yemen, and that The Houthis are the group that boasts of bombing Saudi cities in response to the latter’s intervention in the civil war in Yemen through the Arab Coalition against Legitimacy.
- To fight Iran’s destabilizing influence in the region and to put an end to its nuclear program: Actually, this does not need an Israeli-Arab peace agreement, since both Israelis and Arabs benefit from the economic stalemate on Iran. President Trump has repeatedly declared his criticism concerning the Iranian nuclear deal, where he started a series of punitive measures against European companies contracting with Tehran. Furthermore, the Saudi diplomacy has also spent billions on weapons and training programs with the United States, and one of the main demands of Saudi Arabia from Washington is to stop Iranian expansion in the Arab countries.
Therefore, there is a natural and mutual interest in the Israeli cooperation with the Arab world in this regard, where the Arab states are militarily in a weak state in the face of Iranian expansion. Besides, they need Israeli military force to deter the expansion of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard. In turn, Israel will not be able to end Iranian influence in the Middle East through air strikes in Syria and Lebanon, since the Iranian influence is not only military, but also economic, commercial, and cultural. There is therefore a need for cooperation with the Arab world to address the intellectual project of the mandate of the Faqih.
- Recognition of Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights in a future solution with Syria: Under the collapse of the Syrian security institutions in the south of Syria and the control of the armed opposition, the issue of the Syrian Golan appears to be a neglected and marginal issue to be considered by the central state in Syria. However, the geo-military changes in the Syrian south in the beginning of July 2018, along with the advancement achieved by the Syrian army supported by Russia to restore control over the Syrian south, Make the issue of the Golan a subject of renegotiation once again, in case of a peace agreement between the Israelis and the Syrian regime, sponsored by Russia. As a matter of fact, the Syrian regime is currently in a state of severe weakness that will urge it to forget all about the Madrid peace negotiations in 1991. Therefore, it may propose hidden agreements through the Russians, which includes abandoning the Golan in exchange for its control over the Syrian south.
It is likely that the Israelis will not approve or accept any agreement unless the Syrian government announces a formal declaration of its commitment to achieve a comprehensive peace with the Israelis and to ensure that it ceases its cooperation with the Iranians and Hezbollah, as well as to help them liquidize Hezbollah leaders considering it a terrorist organization. But the Syrian regime is unable to commit to such a matter since the leaders of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard are the ones who manage and run ground battles in Syria, and Most of the militias that precede ground attacks by the Syrian army are Shiite militias financed by Iran.
Heading out of this quick presentation of the seven items combined, we see detachment and a breakaway from the reality in the Middle East, and perhaps the only option for achieving peace between the Arabs and the Israelis is through prioritizing some items at the expense of others, as follows:
- Reducing Iranian influence in the Middle East: This goal is actually agreed on by the Sunni Arab states as well as the State of Israel, in case such an issue succeeds, it will enhance confidence between the two parties to create joint economic, security, and military projects that will be a front for people to activate peace between governments later on, where both items (V, VI), proposed in Ofer Israeli’s article, will be included within this item.
This item will not be realized overnight, because all China, Russia, and India will oppose the idea of a war on Iran. So Saudi Arabia should provide guarantees to China and India that it would provide a substitute for Iran’s oil in case of a war. The Israelis must also persuade Moscow that they will continue to invest in Iran and Syria for a long time if they abandon the Mullah’s government. Of course, the war against Iran will not be launched by Israel alone, rather there will be a huge crown, as what happened in Iraq in 2003. The pretext for this war is to protect the Strait of Hormuz from Iranian threats, as well as other issues related to Iran’s support for al Qaeda. Certainly, the elimination of the mullahs’ regime or weakening it highly in Tehran means a gradual disintegration of the influence of the Shiite religious parties in Iraq until Sunni influence in Iraq is comparable.
Hezbollah’s military wing will also gradually become a political party in Lebanon. But to succeed, it is necessary to bring about a change of government in Syria that topples the Assad family from power and makes significant changes in the security services associated with the Iranian Revolutionary Guard
- Building joint investments under international auspices: The problem of the Palestinians cannot be solved without achieving a comprehensive development in the countries surrounding Israel, so jobs must be created that absorb the large population presence. As Israeli companies possess technology and the tourism industry, it is possible to employ those sectors by creating job opportunities in Sinai to absorb Palestinian labor in Gaza. In turn, the Egyptian government must provide security stability in this area and open its borders to the Palestinians in Gaza so that the Sinai region becomes a free trade zone as is the Emirate of Dubai.
It is also possible to achieve a series of water investment projects in southern Syria for the purpose of generating electricity and water purification. The human resource for this project is provided by the Syrians whereas the administration, by the Israelis. Certainly, these projects will positively affect the entire Jordan River basin and the Dead Sea and will increase the opportunities for agricultural investment and tourism that will, in turn, benefit the Palestinians of the West Bank.
- Formation of federal governments in the region: New York City The largest gathering of Jews in the world, is quite remarkable in that many of the Arabs living there work side by side with the Jews who do not hide their absolute loyalty to the State of Israel. This illustrates that the economy and institutional systems regulate the relationship between contradictory human societies regardless of their religious, cultural, or ethnic allegiances. Undoubtedly the success of the second point, “Joint investments under international auspices”, will provide the basis for building peace between Middle Eastern governments. The concept of two states may turn into another concept that includes not only Palestinians and Israelis, but includes all the countries of the Middle East, which are forced to merge under the new international system that has transformed the world into a single village governed by large companies that are shaping the future based on the need to respect cultural and social diversity.
The history of peace projects between Arab governments and Israel has never been publically successful. Today, the Egyptian and Jordanian people look in hostility at the Israelis. In addition, boycotts of Israeli goods are still being promoted by Arab nationalist parties. Therefore, the Arab-Israeli peace process should not be carried out by the dictatorial Arab governments, as happened at Camp David in 1978. On the contrary, It must be carried out either through Arab democratic governments or through current governments, showing a real and genuine interest in achieving this peace.
 OFER ISRAELI, an International Security Policy and Middle East Expert, is a research fellow at The National Security Studies Center (NSSC), University of Haifa. Additionally Dr. Israeli is a lecturer of International Relations Theory and Foreign Policy Decision Making at the Interdisciplinary Center (IDC) at Herzliya, the University of Haifa, Ben-Gurion University, Tel Aviv University, and the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) Academ
 The Future of the Global Muslim Population, Pew Research Center.