A ‘New Middle East’ You Didn’t See Coming
“Bahrain and UAE have signed the Abraham Accords with Israel, ending decades of hostility and ushering in a new era of Mideast cooperation.” – news reports, October 2020
“Sudan and Morocco join in agreement frenzy.” — news reports
Could this actually happen?
Frustrated by decades of Palestinian obstinacy and eager to cement new Middle East alliances, moderate Arab nations were finally moving to put the Israeli-Palestinian issue behind them and remove that thorn from beneath their saddle.
They launched a two-pronged invasion, a sort of pincer operation, but not the classic kind. One Arab army entered Gaza from Egypt, while the other rolled into the West Bank from Jordan.
Israel played no active role in the invasion. It had already agreed to the terms of an arrangement, maintaining control of its main settlement blocs while evacuating some of the smaller outposts in the heart of the West Bank — and finally receiving an internationally recognized border on its eastern front.
No one was calling this “peace.” The new Middle East was not one of peaceful relations among all its nations. Instead, it was a battleground mostly of Shiite Muslims on one side and Sunni Muslims on the other.
Because of Iran’s nuclear weapons program and its repeated threats to destroy the Jewish state, Israel fit easily into the Sunni camp led by Saudi Arabia. One by one, the Sunni nations went public with their relations with Israel, formalizing them — some with agreements they called “peace,” others sufficing with security and economic relations they preferred not to label, at least for now.
On the opposing side were Iran, Qatar and Syria, along with swaths of what used to be Iraq — and the Palestinians, who had thrown in with Iran and Qatar.
After decades of demanding that Israel offer the Palestinians a state of their own, then watching the Palestinians turn down repeated offers of just such a state, the latest in 2000 and 2008, the Sunni Arab nations decided that it was in their interest to bring Israel into their alliance instead of continually beating the Palestinian drum. In most cases, it didn’t mean hugs and kisses between Israelis and Arabs — not even with Egypt and Jordan, the first two Arab nations to sign full peace treaties with Israel.
Such a lovey-dovey relationship wasn’t the goal anymore, if it ever was. The realigned Middle East was a place of interests and alliances based on practical politics. By rejecting Israeli peace offers and then cursing Arab nations that warmed up to Israel, the Palestinians had put themselves on the wrong side, as far as the Sunni Arab nations were concerned. The Palestinians were no longer needed as a faux issue to distract Arab people from their real problems — the Palestinians had become part of the problem.
The two invading armies quickly deposed the rulers in the West Bank and Gaza and set up military governments. Instead of the peaceful end to decades of Israeli occupation and instead of the independent state the Palestinians rejected repeatedly, the Palestinians now faced the ruthless military rule of their Arab “brothers” — bans on demonstrations, bans on strikes, bans on “resistance” against Israel, and enforcement with a shoot-first, ask-questions-later mentality.
For Israel, though, the day-to-day change was minimal, besides the loss of Palestinian workers who would not cross the new border, at least in the beginning, and the painful resettling of a few thousand Israelis from the West Bank into Israel proper. Beyond the outcry of the now-ignored professional Israel haters, no one paid attention. The Iran-Saudi conflict was much more important.
The main practical change for Israel was deployment of its military.
Alongside the two-pronged invasion, and in coordination with its Arab allies, the Israeli army pulled out of the West Bank after decades of costly and bloody occupation. Instead, the Israeli military would concentrate on its tasks in the new alliance—monitoring Iran and its allies, maintaining its deterrence in the form of advanced weaponry and providing intelligence to the allied forces.
OK, that was “fun.” Could it actually happen?
Probably not exactly as outlined here. But yes, there are signs of a sea change in the Arab world when it comes to both Israel and the Palestinians.
Within days of the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain signing peace agreements with Israel, Saudi Arabia started aiming harsh criticism at the Palestinian leadership.
That’s the same Saudi Arabia that sponsored the Arab Peace Initiative of 2002, which basically said Israel must hand over all the disputed territories to Syria and the Palestinians, and then the Arab world would make peace with Israel. The current trend is the opposite—Arab nations allying with Israel despite the intractable Palestinian issue.
Here’s what’s new in the new Middle East: After the Arab Spring started the process of political change in the region, mostly by its failure—a new generation of leaders is recognizing that ideology by itself isn’t enough. In a tough world, interests are more important.
Israel has understood that, on an official and military level, for decades. Its relations with Egypt and Jordan are called “cold peace.” They are anything but cold. The three nations cooperate on many levels, but find it convenient to keep them out of the headlines for domestic reasons.
Just as the Arab nations have stirred up anti-Semitism and hatred of Israel for domestic politics, so Israel’s leaders have harvested electoral benefits from stoking fear of enemies near and far. If that era of unrealistic fears comes to an end with the new regional alliances, then Israel will be the real winner here.