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Caroline Glick: The Limits of Arab-Israeli Cooperation

The Associated Press
CAROLINE GLICK

The Trump White House is reportedly deliberating the best time to present its peace plan for the Palestinians and Israel.

A few weeks ago, the Hebrew language media in Israel reported that the administration intended to release the plan after the Israeli elections on April 9, but before the next coalition government is formed.

On Wednesday, the Times of Israel reported that the administration intends to delay the release of the plan until mid-May.

In the meantime, President Donald Trump’s senior advisor and son-in-law Jared Kushner, who is overseeing the administration’s peace efforts, is scheduled to speak at a conference in Poland on peace in the Middle East next week. According to a report Wednesday at Axios, Kushner is expected to answer questions about the administration’s plan, but will not divulge any specific details about its contents.

One aspect of the plan that is known is that the administration hopes to use Israel’s improved bilateral relations with Sunni Arab states, led by Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, as a means to improve the chances that the plan will be accepted by Israelis and Palestinians.

In a conversation with the Times of Israel this week, a senior White House official said, “We believe we can put forth a credible, realistic and fair plan that could bring this conflict to an end; to dramatically improve Palestinian lives, maintain Israel’s security and allow Israel to integrate into the region in a way that even two years ago no one would have imagined it could.”

In other words, the Trump team apparently believes that it is possible to base Palestinian peace with Israel on a wider regional peace between the Arab world and Israel.

This assumption is probably correct, as far as it goes.

The wider Arab world’s rejection of Israel’s right to exist, and Arab states’ repeated attempts to destroy Israel, are the foundation of the Palestinian conflict with Israel. The more accepting the Arab world is of the Jewish state, the less motivated the Palestinians will be to maintain their perpetual war against Israel.

This state of affairs has already dramatically reduced the potential for tension between the Palestinians and Israel to rise to the level of all-out war. Arab states led by Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), and Egypt are far more concerned about Iran and its efforts to assert hegemonic power in the Middle East and build a nuclear arsenal than they are about attacking Israel, which they do not view as a threat. Their keenness to cooperate with Israel in joint efforts to curtail Iranian power in the region far outweighs their support for the Palestinians.

So too, fear of Iran has made Sunni Arab leaders far more focused on receiving U.S. military and other support to protect their regimes and territory from Iran and its terrorist proxies – Hezbollah, the Houthis, the Iraqi Shiite militias, and others. That is the reason that the likes of Egyptian President Abdel Fatah a-Sisi and Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Sultan did nothing and  said little in response to President Trump’s decision to recognize that Israel’s capital is Jerusalem and move the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem.

Under these circumstances then, it is reasonable for the Trump administration to believe that it is possible to use Israel’s cooperative ties with the wider Sunni Arab world as a platform to promote its plan to resolve the Palestinian conflict with Israel.

The problem with this conviction is that it fails to recognize the built-in limitations of pan-Arab cooperation with Israel.

Today, the Saudis, the UAE, Egypt, and other Arab states view Israel as a partner because they share a common enemy – Iran. Israel has demonstrated its willingness and capacity to fight Iran and its proxies both militarily and diplomatically. Israel’s close ties with the U.S. are an added inducement for the Arabs, who require U.S. military assistance and weapons systems to foster cooperative ties with Jerusalem.

But even as unofficial, behind-the-scenes ties expand between Israel and its neighbors, Arab societies’ popular rejection of Israel remains implacable. The places that hostility manifests itself most vociferously are the two Arab states – Egypt and Jordan – that have formal peace treaties with Israel.

For instance, this  week, the UK-based, virulently anti-Israel Middle East Monitor website reported that Egyptian intellectual groups responded with rage and condemnation to a Facebook post by Israel’s ambassador to Egypt David Goffrin which included photos of the ambassador visiting the Cairo Book Fair. The Egyptian Book Organization, the Cultural Committee of Egyptian Journalists, and other groups condemned Goffrin and rejected any normalization between Egyptian society and Israel.

In the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan, generally viewed as the most pro-Western Arab state, hatred for Israel and Jews is all-pervasive. Israeli tourists routinely return home with tales of harassment at the hands of their tour guides and Jordanian authorities. Last December Jordan’s Minister of Information and government spokesman Jumana Ghunaimat provoked a diplomatic crisis when she was photographed stepping on an Israeli flag painted at the entrance to Amman’s Trade Union Headquarters.

Also in December, a Jordanian worker at Israel’s port of Eilat attacked two of his Israeli co-workers with a hammer.

The Hashemite monarchy does nothing to diminish popular hatred of Israel. Worse, in fact, King Abdullah facilitates Jew hatred and rejection of Israel. Last October, for instance, he announced that Jordan would not renew the 25-year lease of agricultural plots along the border with Israel. The lands have been farmed by Israeli farmers for more than 100 years. Israel agreed to withdraw its claims to sovereignty over them in the framework of the 1994 peace deal in exchange for renewable 25-year leases to Israeli farmers to continue farming the land.

Ironically, the month after Abdullah announced the leases would not be renewed, Jordan asked Israel to increase the amount of water its supplies to Jordan. Currently, Israel provides Jordan with 50 million cubic meters of water every year.

While Saudi Crowned Prince Mohammed has spoken warmly about Israel, he has made clear that Saudi Arabia will not normalize its relations with Israel until after Israel concludes a peace deal with the Palestinians. Since the Palestinian leadership has committed itself to rejecting peace with Israel, and refuses to even speak with American officials, it is clear that Prince Mohammed’s statements are unlikely to be put to the test.

Israelis, for their part, are not pining for tourist packages to Riyadh. To the extent Israeli businessmen need to travel to Arab capitals for work, they are largely able to do so. Formal treaties of peace between Israel and the likes of Saudi Arabia will add little to no value to ties between the two countries. To the contrary, as has happened in Jordan and Egypt, government authorities, fearful of claims by Islamists and others that they betrayed their nations or Islam itself by forging a peace on paper with Israel, will go out of their way to distance their governments from Israel.

In other words, ironically, formal peace between Israel and Arab states will reduce the strategic potential of bilateral ties, while subjecting those ties – now hidden from public approbation – to continuous assault by opinion leaders and religious authorities.

Moreover, since the current thaw in Israel-Arab relations is a function of shared concern over Iranian aggression, it is likely that those ties will be reduced, and may even end, if and when the Iranian threat is significantly reduced or defeated outright through regime change.

This, then, brings us to the nature of the Trump “deal-of-the-century” for Israel and the Palestinians.

In all previous U.S. “peace plans,” Israel was called on to transfer land it requires to defend itself against foreign invasion and terrorist infiltration in exchange for a paper peace. It was called on to destroy the homes and communities of hundreds of thousands of law-abiding Israeli citizens, and partition Jerusalem, transferring control over urban neighborhoods and holy sites to the Palestine Liberation Organization.

Not only would implementing the requisite concessions endanger Israel strategically, it would also cause massive social cleavages which would increase dramatically the prospect of a profound destabilization of Israeli society.

Statements by U.S. officials, including by former U.S. UN ambassador Nikki Haley, regarding the details of the Trump administration’s peace plan have telegraphed the message that its contents are similar to those presented by past administrations. That is, the Trump plan presumes that Israel will give real – irreversible – concessions to the Palestinians in the form of land transfers that will enfeeble and divide it in exchange for a paper peace deal.

The difference, to the extent there is one, between the substance of the Trump plan and its predecessors is that the Trump administration plan envisions peace between Israel and the Palestinians to be forged in the context of a broader peace between Israel and regional Arab states.

And yet, when one considers the ubiquitous hatred for Israel and Jews in Jordan and Egypt, it is clear that formal peace deals do not improve ties between the nations of the Arab world and Israel. If anything, they harm them. So too, when one recognizes that since the basis of the current operational cooperation between Arab states and Israel is a shared interest in diminishing Iran, it becomes clear that once that threat is diminished or defeated, the basis for Israeli-Arab cooperation will disappear.

If that happens after a “peace” is forged, Israel will have endangered its future and weakened its society in an egregious way for nothing. Its formal ties with the likes of Saudi Arabia and the UAE will be reduced to nothing and it will face a renewed threat of pan-Arab aggression after surrendering its defensible borders for a paper peace.

There is a reason that despite the best efforts of every U.S. president since Harry Truman, peace between the Arab world and Israel remains elusive. There is no popular acceptance of Israel in the Arab world. And no Israeli concessions to the Palestinians or Israeli assistance in countering Iran’s aggression will change that.

Caroline Glick is a world-renowned journalist and commentator on the Middle East and U.S. foreign policy, and the author of The Israeli Solution: A One-State Plan for Peace in the Middle East. She is running for Israel’s Knesset as a member of the Yamin Hahadash (New Right) party in Israel’s parliamentary elections, scheduled for April 9. Read more at www.CarolineGlick.com.

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