Monday, February 27, 2017

A regional Middle East peace plan? Don’t bet on it

There’s a new idea for peace between Israel and its Arab neighbours: a regional peace plan. Its goal is to make sure both Israelis and ‘Palestinians’ are pressured to make concessions. Some think it’ll work. Veteran Middle East journalist Khaled Abu Toameh thinks it won’t work (“Palestinians: Why a "Regional Peace Process" Will Fail”, gatestoneinstitute, February 27, 2017). Why? Because of Arab attitudes.

Take a look at this essay. Note that I’ve edited it for this format. You can read the unedited original at gatestoneinstitute:

With a regional approach to solving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, as many Arab countries as possible would be directly involved in the effort to achieve a lasting and comprehensive peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinians. Advocates of the regional approach believe that Arab countries such as Jordan, Egypt, Lebanon, Qatar and Saudi Arabia have enough leverage with the Palestinians to compel them accept a peace agreement with Israel.

But as Toameh points out, Palestinians dismiss this idea. They see it as just another American-Israeli-Arab conspiracy to liquidate their cause and force them to unacceptable concessions. Chief among these ‘unacceptable concessions’ are recognizing Israel as a Jewish state and giving up the demand for a 'right of return’ for millions of Palestinian refugees into Israel.

What advocates for this regional approach miss is that Palestinians simply don’t trust their Arab brothers. The Palestinians consider most Arab leaders and regimes as "puppets" of the US. Worse, Many Palestinians actually refer to Arab leaders and regimes as the "real enemies" of the Palestinians. They’d rather have France, Sweden, Norway and Belgium oversee a peace process with Israel than any of the Arab countries.

Palestinians don’t trust their Arab brothers. They have more confidence in Western countries than they do in their Arab brothers. That’s why the Palestinian Authority (PA) headed by Mahmoud Abbas continues to insist on an international conference as its preferred method for achieving peace in the region. He doesn’t want Arab countries to have a role in solving the conflict. Such involvement, Toameh argues, is the last thing Abbas wants (ibid).

Helping Palestinians, meanwhile, may also be the last thing Arab countries want to do. This is what Hani al-Masri, a prominent Palestinian political analyst, believes.  

Arab countries worry about themselves, al-Nasri says, not Palestinians.

-Jordan worries that a regional solution would promote the idea of replacing the Hashemite kingdom with a Palestinian state.

-Egypt worries that a "regional approach" could force it to give up land from Sinai to the Palestinians of the Gaza Strip.

-Lebanon worries that a "regional solution" might somehow force their country to grant full citizenship and equal rights to hundreds of thousands of Palestinian refugees living in Lebanon.

-Syria is far too preoccupied with own implosion to think about peace between the Palestinians and Israel. Besides, when have the Syrians ever expressed concern for Palestinians? Since the beginning of the civil war five years ago, more than 3,400 Palestinians have been killed and thousands injured. In addition, more than 150,000 Palestinians have been forced to flee Syria to neighboring Arab countries or to Europe. The Syrian regime doesn’t care about its own people, who are being massacred on a daily basis. Why would it be expected to care about Palestinians?

So, which Arab countries would help to end the Israeli-Palestinian conflict? Saudi Arabia? Qatar? Kuwait? Oman? Tunisia? Morocco? Really?

A regional approach would suggest some kind of Arab-Israel rapprochement. Abbas isn’t interested in such rapprochement. Abbas's Foreign Minister, Riad al-Malki, made it clear this week that the Palestinians reject the idea of a regional solution that would give Arabs any role in the peace process. He denounced Netanyahu's regional approach as a ‘twisted policy’, adding: "Netanyahu thinks that by establishing ties with Arab governments he could force the Palestinians to enter negotiations with Israel." According to al-Malki, Palestinians wish to see Europeans, not Arabs, at their side when they ‘negotiate’ with Israel.

The Palestinian Foreign Minister is saying that the Palestinians would rather have the Europeans in their court than their Arab brothers when it comes to trying to squeeze the life out of Israel. They believe that this is their best bet.

In any event, Toameh says, any regional solution involving Arab countries would be doomed to fail. Palestinians and their Arab brethren hate each other too much. Besides, even if Abbas accepted terms dictated to him by such an alliance, his own people would reject them.

Toameh’s essay suggests that ‘Palestinian’ leaders don’t just hate Jews. They also hate other Arabs.

With that kind of hate, can ‘Palestinians’ make peace with anybody?  Don't bet on it. 

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