TSISEArabWorld

Featuring an original analysis by Dr. Michal Yaari.

201902SEArabWorld

American, European, Arab and Israeli officials met on February 14-15 in Warsaw, Poland, for a summit on Middle East security intended to build an international coalition abasing Iran. A secondary agenda item focused on the prospective U.S. Israeli-Palestinian peace plan — currently expected to be unveiled after the April 9 Israeli elections — with a special focus on the regional component it includes.

During the Warsaw summit, Netanyahu sat alongside Arab leaders, held a meeting with Oman’s foreign minister, and leaked an edited video clip of Arab leaders blaming Iran for regional hostility and for spoiling Israeli-Palestinian peace. According to Netanyahu, the Arab leaders’ overtures towards Israel (and against Iran) were yet more signs of their willingness to normalize ties with Israel. Former U.S. officials echoed Israel’s elevated status on the backdrop of a moribund peace process.

Arab and Muslim reactions to the summit were quick to correct course. The Palestinians, who broke relations with the United States after the latter moved its embassy to Jerusalem,  boycotted the summit. Palestinian officials blasted the summit, and activists launched an anti-normalization campaign.

Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah al-Sissi said that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is the main source of Middle East instability. Notably, in an unprecedented interview with an Israeli Chanel 13, Prince Turki bin Faisal Al Saud, the former Saudi intelligence chief and ex-ambassador to the United States and United Kingdom, accused Netanyahu of deceiving the Israeli public "by claiming that relations between the two countries can be warmed without progress in the peace process with the Palestinians.” He added: “From the Israeli point of view, Mr. Netanyahu would like us to have a relationship, and then we can fix the Palestinian issue. From the Saudi point of view, it’s the other way around.”

Despite the intensity and drama of recent days, very little is actually new, and a few points remain clear:

  • Undoubtedly, some Arab leaders prefer closer cooperation with Israel as a way to bolster their position vis-a-vis regional threats, predominantly Iran. But such cooperation has a limit, both in terms of visibility and substance.
  • Security cooperation between Arab States and Israel, as well as economic and technological ties, remain largely behind the scenes.
  • In order for the cooperation to become public and live up to its full potential, a meaningful Israeli-Palestinian peace process needs to materialize.
  • The basic promise of the 2002 Arab Peace Initiative still stands: should Israel and the Palestinians reach a conflict-ending agreement, the Arab world, and with it the Muslim world, will normalize relations and come to peace with Israel.
  • The Arabs are willing to make overtures even before a final deal is reached, but they must see a serious Israeli investment in the peace process. Otherwise, even small, timid signals can be reversed in the first sign of trouble. 
  • The Arabs will endorse, and thus provide political legitimacy for compromises the Palestinian leadership is willing to make; but the Arabs will not force the Palestinians into making compromises they are unwilling to make.
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The TSI is happy to call attention to selected analyses on the question of the Arab World and the peace process:

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