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Israel’s problem is with the Palestinians

Feb 19,2019 - Last updated at Feb 19,2019

The Warsaw summit may have been “a failure for Trump”, but it certainly was not “a win for Netanyahu” as Trita Parsi wrote in on February 15.

Parsi explains that the summit did not realise the initially-planned US objective of creating an “anti-Iran alliance” and hence, proved to be a failure for Trump. But it was a victory for Netanyahu, according to Parsi, because the summit “provided Netanyahu with much desired optics: The fact that Arab leaders were wiling to share the stage with an Israeli prime minister at a summit that did not even pretend to address the Palestinian issue signaled that autocratic Arab rulers have openly abandoned the Palestinians”.

Not really!

Netanyahu is not the only Israeli leader who, in the past two decades, has been boasting about secret contacts and open channels between Israel and some Arab capitals in order to prove that the Palestinian issue has long ceased to be the priority of Arab states. Simultaneously, and as a distraction, Israel has kept on pushing the notion that the real threat to both Israel and the concerned Arab states is Iran and, therefore, since the mid- 1990s, US-led efforts to create an alliance of moderate (or Sunni) Arab states with Israel to confront the Iranian danger have been relentless. The agenda is to downgrade the urgency of the Palestinian issue.

Developing hostility between Iran and many of its Arab neighbours has no doubt been helpful to Israel’s agenda, but not to the extent where the intended alliance with Israel was ever possible.

The fact that contact between Israel and some Arab states exists is well known. After the launching of the Arab-Israeli peace process in Madrid in 1992 and the resulting agreements between Israel and the Palestinians, the Oslo Accords and with the Jordanians in the 1994 peace treaty, Israel opened trade offices in some Arab capitals. Israeli leaders visited Arab capitals openly on occasion as well. Years before the Warsaw summit, convened Arab leaders sat with Israeli leaders at the Madrid Peace Conference that inaugurated the Arab-Israeli peace talks, which ran bilaterally with the Palestinians, the Jordanians, the Syrians and the Lebanese, and multilaterally with significant international and Arab participation from most of the other Arab states. The hope then was that the peace process would put an end to the conflict, inaugurating a new era of stability and peace. That did not happen, precisely because Israel did not, and still does not want, to respect its part of the deal: to leave the occupied Arab territories in Syria and Palestine and to recognise the rights of the Palestinians to statehood and independence.

Fighting for his political life in crucial Israeli general elections that he desperately tries to win, Netanyahu is struggling to prove that his diplomatic thrust in Warsaw is making history by receiving the endorsement of his positions by so many Arab state representatives, not only against Iran, but away from their commitment to the Palestinian cause as well.

Even if this is the case, which may help Netanyahu in the very short run, it would neither sideline the Palestinian issue, nor would it neutralise Arab peoples’ historic attachment to the Palestinian cause.

However, premature normalisation with Israel, an aggressor state that continues to occupy and colonise Arab and Palestinian lands, implies serious consequences. It unnecessarily reflects badly on the normaliser without any visible benefits in return. But, much worse, it can only feed the Israeli intransigence and encourage the ultra right-wing government of Netanyahu to escalate its aggression on the occupied Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza in flagrant violation of international law, as we have recently seen with respect to the occupied city of Jerusalem and the declaration by Israel of the Jewish nation-state law.

As a matter of fact, Israel’s core problem is no longer with all the Arab states, as it used to be at the very beginning, when the loss of Palestine to the Zionist project was considered to be an Arab loss for the Arab League and its member states, and its recovery was an Arab responsibility — except those whose territory is still occupied by Israel.

Essentially, Israel’s problem is with the Palestinians, and by that I mean the 6.5 million Palestinians who currently exist in Palestine: in the West Bank, in Gaza and in Israel itself. Time has neither reduced the size of the Palestinian presence, nor has it weakened their attachment to their land. With every passing day, the number of Palestinians increases and their resolve hardens. This is Israel’s real problem. No amount of normalisation with Arab states, any number of Arab states, would in any way change the nature of the Palestinian issue, obscure it or make it disappear. This is an illusion that Israel has been entertaining for decades.

And because the Palestinian leadership is in very bad shape too, Israeli leaders may delude themselves into believing that with the Arabs presumably on board, the US fully supportive and the Palestinians totally disabled, there is no point engaging in any meaningful debate. This is just another self-deception.

It may not be difficult for Israel to find supporters against Iran, but not to the point where any would support Israel’s war project. And although some in our region and elsewhere may go as far as labelling Iran as the main threat to regional peace and stability, many others still hold very firmly to the conviction that the Arab-Israeli conflict is the real cause of instability and perpetual conflict. Neither Israel nor the rest of the region would ever enjoy peace or stability so long as Israeli occupation and aggression remains in place. The status quo should not be steadily taken for granted either.

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