General elections are scheduled for 17 September in Israel, the second poll in less than six months.
The importance of these elections from an Arab point of view is linked to the expected announcement of the White House “Deal of the Century” to settle the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
A few days ago, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said that Washington would unveil the “ultimate deal” in the next few weeks. A couple of weeks back, American official sources talked about doing that prior to the Israeli general elections.
But others were not that certain and talked about the possibility of waiting till the elections are over and a new Israeli government is formed, which could take us to November.
In the meantime, the White House announced Thursday, 5 September, that Jason Greenblatt, the US special envoy to the Middle East, will be leaving his post soon; however, he would stay on the job till President Donald Trump unveils his “Deal of the Century”. President Trump tweeted last Thursday that Greenblatt’s “dedication to Israel and to seeking peace between Israel and the Palestinians won’t be forgotten”.
Jared Kushner, special adviser to President Trump, said that the work of Greenblatt “has helped develop the relationship between Israel and its neighbours as he is trusted and respected by all leaders throughout the region”.
A senior American official, quoted in The Jerusalem Post, said that Greenblatt’s original intention had been to join the Trump administration for two years to look into the conflict between the Palestinians and the Israelis, and to elaborate a “realistic and implementable vision to help solve the conflict and to help develop relationships between Israel and [other countries] in the region.
So far, we could safely argue that the Trump administration succeeded in facilitating growing contacts between the Hebrew state and some Arab countries, what the Israelis and the Americans usually refer to as “Sunni Arab countries”, in opposition to Shia Iran.
Visiting London and conferring with the new British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu told BBC Arabic on Thursday, 5 September, that “some Arab countries don’t care about the deadlock in the Palestinian issue, and are looking for defence and security cooperation with Israel.” He added that Iran is attempting to organise attacks throughout Africa, not just in the Middle East.
In campaigning, the Israeli prime minister has stressed two main topics; namely, confronting Iran throughout the Middle East, and in Gulf waters (a very worrisome development from an Arab strategic point of view), and annexing parts of Zone C in the West Bank where Israeli settlements have been built.
He even went as far as saying that unauthorised settlements would remain and he would never evict settlers from the West Bank. Some members in his cabinet, his party and the parties of the extreme right have demanded the annexation of Zone C to Israel. And they are lobbying the American administration to support subjecting Zone C to Israeli sovereignty. How far they have been successful in this respect is hard to tell.
However, the US Ambassador to Israel David Freedman, said in June that the American administration has not decided one way or another as far as this question is concerned, a position I find a highly alarming for it leaves the door wide open for a later American recognition of Israel annexing some parts of Zone C.
The fact that President Trump needs the Jewish vote in the presidential elections next year makes this ominous move more probable.
With previous decisions by the Trump administration concerning recognising Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and moving the US Embassy in Israel to the Holy City, in addition to acknowledging Israeli sovereignty over the Syrian Golan Heights, no room is left for optimism as to the political component of the US “Deal of the Century”. The economic track of the deal was announced during the Bahrain Workshop in June.
In the guessing game of when the US administration will finally reveal its “deal”, it is probably preferable for the Palestinians and the Arabs not to expect anything earth-shattering, if and when this much-talked about deal becomes public.
On Tuesday, 20 August, Secretary Pompeo addressed a UN Security Council session on Middle East peace and security. If anyone still has doubts about the true intentions of the United States in the Middle East for decades to come, look only to what the US secretary of state said before the Security Council that day.
The top priority of the American administration is to facilitate new links between Israel and her Arab neighbours. This process, according to Mr Pompeo, is the product of the Warsaw Ministerial to Promote a Future of Peace and Security in the Middle East, that was convened in the Polish capital earlier this year.
He pointed out that greater cooperation “from Aleppo to Aden, from Tripoli to Tehran… is needed more than ever”. He reaffirmed the need for “fresh thinking” to solve “old problems”.
And this is the reason why Poland and the United States created the “Warsaw Process” and its working groups. These groups are seven in the fields of cyber-security, human rights, maritime and aviation security, energy security, missile proliferation, counterterrorism, and humanitarian issues and refugees.
It is a stark example of the decoupling that has been initiated by the Trump administration between the Middle East peace process — now defunct — and regional cooperation that would bring together the Jewish state and regional neighbours. You surely have noticed that he included Tehran when he touched upon greater cooperation in the Middle East.
The Warsaw process has replaced the Middle East peace process.
In other words, regional cooperation has succeeded in finding a permanent solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Put differently, the Palestinian problem has been put on the back burner.
Will such a situation promote security and stability in the Middle East? Probably not.
* The writer is former assistant foreign minister.
*A version of this article appears in print in the 12 September, 2019 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly.