Redefining the Middle East

Hussein Haridy
Wednesday 18 Sep 2019

The map of the Middle East is being redrawn politically and geostrategically. Or so Trump administration officials hope, writes Hussein Haridy

For the second time in less than a year, Israelis went to the polls Tuesday,17 September. As with every Israeli general election, the outside world raises questions on the effect the elections results would have on what was once called the “peace process” in the Middle East. The elections on 17 September are no different, if not more dangerous in the context of the uncharted paths it could lead to in the Middle East.

The incumbent Israeli Prime Minister, Binyamin Netanyahu, is looking for a fifth term, and polls before the elections indicated that his Likud Party has been running neck-and-neck with the main opposition party, the White and Blue. The difference between the two parties according to these polls won’t be more than three seats in the Knesset. But regardless of which party gets more votes, Israel is likely heading towards a period of political uncertainty, and perhaps a period of unstable government.

If there are differences among Israeli political parties as to domestic politics, these differences almost disappear when it comes to the questions of peace and security in the Middle East, particularly with regard to reaching a peaceful settlement to the Palestinian question.

Moreover, these elections have gained added significance, from a larger regional perspective, once the US administration of President Donald Trump made it clear, officially, that it would reveal its “Deal of the Century” after the Israeli elections are over. I would assume that the White House will probably wait till there is a new Israeli government in place, which could take two months.

To gain the support of the parties of the extreme right as well as the settlers, the Israeli prime minister said 10 September that, if re-elected, he would bring Israeli settlements in the West Bank under Israeli sovereignty in addition to the Jordan Valley. He implicitly said that this position had been coordinated with the US administration. Other sources close to the Israeli government went even further, saying that the “Deal of the Century” includes such an annexation plan as part of the deal to be proposed to concerned parties and the Arab world before year’s end.

The Israeli prime minister assured his base that he was actively involved in diplomatic efforts in the last few months and he thinks that the “diplomatic conditions” for annexation could not be more favourable. It is believed that the Israeli government already informed the White House of the tenor of Netanyahu’s announcement concerning annexing the Jordan Valley before the Israeli prime minister made his remarks 10 September.

The White House said in a press release after Netanyahu’s remarks that there “is no change with the United States policy at this time. We will release our vision for peace after the Israeli election, and work to determine the best path forward to bring about security, opportunity and stability to the region.”

A spokesperson for the secretary-general of the United Nations said 10 September that the, “secretary-general’s position has always been clear and consistent: unilateral actions are not helpful in the peace process. Our position today is unchanged and is reflected in relevant United Nations resolutions.” The spokesperson also made clear that any “Israeli decision to impose its law jurisdiction and legislation in the occupied West Bank is without legal effect.” And so as not to leave any doubt on the consequences of such a decision, the spokesperson stressed that the prospect of annexation “would be devastating to the potential of reviving negotiations, regional peace and the very essence of a two-state solution”.

The crux of the matter is that the final act in drawing up the permanent borders of the Jewish State, for the first time since its establishment in 1948, is at hand. And it will be done at the expense of Arab occupied territories and in a flagrant violation of United Nations resolutions on the Arab-Israeli conflict and the Palestinian question.

For the past 70 years, various United Nations resolutions have provided the political and legal basis for peace-making in the Arab-Israeli conflict as well as the Palestinian question. In fact, both the Egypt-Israel Peace Treaty of March 1979 and the Jordan-Israel Peace Treaty of 1994 are based on UN Security Council Resolutions 242 (22 November 1967) and 338 (22 October 1973). The two-state solution itself was adopted unanimously by the Security Council in 2003.

However, it seems that the expected “Deal of the Century” is decoupled from these resolutions that have embodied the will of the international community for peace and security in the Middle East.

Jason Greenblatt, the outgoing chief negotiator on the American side in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, told The Jerusalem Post in an interview published 13 September that he believes that the United States is putting forth a deal that makes sense. He added that one of the questions the White House negotiating team decided on after studying the conflict “is that those high-level principle talking points actually hurt rather than help the process… It confuses people because different people see the phrase two-state solution differently.” Moreover, he emphasised that the negotiating team avoided “just trying to distil this incredibly complex conflict into words or sound bites”.

On the other hand, he stressed that the leadership of President Donald Trump pushed “the prime minister of Israel, the Arab leaders in connecting Israel and its Arab neighbours on a deeper and more public level”.

He praised “the remarkable advances between Israel and its neighbours” and that President Trump has done quite a bit in deepening those connections “… and he has also managed to focus attention on the real problem in the region, which is Iran…. Now the region is united again around the president because they recognise that he is trying to stabilise the Middle East by calling out who really is the [one] that creates problems in the Middle East.”

In other words, Iran is the “enemy” and not Israel, and based on this wrong approach the Palestinian question and its political solution could be relegated to a lesser strategic priority. In the meantime, Israel, an occupying power, keeps carrying out its unlawful creeping annexation of Palestinian and Arab territories under the direct patronage and protection of the Trump White House.

Greenblatt was very emphatic in defending American decisions for the last two years that have seriously and negatively impacted Palestinian and Arab rights according to the United Nations Charter, and all resolutions of the General Assembly and the Security Council. In the interview cited above, he stressed, without any kind of remorse or diplomatic nuance, that these decisions “were appropriate for what we are trying to accomplish. They were correct for the United States and its interests.”

He added that, “certainly on the major decisions — Jerusalem, the embassy (moving the American Embassy from Tel Aviv to occupied Jerusalem), UNRWA, the Golan (recognising against international law and UN resolutions the ‘sovereignty’ of Israel over the occupied Golan Heights), those were correct decisions.”

The Middle East is being redrawn politically, geographically and strategically under an American-Israeli umbrella. That is the reason why Prime Minister Netanyahu is so sure that he has the full backing of the White House in annexing the Jordan Valley and West Bank settlements. His main political opponent in the elections, Benny Gantz, said that his party, the White and Blue, calls for the annexation of the Jordan Valley. Not to be outdone by Netanyahu, the leaders of White and Blue have said that they intend to keep the Jordan Valley forever.

As for the Arabs and the Palestinians, it is, unsurprisingly, business as usual, notwithstanding some condemnations here and there.

Last week, I wrote about the remarks of the US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo before the UN Security Council 20 August on the security situation in the Middle East. In his remarks he emphasised the burgeoning contacts and “relations between Israel and its neighbours” from “Tripoli to Tehran”. He described this strategic shift in the Middle East as the “Warsaw Process”.

This “process” has, for all intents and purposes, replaced the “peace process” that made possible a phony peace between some Arab countries and the Palestinians, on the one hand, and Israel, the occupying power, on the other.

The Middle East conflict, accordingly, endures.

 

The writer is former assistant foreign minister.

 *A version of this article appears in print in the 19 September, 2019 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly under the title Redefining the Middle East

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