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Comprehensive settlement in the Middle East

Al-Ahram Weekly Editorial , Tuesday 18 Aug 2020
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Realpolitik reigns over the Middle East now more than ever, particularly when it comes to the Arab-Israeli conflict and what are described as historical facts that have directed the actions of Arab states. 

The majority of regional countries stood against the late president Anwar Al-Sadat’s initiative over 40 years ago. As slogans resonated from one country to the other, Arab states opposed any potential settlements. Fast forward, the Middle East has suffered successive catastrophes, from the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait, to the war on terrorism, internal conflicts, and the disintegration of central states.

The reality on the ground forced unorthodox changes in foreign policies and in relations between traditional rivals. Unexpected alliances are now a fait accompli after the world has seen parts of it throwing behind the principles of international law and successive UN resolutions.

Amid these changes, a tripartite agreement was sealed between the UAE, Israel and the US. The peace deal between Abu Dhabi and Tel Aviv gives the green light for cooperation between the two states in several fields. Under the terms of the deal, Israel has agreed to halt its plan to annex parts of the occupied West Bank.

Soon after, many capitals reported Israel has started similar deliberations with other Gulf countries.

The UAE-Israel agreement led the majority of observers to stress the necessity of forging a comprehensive peace deal in the Middle East that is not solely based on Israel’s suspension of its annexation plan, but that invests in the rapprochement between the Gulf and Israel, which “represents a massive change”, towards a comprehensive settlement.

This step may not be possible if the Arab League is not active in the process. The league should become a platform for presenting viewpoints and positions and not for exchanging accusations of treason or setting off media campaigns seeking false gains in the Arab street that has been suffering from devastation.

Collective debate is the only means to put the legitimate rights of the Palestinians on the table. The region should build on the current rapprochement, while each country maintains the right to adopt the positions it deems appropriate amid the several regional threats, be they Iran’s regional expansion, Turkey’s ambitious plan to exercise power in Sunni countries, or projects to dismantle countries by non-state organisations. The latter have become increasingly dangerous and a threat to stable and prosperous countries.

While Egypt respects other countries’ choices, as far as its foreign policies are concerned, it affirms the importance of comprehensive settlements that preserve rights, strengthen the Palestinians’ positions and put the eyes of Arab nations on their new realities, where the political bids of parties that are not involved in the conflict and that direct their money towards terrorist organisations instead of rebuilding Arab communities are futile.

Soft intervention is required on the part of international parties observing the Israel-Gulf rapprochement to contain the Israeli aggression, force Benjamin Netanyahu to respect the UAE move, and urge Israel to refrain from actions that induce anger – even if Israel is the stronger party against the Palestinians at present.

Israel may forge bilateral agreements that grant it recognition by and coordination with regional countries. However, on the longer term, ignoring the Palestinians’ rights will prevent popular rapprochement between Israel and the Arab world, increase hatred, and keep the conflict ongoing indefinitely. The Middle East can’t afford this anymore.

Forging peace means accepting compromises to create a better future. It doesn’t mean imposing a fait accompli through exploiting exceptional conditions or counting on the world’s super power. 

*A version of this article appears in print in the 20 August, 2020 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly

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