Two pictures of the Middle East

Hussein Haridy
Wednesday 20 Apr 2022

The stark difference between US and Israeli plans for a New Middle East and the unchanging reality of Israel as an occupying power remains, as two recent pictures from the Middle East reveal.


Two vivid pictures, taken in less than a month, speak volumes about the serious challenges facing those powers, countries, and governing classes backed by their enablers in the media and some Arab think tanks that champion an elusive Middle East decoupled in their imagination and various scenarios from the past.

The first picture was taken last month and was of the participants at what has been falsely dubbed the “Negev Summit” where the foreign ministers of some Arab countries were pictured side by side with their Israeli and US counterparts. The Israelis, who spoke of a “historic” event, were the hosts. 

The Israelis have used this meeting to claim that the region is witnessing the emergence of new geopolitical realities and of Arab countries working with Israel in confronting a “common enemy” – Israel’s, of course, and not necessarily the enemy of just the Arab countries that participated in the Negev meeting but not necessarily the enemy of most if not all of them either.

The second picture was more striking in its visualisation of the real and harsh realities in the region on the ground. It was taken by Israeli soldiers after they stormed the Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem on Friday, 15 April, during dawn prayers. To make things worse, the picture was taken in the holiest month of the Muslim calendar, Ramadan, the month of fasting for Muslims all over the world. It goes without saying that the Al-Aqsa Mosque is considered to be among the three holiest sites in Islam.

The picture of the Israeli soldiers, representatives of the occupying power of Palestinian and Arab land, going into the mosque came as a stark reminder of the reality that has defined the Middle East for half a century – namely, the Israeli occupation of the West Bank, East Jerusalem, and the Golan Heights. For 50 years and more the Israelis have held to the insane idea that the people of the Arab world will come to accept and coexist with their fallacious claims that these occupied territories belong to them, whether justifying these unfounded claims on a historical or religious basis.

The international and Arab reactions to the storming of the Al-Aqsa Mosque ranged from the mild to the bland and varied from condemnation to a call on “all concerned,” equating the occupier with the occupied, to eschew violence and exercise “restraint.” Of course, the Palestinian reactions were, as expected, harsher and more ominous, but some observers say that the options before their governing elites are limited to merely verbal reactions. Some Palestinians have talked about a third Intifada, but many remain sceptical about this.

Even though the recent developments in the Middle East have been overshadowed by the ongoing war in Ukraine, the fact of the matter  is that the stark differences between the various US and Israeli plans for a “New Middle East” and the unchanging reality of Israel as an occupying power remain. 

Not only has Israel been using force to advance its national interests and expansionist designs on its neighbours, let alone in its dealing with the Palestinians, but it has also been acting as a regional power that does not hesitate to resort to force to defend what it perceives as its paramount security at the expense of the security of other countries in the Middle East. Syria and Lebanon are constant reminders of this aggressiveness. The day when the Israelis will realise that regional security is indivisible is not for tomorrow. 

The contrast between the two pictures referred to above demonstrates the dilemmas in the region at present and also exemplifies the wide gap between two phenomena. The first of these is the gap between the elusive plans for a “New Middle East” being defined as the Arabs, the Israelis, and minus the Palestinians, and the Middle East as it is, a region destabilised by the Israeli concept of “security” and the occupation of Palestinian and Arab territories. 

The second is the gap between those on the Arab side, whether in an official capacity or working in the media, think tanks, or business linked to the West and Israel and the untold millions of people across the Middle East and North Africa and other parts of the Arab world who do not buy this grand idea of creating a “New Middle East.”

 Needless to say, the opposition to this imposed vision also comes from different political forces in the Arab world, and more particularly from among the Islamists of various persuasions and the Arab nationalists. For historical and political reasons, the two have not been able to join forces until now to form a united opposition to derail plans for delinking the creation of new regional realities and Arab and Palestinian interests. 

I presume some Arab governments are conscious of the dangers and pitfalls of falling prey to these plans and accordingly have been hesitant to become active participants in the attempts, made under various guises, to transform the Middle East into a region where Israeli and US interests are the dominant factor in determining geopolitical alliances and policies. I doubt very much if any plans with this aim in mind can have any chance of success as long as Israel sticks to its one-sided concept of security before all else and before a political resolution of the Palestinian question takes place in line with UN Security Council resolutions.

The Arab enablers of the ideas of liberal internationalists in the West should factor in these considerations in their defence of this unwelcome “New Middle East,” unwelcome because it tramples on Arab and Palestinian rights, interests, and national security.

* The writer is former assistant foreign minister.

*A version of this article appears in print in the 21 April, 2022 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly.

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