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Arab Countries Should Stop Pretending the Palestinian Issue Is an Impediment to Diplomatic Relations with Israel

Jan. 30 2018

The improving relations between Israel and many Sunni Arab states—including those like Saudi Arabia with which it does not have formal diplomatic ties—are hardly a secret. But these countries remain reluctant to acknowledge the relations publicly and have shown little interest in actual normalization. While explaining the reluctance, Moshe Yaalon and Leehe Friedman contend that Arab countries would serve both their own interests and those of the Palestinians by dropping their insistence on a solution to the Israel-Palestinian conflict as a prerequisite to normal diplomatic relations with Jerusalem. (Free registration required.)

[T]he pragmatic Arab regimes are wary of being seen publicly as overly keen on normalization before the Israel-Palestinian conflict has been resolved. Their citizens would widely and strongly oppose such a move and perceive it as an abandonment and betrayal of their Palestinian brethren. Even Egypt and Jordan, which have diplomatic relations with Israel and have cooperated quietly but extensively over security and intelligence matters, are careful not to appear too openly conciliatory toward Israel. . . .

What’s more, Iran, in its quest for hegemony in the Middle East, would surely use any sign of rapprochement with Israel to inflame the Palestinian conflict further. . . . The Sunni states, particularly Saudi Arabia, cannot allow themselves to give Iran or Turkey, [which has aligned itself with the Muslim Brotherhood and against the moderate Arab states], any openings to amass political capital in the region. . . .

So far, [however,] conditioning normalization on resolving the conflict has not brought its settlement any closer, and instead has obstructed other moves that would benefit the entire region. . . . The time has come to recognize that treating the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as an obstacle toward normalization is [an] illusion. . . . Today, normalization with Israel in itself serves authentic interests in the pragmatic Arab world. Leaders of these countries understand this, and it has led to closer ties behind the scenes. However, in order to maximize the security, economic, and cultural benefits for all parties, closer ties must become public.

The pragmatic Arab camp will benefit from a loyal ally that can provide significant help in the campaign against regional threats, and add to their international prestige, while Israel will finally gain broad recognition and legitimacy as an integral and constructive part of the Middle East. . . . [G]radual rapprochement between Israel and the Arab world could [even] help Israel and the Palestinians to build mutual trust and find an area of common interests that might lead to a renewal of frank, serious, and more effective negotiations. . . .

This scenario may seem optimistic but it need not remain a pipe dream. . . . The Arab regimes must embark on a long, slow process to end the demonization of Israel and to prepare hearts and minds for closer relations.

Read more at Foreign Affairs

More about: Israel & Zionism, Israel diplomacy, Israel-Arab relations, Israeli-Palestinian Conflict, Saudia Arabia

How Lebanon—and Hizballah—Conned and Humiliated Rex Tillerson

Feb. 21 2018

Last Thursday, the American secretary of state arrived in Beirut to express Washington’s continued support for the country’s government, which is now entirely aligned with Hizballah. His visit came shortly after Israel’s showdown with Hizballah’s Iranian protectors in Syria and amid repeated warnings from Jerusalem about the terrorist organization’s growing threat to Israeli security. To Tony Badran, Tillerson’s pronouncements regarding Lebanon have demonstrated the incoherence of the Trump administration’s policy:

[In Beirut], Tillerson was made to sit alone in a room with no American flag in sight and wait—as photographers took pictures and video—before Hizballah’s chief allies in Lebanon’s government, President Michel Aoun and his son-in-law the foreign minister, finally came out to greet him. Images of the U.S. secretary of state fidgeting in front of an empty chair were then broadcast across the Middle East to symbolize American impotence at a fateful moment for the region. . . .

Prior to heading to Beirut, Tillerson gave an interview to the American Arabic-language station al-Hurra, in which he emphasized that Hizballah was a terrorist organization, and that the United States expected cooperation from the “Lebanon government to deal very clearly and firmly with those activities undertaken by Lebanese Hizballah that are unacceptable to the rest of the world.” . . . But then, while in Jordan, Tillerson undermined any potential hints of firmness by reading from an entirely different script—one that encapsulates the confused nonsense that is U.S. Lebanon policy. Hizballah is “influenced by Iran,” Tillerson said. But, he added, “We also have to acknowledge the reality that they also are part of the political process in Lebanon”—which apparently makes being “influenced by Iran” and being a terrorist group OK. . . .

The reality on the ground in Lebanon, [however], is [that] Hizballah is not only a part of the Lebanese government, it controls it—along with all of the country’s illustrious “institutions,” including the Lebanese Armed Forces. . . .

[Meanwhile], Israel’s tactical Syria-focused approach to the growing threat on its borders has kept the peace so far, but it has come at a cost. For one thing, it does not address the broader strategic factor of Iran’s growing position in Syria, and it leaves Iran’s other regional headquarters in Lebanon untouched. Also, it sets a pace that is more suitable to Iran’s interests. The Iranians can absorb tactical strikes so long as they are able to consolidate their strategic position in Syria and Lebanon. Not only have the Iranians been able to fly a drone into Israel but also their allies and assets have made gains on the ground near the northern Golan and in Mount Hermon. As Iran’s position strengthens, and as Israel’s military and political hand weakens, the Israelis will soon be left with little choice other than to launch a devastating war.

To avoid that outcome, the United States needs to adjust its policy—and fast. Rather than leaving Israel to navigate around the Russians and go after Iran’s assets in Syria and Lebanon on its own, it should endorse Israel’s red lines regarding Iran in Syria, and amplify its campaign against Iranian assets. In addition, it should revise its Lebanon policy and end its investment in the Hizballah-controlled order there.

Read more at Tablet

More about: Hizballah, Israeli Security, Lebanon, Politics & Current Affairs, Rex Tillerson, U.S. Foreign policy