Arab Rulers Have Spent Decades Undermining Palestinian National Aspirations

“The Palestinians,” Gamal Abdel Nasser told a Western reporter in the years before the Six-Day War, “are useful to the Arab states as they are. We will always see that they do not become too powerful. Can you imagine yet another nation on the shores of the eastern Mediterranean!” As Roie Yellinek and Assaf Malach demonstrate, this attitude is typical of Arab leaders, who—despite many protestations to the contrary—have over the decades consistently worked against the creation of a Palestinian state. The rulers of Syria and Jordan in this regard proved little different than Nasser:

In the decade-and-a-half following [Syrian] independence in 1946, the unambiguous [official] line advocated the unification of Greater Syria comprising the territory of present-day Syria, Jordan, Lebanon, and Israel, under Damascus’s reign. (Transjordan’s King Abdullah also strove for the creation of this entity under his own rule). Even the pan-Arab Baath party, which seized power in a military coup in 1963 and which espoused the vision of a unified “Arab nation” from “the [Persian] Gulf to the [Atlantic] Ocean,” continued to view Palestine as an integral part of “southern Syria.” This view was especially strong during the 30-year reign (1970-2000) of Hafez al-Assad, who claimed, [quite accurately], that “a state by the name of Palestine has never existed.”

Despite Jordan’s 1988 renunciation of claims to the West Bank, the Hashemite monarchy has neither shown any desire for the establishment of a Palestinian state, which it fears might subvert its rule, nor shied away from making peace and closely collaborating with Israel with the kingdom’s possible return to the West Bank occasionally mooted by both sides.

This half-hearted approach toward Palestinian nationalism notwithstanding, decades of staunch anti-Zionist propaganda have entrenched the “Palestine question” in the collective regional psyche to the extent of making it exceedingly difficult for the Arab states to conclude functional peace treaties with Israel without a pro forma Palestinian-Israeli agreement. Yet while this state of affairs gives the Palestinians some veto power over inter-Arab politics, it is unlikely to derail the intensifying, multifaceted, and increasingly overt Arab-Israeli collaboration even in the event of severe deterioration in Israeli-Palestinian relations, as the 2020 normalization agreements between Israel and the UAE, Bahrain, Sudan, and Morocco show.

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Read more at Middle East Quarterly

More about: Arab World, Gamal Abdel Nasser, Hafez al-Assad, Israeli-Palestinian Conflict, Palestinian statehood

Europe-Israel Relations Have Been Transformed

On Monday, Israel and the EU held their first “association council” meeting since 2012, resuming what was once an annual event, equivalent to the meetings Brussels conducts with many other countries. Although the summit didn’t produce any major agreements or diplomatic breakthroughs, writes Shany Mor, it is a sign of a dramatic change that has occurred over the past decade. The very fact that the discussion focused on energy, counterterrorism, military technology, and the situation in Ukraine—rather than on the Israel-Palestinian conflict—is evidence of this change:

Israel is no longer the isolated and boycotted outpost in the Middle East that it was for most of its history. It has peace treaties with six Arab states now, four of which were signed since the last association council meeting. There are direct flights from Tel Aviv to major cities in the region and a burgeoning trade between Israel and Gulf monarchies, including those without official relations.

It is a player in the regional alliance systems of both the Gulf and the eastern Mediterranean, just as it has also become a net energy exporter due to the discovery of large gas deposits of its shoreline. None of this was the case at the last council meeting in 2012. [Moreover], Israel has cultivated deep ties with a number of new member states in the EU from Central and Eastern Europe, whose presence in Brussels bridges cultural ideological gaps that were once much wider.

Beyond the diplomatic shifts, however, is an even larger change that has happened in European-Israeli relations. The tiny Israel defined by its conflict with the Arabs that Europeans once knew is no more. When the first Cooperation Agreement [between Israel and the EU’s precursor] was signed in 1975, Israel, with its three million people, was smaller than all the European member states save Luxembourg. Sometime in the next two years, the Israeli population will cross the 10 million mark, making it significantly larger than Ireland, Denmark, Finland, and Austria (among others), and roughly equal in population to Greece, Portugal, and Sweden.

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Read more at Jerusalem Post

More about: Abraham Accords, Europe and Israel, European Union, Israeli gas