Monday, July 23, 2007

The Arab League in Israel

Post from Confused, Maybe Not today:

Israel may be on the path to a dream come true. First, let’s go back a little. After the six day war in 1967, Israel found itself occupying the Sinai peninsula from Egypt (including the Gaza strip), the Golan Heights from Syria, and the West Bank from Jordan. Israel quickly offered to return the occupied land for peace and diplomatic relations. In September of 1967, The Arab League met in Khartoum Sudan and said “no” to peace with Israel, “no” to recognition of Israel, and “no” to negotiations with Israel. Six years later, Israel was nearly defeated in October, 1973 when Israeli forces were initially overrun by Egyptian and Syrian forces.

The 73 war cracked the perceived invincibility of Israel, which enabled Egypt to count it as a military victory. This sense of victory paved the way for Egyptian head of State Anwar Sadat to fly to Israel in 1977 where he spoke before the Israeli Knesset in Jerusalem. (Sadat was assassinated by Islamic revivalists in October, 1981.)

Egypt was and is the only Arab State to negotiate land for peace with Israel, but Egypt did not take back Gaza, even though Israel virtually begged it, too. Egypt preferred that it stay occupied by Israel. Why? Gaza is hot bed for Palestinian nationalism and religious revivalism. Egypt’s secular regime had and has enough problems with its revivalists, The Muslim Brotherhood. Plus, Gaza was to be part of a future Palestinian state, which was part of Egypt’s negotiated settlement with Israel.

Jordan has also made peace with Israel, but it did not take back the West Bank. This time Israel did not beg the country to take back conquered land. Why? Many Israelis were and are deeply attached to the West Bank for three different reasons. One, the West Bank, which is called Judea and Samaria in Israel, is the heart and soul of ancient Israel. , and perhaps more importantly, the West Bank widened a very narrow country. (Before Israel occupied it, Israel was nine miles wide at its center, which includes Tel Aviv. Approximately, 60 percent of the Israeli populous lives in this nine mile wide area.) And three, Israel has built so many settlements on it that negotiating it away would be very complicated.

But as most Israelis have come to realize that it is impossible for Israel to occupy the West Bank indefinitely, the original idea of returning it to Jordan got a little currency while negotiating peace with Jordan. But Jordan did not and does not want the West Bank back, even though it would bring a great deal of agricultural fertility to Jordan. (In 1988, Jordan ceded its West Bank territorial rights to the PLO.) Jordan does not want it for four reasons. One, Palestinian nationalism is now fully grown. Two, this land is marked for a Palestinian state. Three, Jordan is ruled by the Hashemites, a clan that comes from Arabia, where as most Jordanians are Palestinian. The Hashemite rulers do not want or need a few million frustrated, nationalistic, angry Palestinians to ignite the underlying nationalism of the majority of Jordanians against the (Arabian) Hashemite dynasty, not to mention the rulers do not want their constituents being reminded that Jordan was once 76 percent of British occupied Palestine. And four, Jordan would not want to deal with Israeli reprisals for Palestinian strikes against Israel from Jordan. (In 1970 the PLO tried to overthrow the Hashemite ruler, King Hussein, which resulted in the war called Black September.) These are some of the many reasons King Abdullah is pushing both sides to make peace and make it quickly. Another, and perhaps a bigger reason, is his growing concern over Shi’a power in Iraq. (I suspect the Iraqi Shi’a have not forgotten that Jordan was Saddam Hussein’s ally when he murdered thousands of them right after the United States first Iraq war. (However, Jordan was not involved in the massacres.) Thus, Abdullah not only needs the Israeli-Palestinian conflict resolved for domestic reasons, but also for a more focused, regional foreign policy.

As Israel builds its fence/wall and continues to expand settlements, the sense of urgency for a negotiated settlement is not lost on Palestinian President Abbas, and he is beginning to truly address Israeli security concerns. And Israel is doing what it should have done long ago in making it easier for Abbas to do this. In addition, the Arab league that once said, “No, no, no,” is ostensibly aware of the closing window on Palestinian Statehood and is sending an exploratory group to Israel to go over the Saudi Peace initiative. (A more likely reason for the Arab League’s new found desire to resolve the Palestinian crisis with Israel is to transfer resources from a potential war with Israel to a regional alliance against Iran’s expanding influence.) For the first time in Israel’s history, the Arab league will be hosted in Israel and its flag will be flown on Israel’s sovereign territory. (It’s important not to get too excited about this, for the exploratory committee will be made up of Jordanians and Egyptians, the only countries who have peace treaties with Israel.)

If peace is to emerge, it will most likely come from this path. But don’t count on it. Time has a way of changing things. Israel knows this and knows how to bide its time. Here’s another scenario.


Over a short period of time, the landscape has changed and is changing. King Hussein of Jordan died and his son, Abdullah, succeeded him. Abdullah is married to a Palestinian and their children are half Palestinian. This does not mean Abdullah wants the West Bank, but it does mean that if he ends up with it, the West Bank Palestinians will have a ruler whose successor will be half Palestinian, assuming the dynasty lasts. This is important, for it will make Jordan Palestinian from top to bottom. Why would Jordan end up with the West Bank? If the Palestinians do not unite and negotiate an independent state with Israel, Israel will unilaterally withdrawal to its soon to be completed wall/fence, leaving behind the most heavily populated Palestinian areas. Israel will pull up its own settlements and settlers, some of whom will threaten civil war, and bring them back to Israel. Israel did this with the settlers of Sinai and Gaza. (If some of the settlers resist, Israel will use its military as it almost did in Sinai and was prepared to do in Gaza. It’s important to note that many religious Jews – and there are some extreme messianic types in the West bank – are far more attached to the West Bank than they were to Sinai and Gaza. It could get messy, but the bulk of settlers live around Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, which places them on the Israeli side of the wall/fence.) If this happens, what happens to the rest of the West Bank? Does Jordan sever ties with Israel? Not likely, especially with the growing Shi’a power on its border with Iraq.

What will most likely happen is the West Bank will become a federated state with Jordan, which is what Israel has always wanted. Down the road, Israel and Jordan will negotiate a horizontal settlement over the Al Aqsa Mosque and East Jerusalem, while keeping the Western Wall and the Jewish sections of the old city. Israel has always felt more comfortable with a Jordanian solution than an independent solution with the Palestinians.

What will happen to Gaza? Egypt may accept it as a federated state. Most likely, Gaza will become a small, densely populated country. Most people in the West are unaware that there are significant cultural, economic and religious differences between the Palestinians of Gaza and the West Bank. Israel would like to see this separation emerge. One could argue that Israel’s greatest security asset, next to its skilled military, technological know how and nuclear arsenal, is the disunity of it neighbors. One of my (anti-Israel) undergraduate Professors once told me: “If a country is going to be surrounded by enemies, Israel is in the right spot. It’s neighbors can’t even agree to take a piss together.” And if the Palestinians are unable to unite, we may be watching the emergence of a very different status quo than what most non-Israelis hope and expect to emerge. But I wouldn’t bet on the above the possibility, especially when one looks at this from the goals of Palestinian President Abbas, and perhaps the Arab league.


We recently witnessed a Palestinian civil war in Gaza, which is on the brink of becoming a humanitarian disaster for the Palestinians there, if it isn’t already. Gaza is the most densely populated area on the planet, not to mention one of the most impoverished. With Hamas now in control of Gaza, what little money came in is no longer coming in from Europe and the Arab states (with perhaps the exception of Syria and non-Arab Iran). Unbelievably, Gaza is more isolated today than it has been, which is saying a lot, when one considers how isolated it has been.

With this said there may be a flicker of long term hope for the loser in Gaza’s civil war; west Bank resident, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. (Abbas’s PLO still controls the West Bank.) After visiting the U.S., Israel’s Prime Minister, Ehud Olmert, agreed to release Palestinian tax revenues totaling over 500 million dollars. Tragically, this money will not touch Gaza, but will solely be poured into the West Bank to strengthen Abbas. Israel is also taking steps to make travel easier for Palestinians in the West Bank. Under the table, the Bush administration is pushing Israel hard to make these moves, but paying them well for such decisions. Bush has agreed to give Israel 600 million more dollars next year.

What a strange moment for the European Jews of Israel. (I emphasize European, for the majority of Jewish Israelis come from or descend from those who came from Arab countries.) In his dissertation, Abbas basically denied the Holocaust and asserted that the Zionists worked with the Nazis to destroy some Jews in Europe to facilitate the Jewish colonization of Palestine. But that was then and this is now. Abbas is now the moderate from both his and Israel’s perspective.

Olmert also recently met with leaders from Egypt, Jordan and Abbas in Egypt. The messages from these meetings are twofold. One, Israel is being pushed to negotiate with Abbas. Two, life will get better in the West Bank. This twofold message ostensibly demands that Israel can no longer claim there is no one with whom to negotiate. More than ever, the surrounding states, Europe and the U.S. want to see an independent Palestinian State emerge and for Israel to help facilitate this development, which means Israel will be pressured like never before to negotiate a final settlement with Abbas. If this happens and we see an independent state emerge in the West Bank, (which is a very big if) Gaza will count as part of this country, whether Hamas accepts it or not.

What will happen to Hamas in Gaza? No one knows, which is one reason that Abbas’s hope is only a flicker. Hamas remains powerful in the West Bank and any support Abbas receives from Israel will taint Abbas as a collaborator in Hamas circles, which includes a great deal of the Palestinian population. On the other hand, if Israel comes to final status agreements with Abbas – peace (not a feel-good conclusion to hostilities, but an agreement to avoid violence between mutually antagonistic factions) could begin to emerge, which Abbas believes will be good for Gazans in the long run.

But whatever happens, and Abbas is well aware of this, the disunity – as explained above - serves Israel. If negotiations work, great. If they do not work, Israel gets the water in the West Bank and its dream come true as outlined above. For now, Israel will ostensibly pursue the path of Abbas’s dream with the understanding that when Palestinians fight each other, their attention is not focused on Israel. It’s important to remember when analyzing this conflict that Israel does not think like the U.S. does. Israelis accept terrorism as a given, as an in eliminable part of life. They understand that terrorism will never completely be eliminated, but begin from the standpoint that terrorist acts can be minimized through security measures, such as building the fence/wall, which has greatly reduced the number of suicide bombers getting into Israel from the West Bank. This approach renders American notions like “winning a war on terror” meaningless, instead speaking in more realistic term of achieving security objectives. In this way, Palestinian fighting/disunity serves Israel’s immediate security objectives.

Despite this, Abbas hopes that international pressure and Arab League diplomatic carrots will continue to pressure Olmert to (quietly) empower him (Abbas) in ways that create the ground for him to negotiate a final peace settlement with Israel. One thing about the Arab-Israeli conflict, when all seems lost, miracles happen, e.g. Sadat going to Jerusalem, the Rabin-Arafat handshake on the White House lawn, etc. Let’s hope it’s time for a miracle of peace in the holy land.