Nov 10,2018 – JORDAN TIMES – Fares Braizat
Despite the deep sense of pessimism in the region about a peace deal between the Israelis and the Palestinians, the Israelis are proposing the “Tracks for Regional Peace” initiative. The plan is to build a rail line that starts in Haifa, cuts through Jordan, then connects to Saudi Arabia and other Arab Gulf states. Motivated by the recent public diplomatic advances between Israel, Oman and the UAE, as well as the public contacts and high-profile visits with Moroccan, Saudi and Qatari officials, the Israelis are clearly deprioritising a deal with the Palestinians. Contrary to the basic premise of the Saudi-backed Arab Peace Initiative, Israel and its international backers are changing the approach by seeking normalisation with Arab states before a peace deal with the Palestinians is concluded. In accepting such a shift, Saudi Arabia is changing its historical stance.
Supported by the Trump administration, Israel is refocusing its policy on countering the perceived Iranian threat that made it possible for the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries and Israel to cozy up privately and publicly. While Iran made political advances in Lebanon, Iraq, Syria and Yemen, Israel made its advances to the Gulf. This rivalry in the Arab east came at the expense of the GCC states, especially Saudi Arabia. The latter embraced Israel as a strong ally to counter and contain Iran, not only in the region, but also overseas in Washington, London, Paris, Berlin and Brussels.
While Iran and Israel achieved some of their objectives, the Saudis lost ground to both. They lost significant capacity to counter Iranian influence in Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Yemen and Qatar, and lost credibility in Palestine for befriending Israel. Rather than deciding its own regional security order, Saudi Arabia finds itself at the whim of Israeli security decisions, at least for the time being. The possibility of this situation changing depends on factors internal to Saudi Arabia and its global position following the killing of Saudi dissident and journalist Jamal Khashoggi. The latter’s murder created a global image crisis for Saudi Arabia, which needs the help of the capable pro-Israel lobby to continue to handle the situation and try to sway key positions. This is another factor that may help facilitate the politically driven “Tracks for Regional Peace”, as complexities always generate exploitable opportunities for smart policy planners to identify and diplomats to implement.
Israelis are most concerned with security, according to evidence from a regional survey research project led by Konrad Adenauer Stiftung in collaboration with NAMA Strategic Intelligence Solutions. In the survey, when Israelis were asked “Of the following, which is of most concern to you and your family?”, a total of 29 per cent of Israelis chose security, followed by education at 26 per cent, democracy at 15 per cent, healthcare at 14 per cent and unemployment at 11 per cent. Israel’s security will not be achieved if the Palestinians are not granted their legitimate rights in their homeland, despite what appears to be a possible regional settlement.
The idea that the Palestinians will be intimidated by money and power to accept whatever deal presented to them is rather misguided. Of course, Palestinians are divided and unclear about their national goal. The cost of occupation has become very low, with the reduction of violence to what is referred to in diplomatic language “low intensity conflict” instead of “resistance to occupation”. That being said, a new peaceful and human rights-based “glocal” civic movement adopting the Palestinian cause is growing rapidly. This movement will challenge the “Tracks for Regional Peace” and will pause to mobilise around the morality and legality of the issue.
The writer is chairman of NAMA Strategic Intelligence Solutions.