Israel and Arab peace accords bad omen for Middle East
By Mushtak Parker
I first met Benjamin Netanyahu in Madrid in October 1991. He was Israel’s Deputy Foreign Minister accompanying the delegation to the Madrid Peace Conference, co-chaired by US President George HW Bush and Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev, “to put an end to the Arab-Israeli conflict”.
Bibi, Netanyahu’s sobriquet, with his sleek American accent, was the one to watch for the future. His brief in Madrid was to woo Arab officials and media from the Gulf Co-operation Council states – a task he was eminently fit for purpose.
At a briefing comprising Gulf journalists and officials, Netanyahu exuded a chutzpah and confidence which has become the trademark of his political persona ever since.
I attended the briefing because I was covering the conference inter alia for a major Arab English-language daily. We were beguiled if not convinced by Bibi who was engaging with his captive audience in fluent Arabic.
He went on to serve as Israeli Prime Minister from the centre-right hawkish Likud Party from 1996 to 1999 and from 2009 to date.
The reality is that Netanyahu has been grooming key sections of the Gulf royal families and elites over the past three decades, through secret contacts and dealings, which culminated last week in the “normalisation” of relations with the United Arab Emirates (UAE) to the chagrin of millions of Arabs and their supporters.
Bahrain and Oman are reportedly soon to follow. Netanyahu recently even visited Muscat.
In reality, Israel has enjoyed trade and other co-operation, some clandestine or through third parties, with Saudi Arabia, UAE, Bahrain, Oman and Qatar for decades. So, when US President Donald Trump and his son-in-law Jared Kushner claim the kudos for this diplomatic and Middle East peace “breakthrough”, worthy of a “Nobel Peace Prize” as some of his extreme Alt-Right supporters are clamouring for, they are delusional bordering on political narcissism. This is neither a breakthrough nor a peace deal.
The UAE has never been an important player in the Arab-Israeli conflict. This latest move cannot be a peace treaty because the UAE has never been at war with Israel. In Madrid the invited delegations, apart from Israel, were from Jordan/Palestine, Syria, Egypt and Lebanon all at war with the Jewish state.
Palestine’s Arab population fled or were expelled from their homes, during the 1948 Arab-Israeli War.
A settlement remains elusive with tragic excesses on both sides. There is no reason to suggest that the UAE-Israel rapprochement would be any different.
Its brazen foreign policy is beholden to the Trump administration’s obsessive hatred of Iran, nurtured by Netanyahu. The UAE, driven by the oil riches of Abu Dhabi’s Al Nahyan clan, with Saudi Arabia, are financing and fighting a proxy war against the pro-Iranian Houthi rebels in Yemen and supporting the rogue warlord Khalifa Haftar in Libya.
Beware Israeli and Arab governments penning peace and normalisation treaties. The omens are not good.
Remember the peace accord signed by Egyptian President Anwar Sadat and Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin in 1979. Two years later in October 1981, Sadat was assassinated by a group of officers at a military parade celebrating the Egyptian Army crossing the Suez Canal and recapturing a small part of Sinai from Israel during the Yom Kippur War.
In 1993 history repeated itself. Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) leader Yasser Arafat famously appeared on the White House lawn with host, President Bill Clinton, to sign a peace accord giving limited Palestinian self-rule in the Occupied Territories. The next year, Rabin returned to the White House with Jordan’s King Hussein, to officially end a forty-sixyear state of war.
Rabin, a year later in 1995 sadly was assassinated by Jewish extremist, Yigal Amir, opposed to the rapprochement with the PLO.
Twenty-five years hence, UAE is throwing a political lifeline to a beleaguered Netanyahu, indicted to trial for alleged corruption, but ostensibly to pre-empt expansion of illegal Israeli settlements in the West Bank. Netanyahu, in a Freudian slip, tweeted a video recently in which he erroneously called the UAE an “advanced democracy” only to be hastily deleted.
* Parker is a writer and economist based in London.
** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of IOL.