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Friday, August 07, 2009

Arabs just say no

Jonathan Spyer argues that the Arab states are just saying no to the United States because they feel no sense of urgency to resolve the Israeli-Arab conflict, because the United States has attached no consequences to saying no, and because the Arab states recognize - as does just about everyone outside of Washington DC - that there is no chance of resolving the conflict right now.
One explanation for this holds that the administration's pressure on Israel is leading to a hardening of Arab positions. Since Obama demanded a complete freeze on all construction in settlements, it would now be futile to expect Arab gestures of normalization unless Israel first accepts this demand. However, the Arab rejection of incremental measures has not been solely predicated on Israel's refusal of a comprehensive freeze on all construction in West Bank settlements. Rather, the very principle of normalization in the period prior to a final-status accord between Israelis and Palestinians appears to be rejected.

The rejection of this idea derives from two elements. Firstly, the near-universal, though rarely expressed, belief that the current attempt to revive the Israeli-Palestinian peace process is doomed to failure. Secondly, the distinct lack of urgency felt in Arab capitals regarding this issue.

Regarding the first issue, the factors that caused the failure of the peace process in the 1990s have not disappeared. They are waiting to trip up any negotiation should final-status talks begin.

The demand that Palestinian refugees and their descendants be permitted to make their homes in Israel, the demand for exclusive Muslim sovereignty over the holy places in Jerusalem, the refusal to countenance recognition of Israel as a Jewish state - all these remain part of the non-negotiable core position of the Palestinian national movement. Indeed, in so far as the situation on the ground has changed since 2000, it is for the worse.


For Arab countries aligned with the US, this situation is not so terrible. They suffer no tangible consequence as a result of it. But the Palestinian issue remains the great mobilizing cause for the populations of the Arab states.

Since this is the case, Arab regimes do not consider it in their interests to appear to be making concessions to Israel. On the contrary - given that from the Kuwaiti, or Saudi, or even Jordanian point of view there is no urgent practical need to resolve the conflict, the leaders of these countries have an obvious interest in playing to the gallery of their own publics by striking occasional militant poses.

These poses must not go beyond a certain point, of course. The American protector must not be unduly provoked. But the Obama administration has made abundantly clear that there will be no price to be paid by the Arab states for their refusal to get on the Obama peace wagon.

As a result, these states may happily continue their comfortable stance of verbal support for the Palestinian cause and refusal to undertake any potentially detrimental gesture of rapprochement toward Israel, while continuing to enjoy the benefits of American patronage.

The fact is that, as everyone in the region knows, there is no chance of a final-status accord between Israelis and Palestinians any time soon. And the absence of such an accord is very far from being the most urgent problem facing the region. All sides now await the moment that this knowledge finds its way to the US administration.
Read it all.

There are two other points that need to be made here. First, the 'Palestinians' and their Arab patrons have never compromised on their demands. Israel will not enter into an agreement until there is sufficient compromise from the Arabs to preclude destroying the State of Israel. I don't expect that to happen in your lifetime or mine.

Second, while it may be true that the Obama administration will eventually understand that it cannot force peace on this region, it is Israel that is suffering because of the administration's stubbornness and it is Israel whose relations with the United States are being degraded. But perhaps that was one of Obama's goals all along.


At 8:14 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

If *any* U.S. president wants to solve the crisis, he or she says: Arab world, you clearly don't want a Jewish Israel to exist, so you know what? You're on your own. See how far hate gets you." Of course, we have a leftwing buffoon for a prez.

At 9:18 AM, Blogger NormanF said...

Every new American Administration looks to solve the Middle East crisis. After a year, it peters out. For Obama, it will be no different. The passage of time will take care of his interest in solving an intractable problem. The dirty secret is every one prefers the status quo. And there is no domestic pressure on any side to get to the table -- don't look for that to happen any time soon.


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