Peace is approaching – slowly

It is clear that tectonic changes are taking place in some Arab states’ attitude toward Israel.

By Moshe Arens

Moshe_Arens_cropped-150x150The all-Arab front aligned against Israel is crumbling. It started with the Israeli-Egyptian peace treaty in 1979. That already seems ancient history. It continued with the peace treaty with Jordan 15 years later in 1994. That was 22 years ago. The process continues, but at a glacial pace. As should be expected, as the Arab Middle East is gradually getting used to the presence of a Jewish state in its midst.

Changes that would have been unbelievable in past years have taken place recently. The Egyptian ruler Abdel-Fattah al-Sissi, faced by a radical Islamic terrorist threat and by opposition from the Muslim Brotherhood, sees Israel as an ally against a common enemy. The Saudi Arabian rulers, disturbed by the growing power of the ayatollahs in Iran and their nuclear weapons program, see in Israel a potential ally against a common threat.

When considering that in addition, for many years and to this day the Hashemite rulers of Jordan when threatened see Israel as a support of last resort, it is clear that tectonic changes are taking place in some Arab states’ attitude toward Israel. These are changes that portend well for progress toward peace between Israel and its Arab neighbors.

The religious and tribal rivalry that has dominated events in the Middle East in recent years is the root cause of the changing orientation of some of the Arab rulers toward Israel, a change that is taking cognizance of Israel’s military prowess and its rapid economic development, which have made Israel a dominant actor on the Middle Eastern stage.

One should be aware of the fragility of these changes. It is not at all clear that the majority of the population in Egypt and Jordan support peace with Israel, or that the population in Saudi Arabia favors the more positive view of Israel taken by its rulers in recent years. That is nothing new. Peace with Israel is not the result of popular will, but is made by Arab rulers concerned with their own survival and capable of imposing the peace on their people.

These developments, almost being taken for granted by many, bring little solace to Israelis who seek peace with the Palestinians and wish to rid Israel of the burden of “occupation” in Judea and Samaria. The Israeli-Palestinian conflict, which for many years was seen as the reason for the absence of peace in the entire Middle East, has lost that status as changes have gripped the Middle East and it lost its position at the top of the agenda of many Arab rulers. But it has remained at the top of the agenda of most Israelis.

It is important to understand the reasons for the intractable nature of this conflict. The basic building blocks that support the peace treaties with Egypt and Jordan and the changing relationship with Saudi Arabia are lacking here. Since the departure of Yasser Arafat there is no Palestinian leader capable of imposing a peace with Israel on the Palestinian people.

Unlike the Egyptian and Jordanian rulers who have made sure that their borders with Israel do not serve as a springboard for attacks against Israel, there is no Palestinian in sight who could do the same if a Palestinian state were to be established in Judea and Samaria. What happened after the disengagement from Gaza is still fresh in the minds of most Israelis. And Hamas, ruling Gaza and with considerable support among the Palestinian population in Judea and Samaria, is pledged not to peace with Israel, but to the destruction of Israel.

How can you make peace under these circumstances? The circumstances would have to change. Unfortunately, Israel does not have the ability to change them. But they may change. As we see, things in the Middle East do change. But it takes time.

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