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Israel’s New Peace Treaties Reveal How Much the Experts Misunderstood the Middle East

In December of 2016, the outgoing secretary of state John Kerry expressed the conventional wisdom in policymaking circles when he said that Israel and those who wish it well must accept the “hard reality” that “there will be no advanced and separate peace with the Arab world without the Palestinian process and Palestinian peace.” The recent agreements Jerusalem concluded with Dubai and Manama show just how wrong Kerry was. Yet as Lewis Libby and Hillel Fradkin point out, there has long been a minority of observers, Benjamin Netanyahu among them, who have never uncritically accepted that conventional assessment:

[This] minority viewed European and American indulgence of Palestinian intransigence as contributing to the failures [of the peace process] by feeding Palestinian leaders’ hopes that, despite their intrinsically weak position, Palestinian suffering would leverage world opinion into forcing upon Israel ever greater concessions. The minority decried Palestinian leaders’ declared aim: forcing Israeli acceptance of millions of so-called “Palestinian refugees” within its borders, a result which would have meant, and was intended to mean, the end of Israel as an independent state.

Through these years, Palestinians’ supporters contended that failure to support their expansive claims would ruin not just Israeli, but American relations with angry, oil-rich Arab nations and the broader Islamic world. Israel’s leaders, in particular Netanyahu, eventually undertook to test that premise. Israel could win peace with some Arab states, Netanyahu argued, through a policy, of “peace for peace.” This was the policy Kerry ridiculed in his final days in office, but Netanyahu proved right and Kerry wrong.

Rather than admit their mistakes, some defenders of the old order have insisted that the recent advances in peacemaking are not all that significant, or as the editors of the New York Times put it, “good but not that good.” One former Clinton-era diplomat, more willing than others to own up to his mistakes, simply noted that the Trump administration, like its precursors, failed to solve the Israel-Palestinian conflict. Libby and Fradkin respond:

[N]ot quite. Oslo’s failures persisted over 25 years. The current American plan successfully enhanced peaceful relations between Israel and moderate Arab states as both an end in itself and as a possible precursor to progress with Palestinians. Peace between Israel and its neighbors is the more important regional concern, not just for American interests but for these Arab states as well. And by undermining Arab support for Palestinian leaders’ excessive claims, the recent deals add pressure for a reasonable compromise leading to a solution.

Read more at National Review

More about: Bahrain, Israel diplomacy, John Kerry, Peace Process, United Arab Emirates


A Senior Saudi Political Figure Takes the Palestinian Leadership to Task

In an extended television interview with an Arab broadcaster, Prince Bandar bin Sultan—who served for twenty years as the Saudi ambassador to the U.S., for a decade as head of the Saudi National Security Council, and two years as intelligence chief—responded forcefully to the Palestinian claim that the Gulf states have, by normalizing relations with Israel, “stabbed the Palestinians in the back.” Defending Saudi devotion to the Palestinian cause, Prince Bandar delivered a lengthy history of his country’s role in the Arab-Israeli conflict, in which he bluntly upbraided Palestinian leaders, and Yasir Arafat above all, for squandering chances at statehood and for their lack of “ethics.” While Bandar’s sentiments can hardly be described as pro-Israel, he asserted that the Palestinian leaders are every bit as responsible as the Jewish state for the plight of their people:

[After the UN issued its 1947 Resolution 181 for partitioning Palestine], a Jewish state called Israel was recognized, which became a member of the United Nations. As for the Arab side, the Palestinians rejected the resolution, and as usual, we [Saudis] supported their rejection. Many years later, the main demand of our Palestinian brothers has been UN resolution 181, which is no longer on the table. No one is discussing it now. This was the beginning, and such events, as I mentioned, were repeated once, twice, and three times.

After the Oslo Accords, I asked Abu Amar, [i.e., Arafat], God rest his soul—and as they say remember the virtues of your dead—what he thought of the autonomy provisions [offered to the Palestinians under the 1978] Camp David Treaty. He said, “Bandar, Camp David’s autonomy provisions were ten times better than the Oslo Accords.” I said, “Well, Mr. President, why did you not agree to it?” He said, “I wanted to, but Hafez al-Assad threatened to kill me and to drive a wedge among the Palestinians, turning them against me.” I thought to myself, so he could have been one martyr and given his life to save millions of Palestinians, but it was as God willed it.

Bandar recounts another incident where he came to Arafat with an offer from the Reagan administration to pressure Israel into making concessions to the Palestinians, but Arafat stalled pointlessly until the offer expired. In short, Bandar’s view of things reflects the old adage “the Palestinians never miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity.”

Read more at Al Arabiya

More about: Israel-Arab relations, Palestinians, Saudi Arabia, Yasir Arafat