Is the Arab-Israeli conflict back to center stage in the Middle East?

December 11, 2017 — Leave a comment

Those who thought that in the Middle East the convulsions of the so-called Arab Spring, as well as the enmity between Saudi Arabia, Israel, and Iran, were definitely overshadowing the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, including the issue of Jerusalem, must re-examine their script.

Thanks to President Donald Trump’s decision to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, it seems that the Arab-Israeli conflict is about to be back to center stage in the Middle East. Indeed, the eruption of protests throughout the Arab and Muslim worlds that followed President Trump’s decision, simply shows that the statute of the city of Jerusalem is still a very sensitive, mobilizing and unifying issue among Arabs, and Muslims around the world.

President Donald Trump’s reckless unilateralism and disregard for UN resolutions regarding the statute of Jerusalem, and for international law, particularly at a time when yielding to his obsession with unravelling Barack Obama’s policies, his administration is forging an incongruous anti-Iranian alliance that includes alongside Israel, countries like Saudi-Arabia, the Emirates, and Jordan, which can only weaken and undermine further these friendly autocracies; but also, just as, if not more important, those factions among the Palestinians that are ready to negotiate and compromise with Israel.

In addition, Trump’s short-term vision, right-wing populism and electoral politics catering to his Evangelical base, as well as his anti-Muslim rhetoric, not only plays into the hands of Iran, but also embolden radical Islamist groups in the region and beyond, and all those who favor the use of force to the detriment of international law throughout the world.

Donald Trump’s unilateral decision is only aggravating the Middle East long-standing tensions and adds to the region’s predicament. It also delivers a fatal blow to the hypocrisy of the US being an honest broker and neutral arbiter in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and destroys the little credibility the US still had among the Arab and Palestinian peoples. This opens further the door to other global actors to step in, such as the Europeans (particularly the French who are already seizing the opportunity to re-assert themselves in the region), the Russians, and perhaps even the Chinese, to a lesser extent.

This may not necessarily be a negative development. Given the integrated nature of the problems facing the region, the multiplicity of local, regional, and global stakeholders, and the lack of credibility of American diplomacy to move forward the so-called peace process, only a negotiated comprehensive solution to the problems of the region, starting with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, that involves all said stakeholders, could lead to stabilizing the region.

It would then allow the Middle East to focus on pressing issues of economic and social development, including economic diversification and job creation, particularly for the unemployed youth (the next time bomb!), and not to mention the very serious environmental challenges of drought, desertification, and water scarcity.

Néjib Ayachi

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