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Peace Has Its Risks

Binyamin Rose, with reporting from Yisrael Yoskovitz

Rumors are flying that Israel will soon announce its participation in a regional Middle East peace conference under Egyptian sponsorship.

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

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Where Kerry & Co. failed in Paris, the Arabs hope to succeed in Cairo.

When Israel’s finance minister Moshe Kahlon announces a historic window of opportunity for peace, is this disinformation to placate the international community after tough guy Avigdor Lieberman took over as defense minister, or is he trying to prepare Israel’s right wing for a political shock to its system? It could be more of the latter than the former.
 

Rumors are flying that Israel will soon announce its participation in a regional Middle East peace conference under Egyptian sponsorship. Unlike the recently convened Paris conference, where both Israel and the Palestinian Authority played hooky, everyone, including Saudi Arabia, will show up. 

Dore Gold, director-general of Israel’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, declined to confirm or deny the details under discussion, but when asked whether Israel was advancing its own alternative to the French proposal, he said: “Definitely. We have had our fill of initiatives sponsored by the West. I believe the keys are in the hands of the Arab nations. If you have a dispute with a neighbor, you don’t need to fly off to Paris to settle it.”

“Israel is expected to abide by wishful thinking, not by realism”. —Yoram Ettinger

Israel, at the very least, feels it needs the veneer of a peace process to deflect international criticism over its foreign policy. Since the outbreak of the Arab Spring, the map of geopolitical interests in the Middle East has changed dramatically. 

Egypt worries about Hamas and ISIS, camped out on Egypt’s doorstep, as much as Israel does. Jordan’s King Abdullah quietly relies on the Jewish state to ensure Syria’s civil war doesn’t destabilize Amman. Even Saudi Arabia’s aging monarchy fears the terror it has spawned in the world will return to haunt it. The Obama administration’s betrayal of all of these countries as part of his outreach to Iran has driven all of them into at least a clandestine embrace of Israel. 

However, peace conferences are designed to wring the maximum concessions from Israel in advance, and this one is no exception. Israel will be expected to announce its readiness to return to the pre-1967 borders, with some minor modifications for settlement blocs. Arab states will then agree to a process of “normalizing” relations with Israel, including opening consulates and economic interest units in Israel. Either the US or NATO will underwrite the security guarantees for Israel’s newly shrunken borders. 

Yoram Ettinger, a former minister for congressional affairs at Israel’s embassy in Washington, warns the Arab overtures are merely a diversion from their own intractable problems. Israel, he says, should avoid the temptation. “Israel is expected to abide by wishful thinking, not by realism, deluding itself that the centuries-old Middle East brutal reality could be shaped by written agreements. This, in a region known for lack of civil liberties, frequent and drastic regime changes, huge walk-talk gaps, and systematic noncompliance with agreements.” 

In the meantime, disagreements over the future of the Golan Heights, Jerusalem, and the right of return for Arabs who lived in Mandatory Palestine before 1948 are said to be holding up the works, not to mention threats from Naftali Bennett to take his Bayit Yehudi party out of the coalition. 

Prime Minister Netanyahu could split with Bennett and invite the more dovish Yitzhak Herzog or Yair Lapid to replace him, but whether the prime minister has the stomach for another coalition crisis in short succession, or the nerves for leftist coalition partners, is yet to be determined.

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