Islam and the Arab world

Op-Ed: The Morning After

Much of the recent focus on the Israeli-Palestinian peace talks is very shortsighted. If only the Israelis would agree to another two-month settlement freeze, the argument goes, an agreement could be achieved. Commentators speculate on what a treaty might look like. Emphasis has been placed on how borders, settlements, Jerusalem and the right of return might be resolved. In other words, how does one implement two states for two peoples?

While it will not be easy to resolve those issues, focusing exclusively on them ignores the most important aspect – what I call the morning-after issue. Let me explain.

For Israel to succeed in the current negotiations, it must not just create the appropriate terms for separation from the Palestinians, it must also gain acceptance from the rest of the Arab world – what we all refer to as the moderate Arab world. It would be unrealistic for Israel to make the concessions it will be asked to make, including the division or sharing of its capital and the removal of tens of thousands of settlers, without having achieved the normalization it requires for true peace.

Without real recognition from Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and the other Gulf states, Israel will find itself an outcast at the UN, obsessively censured by the UN Humans Rights Council and excluded, as at present, from participation in many UN agencies.

SO IF those are Israel’s objectives in the negotiations, will it be able to achieve them? If it isn’t confident that they can be achieved, no Israeli leader will agree to a peace treaty and recommend it to his countrymen. The ability to achieve those objectives is wrapped up in the question of what happens the morning after (or even the day before) a treaty is achieved, or imminent.

Iran will use the opportunity to condemn Mahmoud Abbas and Salam Fayyad as traitors to the cause of Islam for recognizing Israel and agreeing to a permanent Jewish presence in Jerusalem. These claims will be repeated and amplified by radical Islamists all over the world, and will be broadcast incessantly on Al Jazeera. My guess is that the charges will also have some resonance in the Arab street.

Will the governments of the moderate Arab countries have the courage to stand up to their streets? If they don’t, the current Palestinian government may not survive. If that government doesn’t survive, what of the treaty that Israel just negotiated?

Hamas and Hizbullah will almost certainly engage in increased terrorist activities. Israel will need to respond by exercising its right of self-defense to protect citizens and deter further attacks. It may even be forced to tighten the constraints on goods coming into Gaza. Will the Europeans and others now support it in the UN and other international tribunals by agreeing that it has ended its “occupation” and is entitled to take the same actions to assure the safety and security of its citizens as any other member state, or will it again be condemned for a “disproportionate” response?

On the morning after, the Syrians will lobby their Arab brethren not to recognize Israel until their claims it have been settled. The Syrian price for that settlement will be full return of the Golan Heights. Even if Israel is willing to surrender the Heights, it will require the stoppage of weapons shipments from Syria to Hizbullah. Whether Syria can and will agree to such a restriction – and to the policing of that restriction – will depend on whether it is willing to distance itself from its Iranian patron.

Will Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states recognize Israel in the absence of a deal with Syria?

Or will Saudi Arabia, the keeper of the Muslim holy sites, decide that arrangements embodied in the peace treaty that are good enough for Abbas and Fayyad are not good enough for it? It is certain that the Palestinians are getting support from the Arab League in negotiating, but it is one thing to sanction negotiations and quite another to support the outcome in the face of opposition from the Arab street and other Arab countries.

Presumably, Abbas and Fayyad will not sign a treaty without the blessing of the Arab League, but allowing them to sign is not the same as recognizing Israel.

It is clear that Israel could not share its capital, suffer the internal trauma of settler relocation, surrender the only strategic and negotiating assets it has, or risk the current security arrangements in the West Bank, without knowing it has achieved recognition and a cessation of claims against its legitimacy. If the Obama administration wants to bring about a treaty, and if the Quartet wants a real resolution to this conflict, they need to engage in aggressive diplomacy so that Israel can feel confident, notwithstanding the events of the morning after.

This article was orginally published in the  Jerusalem Post