Israel and the Arab World: Alliances of Convenience in a Long War

(Mosaic) Elliott Abrams - 66 years after the founding of the state of Israel, and 47 years after Israel conquered the West Bank and Gaza, the status quo has once again confirmed its (relative) merits. Israelis who spent this past summer dodging Hamas rockets and sending their sons to fight in Gaza must wonder why it is "critical" to implement Obama's solution to their problems rather than to defeat terrorism and more broadly the ceaseless Arab and Muslim assaults on the Jewish state. Why are these not the status quo that the whole world agrees is unsustainable? Today Israel has both peace treaties and close and cooperative security arrangements with Egypt and Jordan. Several of the most important Arab regimes (Kuwait, Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates, Egypt, Jordan, and Saudi Arabia), as well as the PA in the West Bank, share with Israel a common view of the major dangers facing them. For each, as Jonathan Rynhold of the Begin-Sadat Center at Bar-Ilan University describes it, "the key threats come from Iran and from radical Sunni Islamists, including the Muslim Brotherhood and Hamas. They seek to maintain and promote a balance of power against these forces." In the latest Israel-Hamas conflict, all of these states and the PA were clearly hoping for an Israeli victory and a real setback for Hamas. They are all fighting the same enemies - enemies who wish to overturn the regional order and establish either an Iranian hegemony or an Islamist caliphate. All this leaves Israel and many Arab heads of state eyeing each other as potential allies rather than as perpetual foes. Netanyahu might not have a magical solution to the conflict with the Palestinians, but the "solutions" on offer are dead in the water. After this summer's war, there is little taste for taking chances with national security. In 2005, when the PA still ruled all of Gaza, we drafted an "Agreement on Movement and Access," which provided detailed rules for how people and goods could pass into and out of Gaza. The lack of trust between the sides, combined with deliberate Hamas efforts to render implementation impossible, destroyed the agreement before the ink was dry. It's easy to say that, for instance, the cement now needed for reconstruction would be closely monitored for proper use and not diverted to building more Hamas tunnels. But who exactly would be the monitors, working inside Gaza and in the face of Hamas intimidation? Netanyahu may actually have a strategy for the Palestinian conflict, as Jonathan Spyer argues in explaining why he resisted conquering Gaza. Netanyahu's caution derives from "his perception that what Israel calls 'wars' or 'operations' are really only episodes in a long war in which the country is engaged against those who seek its destruction....In such a conflict, what matters is...the ability to endure, conserve one's forces - military and societal - and to work away on wearing down the enemy's will." "This view" is sensitive to "the essentially implacable nature of the core Arab and Muslim hostility to Israel. So it includes an inbuilt skepticism toward the possibility of historic reconciliation and final-status peace accords. At the same time, [it] does not rule out alliances of convenience with regional powers." The writer, a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, was a deputy national security advisor in the George W. Bush administration.

2014-09-04 00:00:00

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