The 'deal of the century' is splitting the Arab world
June 7, 2019
(JNS—Israel Hayom)—The fissures are already visible. Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, two important, influential Persian Gulf countries, announced they will attend the U.S.-led economic conference in Bahrain scheduled for June 25-26. The Palestinian Authority and Hamas have already said separately that they will boycott the summit. Egypt and Jordan are still undecided. The rest of the Arab world is licking its wounds. Iran, for its part, is looking on, grinning from ear to ear.
Jordan’s King Abdullah was able to weather the Arab Spring uprising by adopting some of the demands put forth by the masses and changing Jordan’s election system. His problems didn’t end there, however, and his kingdom is still unstable. At this stage, he’d rather the Mideast peace plan known as “the deal of the century” was put on hold, while the uncertainty surrounding the plan’s details is exacerbating his concerns that his country will have to pay a steep price.
Unlike Jordan, Egypt is projecting an aura of self-confidence. It is ignoring the P.A. in its talks with Hamas over a ceasefire understanding with Israel and has tempered its efforts to mediate inter-Palestinian reconciliation. Egypt supports the Palestinian demands regarding a final-status agreement with Israel, but is not backing P.A. leader Mahmoud Abbas’s rejectionist approach to U.S. peace deal. Cairo feels comfortable enough to speak with Washington honestly and is calling on the Palestinians to return to the negotiating table and to learn from Egypt’s experience with Israel.
Abbas has worked tirelessly to create an Arab front to foil the deal, seemingly without success. The White House hasn’t backtracked on its intention to present the plan after the Muslim holy month of Ramadan. Even in Israel, voices have emerged in support of postponing the plan, which likely won’t be received with unanimity across the Arab world either. To be sure, since the establishment of the Arab League in 1954, the Arab world has never been this divided.
The Palestinian rejection of the plan, without knowing what it entails, can be viewed as strategic, but the refusal to attend the Bahrain conference is a tactical misstep. The Palestinians are gambling for the entire pot, and it’s reasonable to predict they will lose.
Jordan needs to plot a new course, and quickly. The king’s vacillation is destabilizing the country, and he needs to take a history lesson from the courage displayed by his father, Hussein. He must openly improve relations with Israel, reinstate clauses in the peace agreement that allow Israel to lease two small areas comprising 1,000 acres of agricultural land, and stop shunning the Israeli prime minister. Israel, for its part, will help ensure that the “deal of the century” doesn’t harm Jordanian interests.
Cairo is expected to adopt the role of mediator, and its overt cooperation with Israel will give Egypt prestige and improve its position.
The ball is therefore in the Palestinians’ court. If they remain intransigent, it will reinforce the sense that their rejectionism is chronic, and that they aren’t truly interested in a final-status agreement. It’s quite possible they prefer their current situation to resolving their problems. It has already been observed that the only type of logic in the Middle East is illogic.
Itzhak Levanon is an Israeli diplomat. He was Israel’s ambassador to Egypt from 2009 to 2011.
This column first appeared in Israel Hayom.