The current debate occurring in Washington is centred on the Israeli aggression on Gaza. Thus, it is important to try and comprehend the relationship between what is happening in Gaza and what has been happening in the Arab world since the outbreak of the Arab Spring in 2011.
It is impossible to know precisely what is being said in private negotiation rooms; however, one can infer the general direction of these conversations based on leaked information published by American newspapers and the official stances adopted by research centres since they often reflect these negotiations, at least partially. In fact, the official stances adopted by research centres are often a truer reflection of private negotiations than the official statements made by officials who are bound by diplomatic restraints as a result of the positions they hold.
The Arab Spring and new alliances
American researchers, with a focus on matters in the Arab world, have collected data on “the rules of engagement”, according to Hollywood terms, or the map of alliances as it is referred to in the Arab world. They have concluded that alliances in the Arab world look entirely different today than they did before 2011.
In this context, many Arab regimes have been accused of standing with Israel against the Islamic movement Hamas and, therefore, against the people of the Gaza Strip. The majority of these allegations would go unnoticed were it not for their publication in the newspapers where often one side accuses the other of backstabbing or treason and tries to justify their opinion.
The idea that there is an Arab bias for Israel is one that requires us to meditate on what happens and what will continue to happen from here on out, as this is a notion that is being fostered not only by the American media but also by international media outlets.
In this context, it is important to keep in mind the words of US negotiator Aaron David Miller of the Woodrow Wilson International Centre for Scholars, when he said, “I have never before seen anything like the current state in which we find many Arab states, which are accepting, if not indifferent, to the killing in Gaza. Indeed, it is a deafening silence.”
Miller went on to explain this deafening silence by saying: “The fear that many Arab states have of political Islam far exceeds their sense of hatred for Benjamin Netanyahu.”
The American Soufan intelligence research group, which is run by former members of the FBI, had a more clear explanation of the Arab attitudes towards the Israeli aggression on Gaza: “Israel’s current battle against Hamas is part of a wider regional battle against the Muslim Brotherhood.”
The quote above serves as a direct and simple explanation for what is happening in Gaza regardless of the fact that it contradicts the nature of the aggression on the Strip. Moreover, resistance against Israeli occupation is not new to the Palestinian territories and uprisings have occurred numerous times prior to the onset of the Arab Spring. And yet, the new regional sentiment is one that evokes the old saying, “My enemy’s enemy is my friend and my enemy’s friend is my enemy”.
Since Hamas is considered to be an offshoot of the Muslim Brotherhood in the region, the Arab regimes now have the desire to neutralise the movement as part of their greater fight against the group. It is not unlikely that US Secretary of State John Kerry had encouraged this Arab sentiment himself during his tour of the region as he obeyed the regional desire not to put any more pressure on Israel.
Arabs against the Islamists and resistance
According to Al-Araby‘s sources in Washington, it appears as though the US administration received advice from Arab countries suggesting that any direct negotiations between Hamas and Israel would strengthen Hamas politically and grant it recognition and legitimacy, which would abort the region’s mission to uproot the Muslim Brotherhood.
It should be noted that the debate in Washington has been centred on how to best fuel conflict in the Middle East and this has been the case since the Bush administration when it was believed that the best way to do so was to ignite sectarian conflicts between Sunni and Shia Muslims; however, both of these parties agreed on their anti-Israel positions.
There were also attempts to promote conflicts between liberal Arabs and Islamists; however, those who supported this idea later differed on their stances concerning the Brotherhood. There were many American politicians and thinkers who thought highly of the Muslim Brotherhood because their ideology is closer to liberalism and the centre than other extremist groups that identify with Islamism.
This difference in opinion on the Muslim Brotherhood were later affected by a number of strategic errors which co-existed with other political trends in the Arab world resulting from the Arab Spring, primarily the Muslim Brotherhood’s access to governance in both the Egyptian and Yemeni cases.
The fears resulting from the Brotherhood’s ascension to power have been flowing in from two different sources. The first is Israel whose fear of Arab democracy exceeds its fear of the groups affecting its own people. The second are the Arab regimes themselves who for decades have considered the Muslim Brotherhood a threat that is more dangerous than armed Sunni and Shia militant groups.
The Arab sentiment was spelled out explicitly in 2000 during Prince Naif Bin Abdul Aziz, the Saudi interior minister’s interview with a Kuwaiti newspaper. The Saudi prince described the Muslim Brotherhood as “the source of hardships in the region” whose existence was a “curse and a threat to existing Arab regimes”.
Supporters of the group acknowledge that the Brotherhood is indeed a threat to existing Arab regimes in the region because it based on establishing a democratic system in the Arab world. The Brotherhood’s ideology is based on notions of social justice which threaten greedy politicians who are stakeholders in today’s systems of terrorism and armed rebellion.
On this basis, many American analysts have concluded that Israeli interests have been intermarried with those of current Arab regimes based on one common goal: the elimination of the Muslim Brotherhood. The lack of consensus on one common opinion in the United States can be due to the efforts of various political groups who have leaked information to the press about opposing parties.
The ability of governments to completely influence what the media portrays has now become a memory in the glorious past and this is true even in the most notorious dictatorships. While this does not mean that democracies do not have some influence on what the media portrays, they can influence the direction of the debate in a way that helps them achieve a political objective. This reality, at least, affords them the opportunity to spare themselves some embarrassment or even grants them the ability to expose opposing parties.
There is no doubt that the Arab regimes have an interest in destroying Hamas and it is this interest that led to US Secretary of State John Kerry’s failures during his tour of the Middle East. He should not have tried to expose the Arab regimes in front of their own people for their own people know them very well. Instead, the world is now baffled as it witnesses a superpower such as the United States become paralysed in its ability to stop the massacre or demonstrate a single shred of humanity when it comes to the crimes in Gaza.
The American people still remember quite well when former Secretary of State Colin Powell was able to force Israel to immediately withdraw from Khan Younis, Rafah or anywhere else by merely placing a call with his demands. So, how is Secretary Kerry unable to have any influence on Israel when he went there in person?
It is hard to imagine that the United States would not want a ceasefire between Israel and Hamas because if that were the case, why would they send their Secretary of State to embark on a mission they would want to fail? It is difficult for the average human being to admit to a failure let alone a politician with Kerry’s high political capital.
I do not want to participate in the common narrative of the average underrated mind that suggests that Israel is able to control the US administration and the American people collectively. Instead, I will argue that Israel is, in fact, able to sway the US government into seeing its perspective and by consequence, is able to direct in whatever way it so chooses. Israel could not have achieved what it has done so easily without the support of neighbouring Arab regimes which seek to wage war on Hamas and bring it to its knees.
Will they succeed?
While many American thinkers can agree that there does in fact seem to be an agreement between Israel and the Arab regimes, one still wonders whether or not they are able to succeed in their objectives. A paper published by the Suphan Group on their website suggests that Hamas will face many obstacles and hardships in the coming years due to the changes in its map of alliances and its loss of Iran, Syria, Saudi Arabia and Egypt post-Arab Spring.
And yet, it remains a challenge nonetheless for Israel to impose a political solution via military force regardless of whether or not it has the support of Arab regimes. All that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will be able to achieve is a temporary ceasefire that will not last long unless the problem is addressed from the root.
Many western diplomats believe that the only parties who would be able to achieve a true solution are those in Doha and Ankara. By contrast, officials in Cairo have done very little except to give Israel sufficient time to destroy Hamas by continuing to practice policies that draw out the length of this conflict.
Perhaps Secretary Kerry’s problem is that he tried to appease all parties and by doing so, he lost the trust of all parties. While Kerry did not fail in achieving a truce between Israel and Hamas he did fail to choose the correct location to achieve his objective. In other words, he made a mistake in choosing Cairo instead of Ankara.
Translated from Al-Araby Al-Jadeed, 5 August, 2014