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Israel’s Arab Spring

July 28, 2016 at 10:45 am

Recent signs point to a “positive boom” when it comes to the relationship between Israel and the Arab world, enough to require Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to mention the nature of this relationship in all of his recent speeches and conferences. Among his remarks is the claim that although his government is ideologically extremist, has proceeded with unprecedented (illegal) settlement expansion and the Judaisation of occupied land, and has wholly rejected the possibility of establishing a Palestinian state, Israel is not only facing regional isolation but also strategic partnerships with Arab countries that would not normally have diplomatic relationships with Tel Aviv are expanding. Such statements have been paired with media leaks that confirm the presence of security coordination with a growing list of Arab countries; it is not limited to Egypt and Jordan.

What is worthy of attention here is that Israeli officials no longer value the warming-up of relations with the Arab world with the intention of countering Iran’s nuclear programme. On the contrary, they are content with “countering Islamic extremism” and it is on this basis that security cooperation is taking place. Netanyahu was clear in his speech during the most recent graduation ceremony for students from the faculty of national security that the Arab countries “have discovered the inherent energy in cooperating with Israel in the domain of fighting against Islamic extremism.” There is no need to mention here that the definition of “Islamic extremism” has been limited to an understanding that benefits Israel exclusively.

With regards to the Arab countries that Israel says it is working with behind closed doors, the newly-signed nuclear agreement with Iran is the threat that these Arab countries face. Israel has revisited the prominence of the “Iranian threat” since the signing of the US-brokered deal. Those Arabs who are forming a new relationship with Israel use the fight against Islamic extremism to justify the beginning of a new era and a new relationship with Zionists.

One cannot hide here the recent visit of Saudi officials to Israel and the Palestinian territories under the leadership of Anwar Eshqi. The former Saudi general responded to questions about his visit by saying that the main purpose was to start a conversation around the Arab peace initiative, despite the fact that Netanyahu has said time and again that the plan could never be the basis for an agreement with the Palestinians. We must not forgot that Netanyahu emphasised repeatedly during his last election campaign that the state of Palestine would never see the light of day so long as he is in charge of the government. Meanwhile, other Israeli ministers have been working to implement policies that would consolidate their grip on Palestinian land, including Area C, which constitutes 60 per cent of the Occupied Palestinian Territories. Other officials are pushing for the annexation of major Israeli settlements in the West Bank.

Those who claim that they are communicating with Zionists for the sake of reaching a peace deal based on the Arab initiative should at least work in the same way as the EU, which does not hesitate to impose sanctions — if only symbolically — on Israel for its settlement expansion and Judaisation projects. There is no need for me to remind you that Netanyahu approved more than 770 new settlement units less than 48 hours after Eshqi’s visit.

It must be said that several Israeli news outlets claimed that Eshqi’s visit was a personal move. However, on 24 July, several Israeli parliamentarians announced that there are efforts being made to organise an official visit to Riyadh. Before Arab leaders make wrong decisions in their countries, they often take advantage of the weakness in civil society and the absence of free speech and a free media, and get pulled into negotiating with Israel. Arab governments must be warned about Israel’s selfishness. It is under the pretext of countering “Islamic terrorism” that the Zionist state has found an excuse to work with Arab countries, and yet it was Tel Aviv which recently prevented the US from selling specialised weapons to the Gulf and pilotless jets to Jordan. The Israeli government justified this by saying that it feared that such weapons would fall into the hands of “Islamic extremists”.

Unfortunately, Arab countries have provided — quite voluntarily — free services of dangerous proportions to Israel. The situation has reached the point where former Israeli minister Yossi Beilin revealed recently that Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shourky’s latest visit to Israel was part of a warning to President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi to help undermine a decision in the UN Security Council that called for an Independent Palestinian state. It is also said that Beilin asked Sisi to call on the Palestinians to accept resolution 242, although it does not mention the Palestinians whatsoever.   

A souvenir photograph documenting Eshqi’s visit to the Knesset (Israeli parliament) holds a special significance. Just to the left of Eshqi one can see General Omer Bar-Lev, who once led the largest operations in the Arab world and was responsible for killing many Arabs. It is in this way that the Israeli “Arab Spring” blossoms in an age of counter-revolutions.

Translated from Al Araby Al Jadid, 26 July, 2016

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.