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What frustrates Netanyahu in his relationship with Arab rulers?

PA President Mahmoud Abbas with Israeli President Benjamin Netanyahu and Hilary Clinton
PA President Mahmoud Abbas with Israeli President Benjamin Netanyahu and Hilary Clinton , September 2010

A number of Israeli commentators who met with Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu recently have said that he feels frustrated at his inability to divulge details of his success in establishing "strong alliances" with some Arab states, not least those with which Israel has no peace treaty. According to Amir Tibon, political commentator at the Walla news website, the source of Netanyahu's frustration is that he can't reveal the stages involved in concluding alliances with the Arab states. As a consequence, he is unable to use them to improve his political status within Israel.

"Netanyahu wishes to publish the photographs that document his secret meetings with some of the Arab leaders," wrote Tifon, "or to divulge some of the details that illustrate the features of practical cooperation within the field of security with the Arab world. However, he is unable to do this because the Arab side prefers to keep communicating in secrecy out of concern that the affair might provoke public opinion at home."

An example provided by Tifon to illustrate this is the Saudi delegation which visited Israel last month. The group was led by ex-General Anwar Eshki and discussed common challenges with Israeli officials, including those that Saudi Arabia and Israel are both facing in the Horn of Africa. "The Saudis, though, were keen to maintain an official framework as represented by a visit to the Palestinian Authority's territories in order to camouflage the main purposes of the visit," he explained.

"The Arab leaders who communicate with Netanyahu request him to take any step, even if just symbolic, toward the Palestinians in order to permit them to bring their ties into the public domain," claimed Tifon. "However, he fears arousing the anger of Banat, the Education Minister, and Lieberman, the Foreign Minister, with whom he has forged a sacred alliance." Netanyahu is apparently afraid to give his government the go-ahead to grant the Palestinians economic concessions within the West Bank in case this provokes a reaction from his partners within the ruling coalition.

In the meantime, Channel 2 TV's political commentator Audi Segal, who was among those who attended the "behind the scenes" meetings with Netanyahu, said that the prime minister wants to let the Israeli public know that it would be possible to implement right-wing politics — at the centre of which is keeping all of the occupied Palestinian territories and building settlements —while building alliances with the Arab states.

Speaking during the "Friday Studio" programme, Segal pointed out that Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi is the preferred Arab leadership "model" for Netanyahu because the Egyptian president gave him lots of pointers to illustrate the rising level of the relationship with Egypt. Segal added that Netanyahu left it to his ministers to implement Sisi's suggestions to illustrate "the positive change in the regional environment for Israel" during his time in office.

As an example of this change, Segal mentioned the initiative by Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz several months ago to disclose that Sisi ordered the destruction of the tunnels under the border with Gaza following an Israeli request to ensure that weapons do not reach Hamas.

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

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