Sunday,23 September, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1239, (26 March - 1 April 2015)
Sunday,23 September, 2018
Issue 1239, (26 March - 1 April 2015)

Ahram Weekly

How will Israel’s election affect the Arab Summit?

The prospects of an even more right-wing coalition ruling Israel complicates all other regional issues and bodes ill for Arab interests, writes Hussein Haridy

Al-Ahram Weekly

Less than two weeks before the convening of the Arab Summit in Sharm El-Sheikh, Israelis went to the polls, on 17 March, and re-elected incumbent Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu for a fourth term.

Israel’s snap elections came at a very critical time for Arab countries, struggling on multiple fronts to salvage the Arab world from complete disarray. Some Western experts and observers even talk of a slow process of disintegration that will ultimately doom the nation state in the Arab world.

A few days before the Israeli elections, predictions were that the opposition in Israel, the centre-left Zionist Union, would score better than Netanyahu’s Likud. But Netanyahu, who returned triumphant from his highly controversial trip to the United States, where he addressed a joint session of the US Congress on 3 March, successfully played the security card that has kept him in power for such a long time.

He played on the fears of the majority of Israelis, centred on the Palestinian question, the Iranian nuclear threat as imagined by Netanyahu himself, and the growing danger of terrorism in Syria, not to mention his depiction of Hamas in Gaza.

When he won the May 2009 elections he had to accept the two-state solution as the means to settle the Palestinian question. He did so under the pressure of the new US administration headed by President Barack Obama, who upon entering the White House outlined his two main priorities in the Middle East after withdrawing American troops from Iraq.

The first was to restart peace negotiations between the Israelis and the Palestinians to reach a final agreement between the two sides. The second was to reach an agreement with Tehran that would prevent Iran from manufacturing nuclear weapons.

Netanyahu, unfortunately, succeeded in pre-empting US efforts to implement the vision of the two-state solution, and has done his best to scuttle negotiations between the P5+1 and Iran.

But he has not been able to fully achieve his goal, despite his never-ending warnings that the deal being negotiated will not stop Tehran from acquiring nuclear weapons, and that it poses an existential threat to the people of Israel.

During his campaign for re-election he did the impossible to turn the tide in his favour. Despite his disclaimer, and that of Republicans in Washington DC, his third appearance before a joint session of the US Congress was meant to help his electoral fortunes.

Netanyahu assured the right and the extreme right in Israel that, if re-elected, he would not work for the establishment of a Palestinian state and that he would accelerate settlement activities in the West Bank. To cap it all, and in a last desperate bid, he told Israelis to go and vote because Israeli Arabs would go “in droves” to polling stations.

His election victory poses a serious problem for the upcoming Arab Summit, to be held on 28-29 March in Sharm El-Sheikh. The Arab world adopted the 2002 Arab Peace Initiative, whereby the Arabs promised full normalisation in exchange for Israel’s withdrawal from the occupied territories (the well-known land-for-peace formula).

In the midst of the turmoil in the Middle East, Arab governments would have welcomed an election result in Israel that would pave the way in the near future for resuming peace negotiations between the Palestinians and the Israelis, in order to fulfil the promise of the two-state solution.

They agree, undoubtedly, with President Obama when he told the Israeli prime minister, in a phone call on 19 March to congratulate him on winning the elections, that he is committed to a two-state solution that results in a “secure Israel alongside a sovereign and viable Palestine.”

Interesting to note in this respect that some press reports indicated that, according to the White House, President Obama had warned the Israeli prime minister that his last-minute campaign pledge to oppose the creation of a Palestinian state would force a rethink in Washington.

Of course, Arab governments would welcome such a rethink, but they are fully aware that the chances for a reengagement of the US administration in the Middle East peace process are slim.

Amid US administration reluctance, the Arab Summit will not withdraw the Arab Peace Initiative but will make clear that the Arab world, respecting UN resolutions concerning the Palestinian question, will take the necessary steps in the future in the absence of a serious Israeli partner.

They will call on the International Quartet and the Security Council to shoulder their respective responsibilities, with the aim of stopping Israel’s creeping annexation of the West Bank through colonisation and the resumption of peace negotiations between the Palestinian Authority (PA) and the new Israeli government.

They will also call on the Palestinians to respect the Gaza agreement of April 2014, and will lend their full support — political as well as financial — to the PA and the Palestinian unity government that was set up in June 2014, according to the terms of the Gaza agreement.

But the truth is that the situation in the Middle East has been complicated by the Israeli elections results. Even though the Israeli president has not yet named the Israeli leader to form the next government, the odds are that Netanyahu will be asked to form this government.

According to the latest reports, the future coalition government that will rule in Israel will be composed of the Likud and the extreme right and the religious parties (namely Shas and the United Torah Judaism Party).

Some say the newly formed Kulana Party of Moshe Kahloun, which won ten seats in the Israeli elections, will join this coalition, securing 67 seats in the Knesset. Such a coalition is a nightmare for any peace efforts in the Middle East.

Its ultimate aim is to keep Arab lands and force the Arabs and the Palestinians to choose between the status quo or peace according to Israeli terms and conditions. The options facing the Arab Summit are limited, and that will not make it easy to find long-term solutions to other crises and challenges.

The writer is  former assistant to the foreign minister.

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