Arab-Israeli Normalization: Sustainability, Scalability or Collapse
Beirut, 17 September 2020 — Announcements by the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Israel that their government agencies, research institutes, companies and investment vehicles, both sovereign and private, are scrambling to make the most out of the newborn normalization agreements between the three states, are commendable and a step in the right direction. This will definitely pave the grounds for normalization but cannot on its own achieve the sustainability which is and must always be the essence of the agreements.
One mustn’t forget that two other Arab countries had previously signed peace treaties and normalization agreements with Israel; Egypt in 1978 and Jordan in 1994, but very little materialized to date. The devoutly religious Egyptians who fought the Israelis for decades apparently were unable to ‘bury the hatchet’, and the Palestinian majority of Jordan’s population makes reconciliation and normalization extremely challenging. The Israelis themselves did not help by continuing on a path that all Arabs, not only the Egyptians and the Jordanians, found threatening, but the entire Arab World saw as offensive, starting with the attempts against Al-Aqsa Mosque and other Muslim holy places in the occupied territories, to attacks against the Palestinian civilian population, the invasion of Lebanon, the bombardment of Syria, and much more.
Normalization with the two GCC states, UAE and Bahrain, must not be allowed to fail. It definitely is a good start and will attract other Arab states to join. This however should not be limited to GCC states. Other Arabs to sign the peace process must be selected with a view to ensuring, not only scalability, but also sustainability, in order to avoid replication of the Jordanian-Israeli and Egyptian –Israeli normalization near-collapse.
While Israel, the UAE and Bahrain are commended for their attempts to create opportunities on both sides in the spirit of normalizing relations and allow stakeholders to capitalize on the newfound peace, localizing the normalization initiative will eventually and undoubtedly lose steam and fall short of producing a universal and lasting peace. A change of heart on the part of any administration on either side may also cause an adverse effect on normalization.
How then can normalization be sustainable? How can we avoid the failures of the past and capitalize on this opportunity to the benefit of all the peoples of the MENA region for many generations to come, and in the process end a futile costly conflict once and for all?
While bilateral efforts and investments in different arenas can have a limited effect and serve the interests of a number of companies and institutes, they will definitely continue to be confronted with objections and accusations from other Arabs and eventually, will become so localized and insignificant at the MENA-wide level, and ultimately the peace effort will collapse.
The normalization initiative must then attract other Arab countries to sign treaties with Israel. But which Arab countries? Let us start our selection process by using deductive logic to determine which Arab country or countries will maximize the opportunity for success. Egypt, Jordan, Syria and Lebanon — the four countries with borders, fronts and direct confrontation with Israel since 1948 — will undoubtedly continue to oppose any agreement with Israel for obvious reasons. Iraq is under the influence of Iran, who also influences the decisions of the Syrians, the Lebanese and a large percentage of the Palestinians. Comoros, Djibouti, Somalia, Mauritania, Yemen and Libya cannot affect the overall Arab public opinion, due to the insignificance of the first four, and the state of internal strife the latter two are in. Any of the six signing a peace treaty will be seen as a bad move on the part of the normalization initiators. This leaves us with 10 out of 22 Arab countries, of which six are the GCC states of Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Oman, Qatar, UAE and Bahrain. Excluding the GCC states, we have remaining Morocco, Sudan, Tunisia and Algeria. These four countries have a high ratio of poverty. They also supplied large numbers of ISIS “mercenaries” to fight in Iraq and Syria. A number of citizens of the Arab Maghreb, Morocco, Tunisia and Algeria, were also involved in attacks which occurred in Europe, particularly France, and analysts agreed that poverty and neglect are two of the root causes of the problem.
‘A poor young man has nothing to lose’. But when employment opportunities become abundant, that poor young man is able to settle down, have a wife and children, and therefore a ‘lot to lose’. There will be less incentive for that individual to join outlawed organizations or engage in destructive activities. Moreover, that individual would be more likely to obey authority and fear from and for his employers.
On the other end, we find Israeli companies who are looking for foreign markets. Europe will not be as accommodating as it was in the past, and MENA markets are less expensive for them to reach and easier for them to compete in. The Israeli state of the art technology combined with Arab capital and human resources, can also allow for benefits to be made on all sides.
Morocco, Sudan, Tunisia and Algeria have less reasons to disagree with the Israelis, and may be more open to normalization. Therefore, attracting one or more of the four countries at this time to sign a peace treaty with Israel, in return for Israeli and GCC investments and employment opportunities in those countries, would be a wise next step on the road to normalization. Over time, all four countries and other GCC countries would sign up.
The approach is then from far to near, starting with countries who do not share a border with Israel, giving them economic and social reasons to embrace normalization, and then gradually persuading more and more Arabs to join the initiative.
Will Morocco and/or Sudan be next?