ATbar The Palestinian Isolation

The Palestinian Isolation

29/09/2020 | by Ganor, Dan  

How Will the Palestinians Operate Under the Shadow Cast by the Agreements with UAE and Bahrain?

 

The agreements executed between Israel and UAE and Bahrain undoubtedly give every Israeli a sense of satisfaction and hope, whether they support the agreements or not. The mere thought of soon being able to visit Arab countries in the Gulf is exciting in light of the historic attitude change, a change we wouldn’t even dare dream of in recent decades. It would seem that both these countries (with the support of the US administration) understood the obvious benefits for them by making this relationship pubic. The Iranian threat on Gulf states, the intelligence and technological might of Israel that keep proving itself and the political Palestinian stalemate apparently led UAE and Bahrain to the brave decision to expose the relationship and establish diplomatic relationship with Israel.

 

Israel too stands to benefit from the agreements.  On top of the development of tourism vis a vis two Arab countries (new flight routes, new markets for commerce and investments; maybe even an investment in Beitar Jerusalem football club), Israel benefits in the security sense:

 

First, vis a vis Iranhaving a normalization that allows for an Israeli presence on Bahrain and UAE territory gets the “Zionist enemy” closer to the doorstep of Iran. After having spent decades focusing on distancing conflicts from its territory via the use of proxies in Yemen (Houthi), Iraq )Popular Mobilization Forces), Syria (Shiite militias) and Lebanon (Hezbollah), Israel manages to position itself very close to Iranian soil using only diplomatic tools. Is it possible that in light of the above we will see Iran diverting resources (military and economic) from proxies into an investment in reinforcing its military activity inside Iranian territory?

 

Per the Iranian point of view, the Palestinian issue was supposed to have prevented any step of public reconciliation and relationship building between the Gulf states and Israel. It is possible that they have not anticipated (justifiably) the level of influence president Trump has on the Gulf states and his ability (as a shrewd businessman) to convince them to operate according to their own interests rather than the Palestinians’. It seems that Iran has misjudged the Gulf States’ desire to warm up to the west, develop their economy and tourism while at the same time benefit from a US-Israeli military umbrella.

 

Second, vis a vis the Palestinians. For the first time since 1948 there seems to be a cumulative effect of a noose tightening around the Palestinian Authority’s neck. An understanding is beginning to take hold that even though patience is a paramount virtue in the middles east and Arab culture and time usually favors the patient, in this case time is not on their side. It may be that Abu Mazen didn’t understand that the developing relationships between Israel and the Gulf states over the recent decades activated the hourglass against the Palestinian constant naysaying. He didn’t understand that the interest to arrive at an agreement with Israel is also his.

 

 It seems that these days the Palestinians are keeping their heads down and waiting out the political Tsunami to calculate its impact post factum. Abu Mazen begins to understand that he is alone in his campaign and needs to pick a side. Thus, the PA’s isolation gives Israel more leeway vis a vis the Palestinians and enjoy Arab support without having to relinquish territories in the foreseeable future.

 

That said, it should be noted that these agreements also bear a potential risk for a future peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinians. The Palestinians are unlikely to give up their national desire for independence and the formation of a Palestinian state. Therefore, the peace agreements with UAE and Bahrain do not directly solve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict but rather reshuffle the “political cards” and lead to one clear outcome – Palestinian isolation.

 

The Palestinian isolation (which will likely intensify if peace agreements will be arrived at with other countries) may lead, inter alia, to three extreme scenarios:

 

  1. “Surrender” to the west – the PA will understand it “lost its war” and has to accept the Plan of the Century all while aspiring to benefit as much as possible from Gulf states, Europe and US support within an extensive arrangement with Israel. Within this framework the PA may think that a US - Gulf states pressure on Israel will cause the latter to make even larger concessions that the ones agreed to by the latest Netanyahu government.
  2. Getting closer to the radical axis and unleashing terrorism – the more dangerous scenario would be a radicalization of the PA driven by their desperation that no political agreement with Israel can be arrived at. The isolation may cause the Palestinians to join the radical Sunni-Shiite axis led by Iran and Turkey and with Iraqi, Syrian, Lebanese, Qatari and Hamas participation. Thus far the PA didn’t support Israel, incited against it within its education system and have been paying pensions to terrorist and “shaheeds” (martyrs) families but her actively joining the above axis may bring back lethal waves of terrorism we have surely forgotten. Initial signs of the strengthening relationship between Turkey and the PA have emerged in recent months after senior PA officials have asked Erdogan to lead the political opposition to the annexation within the Plan of the Century, which was frowned upon by the Gulf states. Further, it was recently reported that Fatah and Hamas delegations arrived at Ankara on Monday night (September 21st), led by Gibril Rajoub (senior Fatah official) and Salah al-Arouri (deputy chairman of Hamas’ political office) to execute an agreement for cooperation between these organizations in light of the above peace agreements.

In this scenario, the Palestinian isolation will lead to a cessation of the PA’s security coordination with Israel and enable terror attacks against Israel. Granted, Abu Mazen has an interest not to muddy the security waters and will not rush to do so but in this scenario he may find himself backed into that corner. Thus, Israeli security forces, even though they have significantly improved since the second intifada, may have a hard time thwarting terror attacks in Judea and Samaria as well as within the “green line”.

  1. Political chaos – another possible scenario would be that the above peace agreement may be “the straw that broke the camel’s back” in the Palestinian sense. Within this scenario demonstrations, public disorder and violent uprisings against the PA in Judea and Samaria may occur in a manner that will lead to the collapse of the PA or the removal of Abu Mazen. This scenario therefore encapsulates a major question mark with regards to the future of the PA’s rule in Judea and Samaria. Without having to address the identity of Abu Mazen’s successor the question is whether the succession will be via democratic elections or a violent Hamas takeover.

In this sense it may be that a violent Hamas takeover will make it easier for Israel to confront a single terroristic ruler and delegitimize the new Palestinian regime. Within this framework Israel will argue that the Palestinian people have been taken hostage by Hamas (a hybrid terrorist organization subjugating a population by force) and therefore its regime has to be treated in the same manner ISIS has been treated with regard to his rule over territories and population in Syria and Iraq. Granted should Hamas be democratically elected will make life more complicated for Israel in terms of the international public view but still allow for a unified military activity against Hamas in Gaza as well as Judea and Samaria.

 

It should be noted, over and above the Palestinian isolation, by executing the above peace agreements Israel loses a significant tool in any attempt to arrive at a peace agreement with the Palestinians because the Gulf states can no longer, in the Palestinians’ eyes, serve as an “effective broker” vis a vis Israel. The Palestinians now regard the Gulf states a traitor which have deserted their commitments to the Arab cause in favor of their own narrow interests. It may very well be that keeping the relationship with the Gulf states as clandestine could have provided Israel with a better leverage within political negotiations.

 

Abu Mazen will have to decide, as soon as he has assessed the damage caused to the Palestinians because of the above peace agreements. He will try to find out which Arab states are still loyal to the Palestinian cause. Then, if he is still in power he will have to make strategic decision that will lead to one of the three scenarios above. Like the Israeli regime, in recent years Abu Mazen has refrained from taking significant risks. Vis a vis Israel he prefers the under the radar security coordination and the public condemnation of Israel on the UN’s stage. That “secret tango” has been sitting well with Netanyahu.

 

History is putting Abu Mazen to a leadership test. Ignoring the new challenges is Abu Mazen’s worst of all evils. Should he choose to bury his head in the sand, especially if more peace agreements will be arrived at, it will be regarded as his and the Palestinian policy’s failure. It remains to be seen what Abu Mazen will choose but recent months’ emerging indicators of a Palestinian closeness with Turkey and the radical axis may point to his choice.

 

 

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