Peace on new terms in the post-Arab Spring Middle East
In the post Arab Spring milieu, the democratically elected government of the Palestinian people, Hamas, has found an ear from quarters once viewed by them as conspirators. Egypt, which gave Israel the green light in 2008 for its operation Cast Lead, resulting in over fourteen hundred deaths, is today playing the honest broker. Turkey, once an ally of Israel, having remained silent in Operation Cast Lead, had its Prime Minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, label Israel ‘a terrorist State’. Tunisia, which previously never registered on the radar of concern for Israelis under Ben Ali, sent a delegation headed by its Foreign Minister Rafik Abdessalem on November 17, while Israel continued pounding Gaza from the air, sea and land. Even the impotent OIC was roused into action and dispatched a delegation to Gaza, while once the rhetoric capital of North Africa, a Gaddafi-led Libya , marshalled doctors and medical suppliesaccompanied by its vice-president Salah Makhzoun and Deputy Prime Minister Mustafa Abu Hakor.
Of what significance and impact are these developments? They do not simply represent a realignment of nations away from Israel, but bear several considerable repercussions which could affect how and who conducts politics in the Middle East. The free nations of the Arab Spring, including Turkey, have demonstrated in their stances against ‘Operation Pillar of Defence’, the right to exercise their people’s views – independent of the positions held by the US, EU or Israel. This newly-asserted democracy has emboldened them to directlyinput into the Palestine-Israel conflict. Meanwhile, the Gulf States and neighbouring Jordan, despite their vast amount of capital and US reliance, have become subsumed to insignificance. Further, the present leaders’ irrelevance amongst their populations heightened, which is likely to shift the already disgruntled public, from an agitated, towards a more revolutionary state. While Gaza was under attack, Jordan witnessed massive demonstrations causing the closure of roads leading to the capital, and the crowd publicly chanting for the downfall of King Abdullah.
The first impact, therefore, is a more precarious future for the present leaders of Jordan and the Gulf States, should they fail to readily adapt to the changing political reality and respond to mass public calls to support the Palestinian struggle for freedom. The second impact concerns the relationship of the US with its partners in the region. A decade ago, any public criticism of Israel by the Arab States would have resulted in a heavy reprimand by the US. Yet in 2012, after Turkey labelled Israel a ‘Terrorist state’, and its Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu showed solidarity to the Palestinians in Gaza, there has been no US presidential censure. Even under the heavy barrage of questioning from one journalist the US official Department spokesperson,Victoria Nuland, simply rejected the Turkish views as ‘rhetorical’. While US commitment for Israel remains absolute, it has nevertheless began flirting with other players in the region; some may look to the pragmatism as being brought about by the global economic depression, but hides the new found assertiveness of these countries.
One of the most significant attributes of the ceasefire agreement has been the crucial role of the Muslim Brotherhood, which was recently portrayed in the US and European political circuits as the vehicle of Islamisation in the Middle East, an antithesis of liberal democracy. It is to the credit of Morsi, the leader of the Muslim Brotherhood, and President of Egypt, that he was able to gain the confidence of the Israelis to open channels with Hamas and successfully broker a ceasefire, which the US was either unwilling or incapable of achieving. This marks a shift in the political power of Egypt on the global stage. The thought of an Islamist President brokering a deal with the participation of the Israelis, and their resulting engagement with Hamas in the interests of Israel’s security will boost political Islam and any possible hopes for a sustained future peace agreement.
On the domestic front, the deafening silence of Mahmoud Abbas, whose impotence is guaranteed by American dollars and Israeli promises of being ‘the’ partner for negotiations, exposed his position as a mere guardian of Israeli security, as opposed to an advocator for Palestinian rights. This faceless show coupled with his predictable failure early next month, to secure a paper Palestinian state at the UN, could be tantamount to political suicide for him and his party.
This latest episode in Middle East conflict has awakened Israeli, American and European politicians to the changing reality of the region and its Islamic constitution that will now demand inclusions in any future discussions about the region. Consequently, the unilateral approach from the ‘white man’s club’ of the US and Europe will necessarily require an extension to multilateralism and include the Arab Spring nations, with Hamas as a pivotal player. Ironically one of the reasons Israel unleashed Operation Pillar of Defense was to undermine Hamas.
That being said, no one should remain under the illusion that we have witnessed the last of the Israeli attacks. Colonialist history is replete with the occupier’s reliance upon the gun up to the eleventh hour, and the price is always paid through the lives of innocent civilians.
Ismail Patel is chair of UK based NGO Friends of Al-Aqsa, a member of Conflict Forum’s Advisory Board, and author of several books.