8 November 2023

Middle East: State and Non-State Actors Who Have Lost it All

Benjamin Netanyahu has continued to escalate the rhetoric and action surrounding Israeli actions in Gaza.
Benjamin Netanyahu has continued to escalate the rhetoric and action surrounding Israeli actions in Gaza.

What is happening in the Palestinian territories is unbearable. Whichever position one takes, it will raise a thunder of criticism and denunciation. The reason is that passions are exasperated, and trends are becoming more and more glaring. Between the justice of the cause and the justness of the position that the actors involved claim, there is an abyss. Given the gravity of the situation, neutrality and objectivity are becoming scarce commodities. I won’t venture on this track, which is both scabrous and slippery. I place myself in the position of an observer who analyzes events without succumbing to easiness, propaganda, or absurdity. I raise one question that has been surfing in my mind over years: what opportunities that had arisen in the past to settle the Palestinian question according to the win-win logic hadn’t been missed?

Missing opportunities for potential peace

Since the end of the Second World War, passing by the vicissitudes of the 1960s and ending with the Camp David Accords of 1978 and the signing of the Peace Treaty between Egypt and Israel, paving the way for other mini-agreements, the Palestinian cause has known different fortunes, if not great failures. Throughout the previous process, the actors directly involved were named and known, and the search for a just and lasting settlement was carried out with an open face, although the assets of these actors did not carry the same weight. 

The Islamic Revolution in Iran (1979) and the emergence of non-state actors, thanks to the crystallization of the Lebanese crisis and irredentist demands here and there, changed the political-diplomatic-security equations in the Middle East. For three decades, the situation has stagnated, giving rise to analyses and speculations referring to conspiracy theory, ideological and religious determinism, and headlong flight.

First, the Palestinians have never had the upper hand to deal with and defend their cause. They have always been used by their neighbors in their geopolitical and strategic games. They had no right to the chapter.

Second, the Palestinians have paid a heavy price for their intra-national dissension. Pledging, beyond their own will, to Arab regimes suffering from internal legitimacy in the aftermath of successive waves of decolonization, they were forced to make a pact with one or the other. Instead of making their struggle for the establishment of their own independent state their main goal, they succumbed to pressure and accepted the chimerical privileges granted to them by these regimes.

Third, the Palestinians were aware from the very beginning that the objective of the right-wing segments’ main objective in Israel was and remains the fulfillment of a so-called Biblical promise of Greater Israel, but they were less inspired to thwart it by investing themselves in the peace process without qualms and with the realism imposed by the end of the Cold War and the collapse of the USSR. For many observers, the 1991 Madrid Conference on the Middle East was not a trap but rather an opportunity that the actors involved in the Arab-Israeli conflict failed to use to their advantage.

The conference offered a second opportunity to be seized, after the one that the Palestinians and their supporters in the region missed in the aftermath of the Camp David accords between Egypt and Israel in 1978. If the Palestinians had accepted the Anwar Al-Sadat’s proposal, supported by some moderate Arab countries, they would, after a short period of agreed autonomy, have had their own independent state over ninety percent of the West Bank plus Gaza.

Fourth, the Palestinians later changed their minds and agreed to engage in secret negotiations through Norwegian mediation. The Oslo Accords of 1993 allowed them to see the limits of their ambition, but they had no choice. Their hopes were fading, making them regret their previous geopolitical myopia.

Fifth: The Palestinians have adopted chameleon-like policies vis-à-vis Arab dissensions. Some argue that they would have had no choice. They had it. They aligned themselves with Iraq when it invaded Kuwait in 1990. They apparently played the deaf and hard-of-hearing game between Libya and Saudi Arabia, between Libya and Egypt, and between Morocco and Algeria. However, each time, they resorted to the division of labor among their representatives in the Arab capitals in conflict, adopting ambiguous language to please both sides.

Sixth, the Palestinians did not wisely assess the creation of dissident movements opposed to the Palestine Liberation Organization in the West Bank and Gaza. Hamas, of course, among other movements such as Islamic Jihad, inspired by the ideology of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, and radical Islam, mainly Ikhwan al-Muslimine.

Seventh: The latter no longer had the aura of the past era of pan-Arabism and pan-Islamism. The creation of these movements was facilitated (or even initiated) by various actors involved in nipping in the bud the PLO-led Palestinian national project. The pattern was the same as the one that helped facilitate the return of opposition figures based in Europe and the United States to participate in the —allegedly— political transition in Iraq, Libya, Afghanistan, Iran, and Tunisia, to name but a few. We now know what the situation looks like in these countries.

Eighth: These personalities and the political structures they have created resort to practices that hardly differentiate them from the regimes they have fought in the past. The analogy also applies to Palestinian leaders who become hostages of their sponsors in and out of the region.

Ninth, far-reaching geopolitical shifts are taking place. The new configurations involve the resolution or liquidation of regional conflicts. The process would proceed according to a well-thought-out pattern. It would involve deferring the resolution of interstate conflicts to an earlier stage and focusing on intra-national obstructionist movements created (or sponsored) by foreign interests. It is in this spirit that one could interpret the way the Armenian dissident movement in Nagorno-Karabakh, a region that was appropriately recuperated by Azerbaijan, It is in the same spirit that the project of the Kurdish nation encompassing the Kurds of Iraq, Iran, Syria, and Turkey was aborted, starting with Iraqi Kurdistan. Other dissident projects in North Africa, Sub-Saharan Africa, Europe, Asia, and Latin America will suffer the same fate.

Tenth, dissident movements waving the banner of the struggle for national independence, including in the Arab periphery, felt the fire approaching them. Instead of choosing the path of realism and pragmatism, their mentors and sponsors pushed them to choose the headlong rush. What is happening in the Palestinian territories is no exception.

Naturally, the supporters of the armed struggle and the fans of slogans who are not on the ground and who do not live the drama of the victims on both sides, in Palestine, Syria, Iraq, Iran, Yemen, Afghanistan, etc., will put forward different arguments. However, they have no real control over the situation. They are only stirring up the wind.

Proxy movements’ Erosion

Popular demonstrations and legitimate and understandable denunciation campaigns will be caught up in weariness, boredom, and, above all, impotence. Should this be seen as an impulse of resignation? Not at all. The time has come to let politicians, diplomats, and strategists do their jobs. This must start with bold actions.

First, discredit (and abort) the narrative that the Palestinian issue will be given up and that the Greater Israel project will soon be realized.

Second, neutralize extremists of all stripes that countries in the region use for outrageous geopolitical purposes. The Palestinian movements must face the facts: they will never have their own independent state if they continue to submit to the diktat of their sponsors, who evacuate their intra-national problems by verbally supporting the Palestinian cause.

Stick to the two-state solution, despite the obstacles that have been erected since the Oslo Accords. There should be no signs of any kind of loss of momentum towards the achievement of the goal of a Palestinian national state. On what proportion of the territory and at what points of dissension? The parameters are complementary and can be found in the various agreements signed between the Palestinians and Israelis, as well as in the peace treaties between Egypt and Israel (1978), Jordan and Israel (1994), and the Arab peace initiative proposed in 2002.

Third, get rid of slogans using words such as “normalizing” relations and “meeting on the sidelines of a conference” between Arab and Israeli delegations without admitting the existence of relations between these countries and Israel. The rhetoric is a thing of the past.

Fourth, learn the lesson of the Camp David 2000 negotiations, during which Yasser Arafat found himself alone despite having accepted the broad outlines of a political solution. The about-face of Ehud Barak, the Israeli prime minister, and the twists and turns of the Sharm al-Sheikh conference in the same year must be well thought out by the Palestinians in the current state of affairs. At the time, Israeli planners feared the reaction of Palestinian movements in the occupied territories. Hawks within the decision-making apparatus in Israel seized this opportunity to make it harder for their leadership to take a step forward for a political solution between Israel and its Ababa neighbors.

Yasser Arafat, trapped in a memorable night of twists and turns, sought the support of the Arab countries that were genuinely involved in the search for a just and viable solution. He turned to the King of Morocco, the King of Jordan, the Egyptian President, and the Saudi ruler. He got their support, but Ehud Barak slipped away at the last minute.

Fifth, realize that dissident movements—even those with a clear national project—playing the role of proxies at the service, against their own will, of foreign states in the region and outside the region will no longer have the same impact because they have had their day.

Certainly, the reading of ancient texts with chapters predicting what is happening now as long-planned designs in the past comforts the emotion felt at the sight of the blood flowing in the Palestinian territories. But these texts will fizzle out, as they did in the past.

What is important now is to take a realistic stand that will not transform the current political status quo into a definitive solution to the Palestinian issue. The strategic mistake in any conflict, regardless of the arguments put forward by the parties to the conflict, is targeting civilian populations. Such a mistake paves the way for all imaginable political and media manipulations and misuses.

Beyond the emotional considerations and the disproportionate reactions on both sides, there are some observations that need to be made.

First, the Hamas Movement’s attacks were not decided on the spur of the moment. They are not the effect of an order emanating from a local decision-making structure. Despite the denials of some traditional sponsors, it is impossible that an operation of this magnitude would have been decided without the consent (or calculated indifference) of the latter.

Second, the scale of the operation and its timing reflect the disarray of regional state actors and hawk-dominated structures in Israel—and even in Western countries, including the United States, which see the process of future normalization between Israel and Saudi Arabia as a serious danger to their interests. Their interests remain linked to maintaining the status quo, which will give them momentum during the transitional phase of the international system.

Read Also: Complicity in Gaza Genocide Unmasks the West’s Moral Decay, Inherent Brutality

If information according to which the potential normalization of relations between Saudi Arabia and Israel included a deal on the transfer of nuclear technology for civilian purposes, this would explain why the proponents of creative chaos throughout the Middle East and North Africa region did not feel at ease and worked to topple the whole process.

Third, the revival of the Hamas movement and the posturing of Hezbollah cannot stop the process of normalization between Israel and other Arab and Islamic countries. Since the Arab Conference in Fez in 1982 and the Beirut Conference in 2002, Israel has been recognized by all Arab countries, despite the chatter of some countries belonging to the so-called Anti-Normalization Arab Front.

Fourth, the gamble of the hawks in Israel and in some decision-making centers in the West aimed at seeing the Palestinian issue buried once and for all is doomed to failure. Israel will have to accept that the reduction of the future Palestinian state to a mere skin of sorrow carries with it the seeds of its permanent insecurity. Nor will driving Palestinians out of Gaza into Sinai or any other corner of the Palestinian territories succeed.

Fifth, it is time for proxy movements to admit that time is over and that they can no longer fulfill the role of intranational detractors in the service of regional and international state or non-state actors. History is talkative and holds no secrets forever. Yesterday, people were familiar with pan-Arab and pan-Islamist left-wing movements, free electron structures at the service of intelligence organizations or those of diffuse nationalist obedience.

Today, these movements are forced, as a result of their loss of confidence and desperation, to join all kinds of networks of organized crime and terrorism. Some, who have two-headed political and military structures, are paying the price for their geopolitical incoherence and doctrinal dogmatism. They have almost lost it all in the whole process.

The geopolitical configuration that is taking shape following the normalization of relations between Saudi Arabia and Iran does not please everyone. The perception of changes on the regional geostrategic chessboard has been overestimated by the signatory parties. Saudi Arabia saw this as a salutary respite to free itself from the Yemeni bee-eater and devote itself to the 2030 vision, making the country a key power in future economic challenges. Iran saw this as a potential resignation by Saudi Arabia, allowing it to establish its geopolitical ascendancy over the region and seek strategic parity with Israel, which it claims to be fighting.

Moreover, the idea that China’s Silk Road project will set a precedent for energy security that is detrimental to Western interests has alerted political and military planners in the West. The revival of gas pipeline projects, particularly the one between Turkmenistan, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and India (TAPI), does not make everyone happy. The U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan is now seen as a monumental mistake. The promise to build a similar corridor in which India would have a fair share won’t change the reality on the ground.

The manipulation of Palestinian factions continues as if nothing had happened. It is in this spirit that the Iranian Foreign Minister made a statement a few days ago. He said that the Hamas movement would be ready to hand over the Israeli hostages to Tehran for possible negotiations for their release.

The entry of the Houtis into the fray sends the same message: that of certain decision-making centers in Iran that consider their country the main mediator, interlocutor, and beneficiary in all the processes of transformation in the geopolitics of the Middle East. Iran will never accept that the movements that are subservient to it in the region and that help it increase its bargaining power should be neutralized or eradicated.

By the same token, countries in the region that have made mediation their business are on the same wavelength. They are moving from the position of strategic intermittent workers to that of service brokers. Neither side has an interest in seeing the Palestinian question resolved on terms that do not protect them from becoming, in their turn, prime targets in the process of transforming the international system.

So it would be wise to seek the contribution of countries that have proven in the past to be good mediators, thanks to their credibility and their unbiased commitment. No doubt they are already at work, in the discreet way that has always been theirs. But time is running out.

Source : Morocco world news

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