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Isolated Israel should agree fair settlement with Palestinians

The Palestinian flag is raised in Hebron, occupied West Bank, Sept. 4, 2019. (Reuters)

If the Iran nuclear deal returned, what would Israel do? Unexpectedly, Iran is showing some flexibility as the window for clinching a deal with the US closes. It has accepted the idea of a prisoner swap, which has moved the nuclear deal negotiations closer to the finishing line. The Israelis are becoming more and more worried about Iran, as the US is giving its long-term ally the cold shoulder on this issue. It will be interesting to see how Israel responds.
The nuclear file is a catch-22 situation for Israel, which views Iran’s nuclear capabilities as an existential threat. This threat is not shared by the Arab Gulf states, which are more concerned about Tehran’s destabilizing activities in the region, such as its support for the Houthis, Hezbollah and the so-called Popular Mobilization Units in Iraq, as well as its network of clandestine sleeper cells. Israel worries about an unbridled Iran even if its nuclear activities are kept under control as a result of any new deal.
Israel is in a tough spot. The Democratic administration in the US is different from Donald Trump’s administration. While Trump pressured some Arab countries into normalizing ties with Israel, the Biden administration prefers to use its political capital with the Arab Gulf states for other purposes. The normalization trend that started with Trump ended with Joe Biden.
Faced with this American disengagement, even aloofness, Israel needs new allies. However, regional countries are no replacement for the US. Tel Aviv is carefully mending its relations with Turkey, but it cannot count on Ankara as an ally against Iran. As for the Gulf countries that joined the Abraham Accords, their normalization has its limitations. Firstly, the most important country in the Gulf, which is Saudi Arabia, did not normalize with Israel and will not until the Palestinian issue is resolved in an equitable manner. On the contrary, the Kingdom has reaffirmed its commitment to the Arab Peace Initiative. Even the UAE and Bahrain, which have normalized with Israel, are unlikely to stand with Israel against Iran and expose themselves to more threats from their near neighbor while they seek de-escalation.
Today, for the first time, Tel Aviv finds itself alone. It is unlikely that Iran will back down on its belligerent attitude toward Israel. That would be a major defeat for the Tehran regime. The current Iranian administration is very keen on showing that it is not bowing to the US. Again, what will Israel do? Although Prime Minister Naftali Bennett has taken a hard stand on Iran, is Israel ready to go to war without having the support system it needs? I doubt it.
It was amusing to see the crescendo of statements by Israeli officials threatening a strike on Iran. They even announced that they have put it in their budget. Well, if Israel did have the real intention to strike, it would not have announced it. In 1981, when it struck the Osirak nuclear reactor in Iraq, it did not give prior warning. However, Osirak is very different from the Iranian nuclear facilities that are underground: The Natanz facility, for example, is unbombable.
Given the impossibility of it touching Iran, Israel will keep doing what it has been doing: Bombing Iranian interests in Syria. It will try to contain, as much as it can, Iranian influence in Syria and Lebanon, but the Israelis are very unlikely to target Bashar Assad, as they go by the principle of better the devil you know. At the same time, Israel will try its best to liaise with the US and Arab Gulf states on tactical issues, as no one is ready to make strategic decisions and bear their consequences. They will try to push the US to place restrictions on Iran’s missile capabilities, but this effort is unlikely to succeed as the White House’s main focus is the nuclear issue and the Iranians view their missile program as non-negotiable.

Peace with the Palestinians is the best path toward achieving the security of its own people.

Dr. Dania Koleilat Khatib

 While one might think that, amid this regional turmoil, Israel does not have any space to discuss the Palestinian issue, it is actually the perfect time to push for it. The Arabs should grab the opportunity and looming danger from Iran to push the Israeli government to find a fair settlement with the Palestinians. People and states do not make compromises unless they are pressured to do so. And now is the time for the Arabs to press Israel for a settlement and a Palestinian state in return for better and deeper relations with its neighbors, giving it more security and stability. They should make it clear to Israel that peace with the Palestinians is the best path toward achieving the security of its own people.

  • Dr. Dania Koleilat Khatib is a specialist in US-Arab relations with a focus on lobbying. She is co-founder of the Research Center for Cooperation and Peace Building, a Lebanese nongovernmental organization focused on Track II.

Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not necessarily reflect Arabic Discography' point-of-view

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