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Israel FP between peace and wars?

The new Israeli government that was formed in Jerusalem in early July has a fundamentally different foreign policy than that defended by Netanyahu in the old days. It is not only a difference of nuances or tactics; it is a conceptual gap that exists between the visions of the governments of Netanyahu (Likud) and Ehud Barak or the labour party in the old good old days of Labour party. Some of us would argue that Netanyahu's foreign policy frequently looked like an exercise in showmanship, and the politics of confrontation and fear. He, as a Likud party member and chief and as set by HERTZ and Ben Gourion, believed that Israel, one of the most powerful nations in the Middle East both economically and militarily, is nothing but a secluded Jewish Ghetto surrounded by enemies committed to an apocalyptic confrontation with it. In order to survive Israel needed either to outsmart them or twist their arms, never to try and define some common interest with them. Hence Israel only saw threats around, never opportunities. Netanyahu was committed to a major strategic fallacy. He believed that peace with the surrounding Arab countries, and hence the high price Israel should pay for it, must come only after a system of national security had been established in the Middle East and existential threats such as that posed by Iran had been neutralized. He did not accept that the order of things was different, that is, that peace was a prerequisite for, not the outcome of, a regional order. The Russian policy of his foreign minister, Ariel Sharon at that time, exemplified Netanyahu's strategic fallacy. They wanted to prove that Israel is free to conduct a Grand Strategy and that it can claim to have real manoeuvring space in foreign policy even when the peace process was totally paralyzed. This might be, till now at least, that this state of mind (Israel security phobia) or strategy is behind the failure of Israel performance in this topic; hence also the failure of a concept and it is taking Israel quite a lot of time to start reaching a state of peace with its neighbours.

Consequently, at the time of Ehud Barak the government needed to start by putting straight the concepts and admitting that Israel cannot have a foreign policy that is not intimately linked to, and dependent on, the peace process. Foreign policy for Israel is not as Netanyahu and Sharon thought -- a way to avoid the price of peace -- but a system through which Israel’s peace with the Arab world becomes a major asset in Israel's international relations as well as a component in a vital regional order. Hence, the resurrection of the peace process was bound to become a key item in Israel's foreign policy agenda. This does not mean, however, that in this global village and economy in which we all live the space of Israel’s agenda should be limited to the immediate Middle East; Far from it and its clear as it is stretching more and more to other parts of this world, below is a list.

Admittedly, part of Israel’s agenda is dictated by the existence of bilaterally and internationally accepted frameworks and procedures in the peace processes. The new government had to respect binding agreements signed by the previous Israeli administration, the Wye River agreement for example, which was adapted in the Sharm Agreement to Israel’s concept of proceeding as expediently as possible to make clear whether or not the conditions are there for a final status agreement. The main objective should be that of negotiating a Declaration of Principles (DOP) for the permanent settlement. Israel did not believe it was not very helpful if the Palestinians decide unilaterally on a new deadline for the declaration of a Palestinian State. Palestinian self-determination is a category the Labour party had integrated into the platform and it should be a vital article of any DOP to be negotiated. If agreement rather than a diktat is what Israel sought and seek, then demilitarization, a readjustment of borders in order to accommodate legitimate security needs of both parties, as well as the necessity to integrate most of the settlers under Israeli sovereignty, require a serious effort to define what the Palestinians would consider as an acceptable compensation.

However, the commitment Israel made at Sharm al-Shaykh to reach a framework of agreement by February 2000 and a more detailed protocol in September of the same year was hindered by the fact that the Palestinian State, a major potential concession by Israel in these negotiations, has been legitimized already worldwide as a natural and political right of the Palestinians. The Berlin Declaration by the European Union recognizing in advance what they see as an imminent Palestinian State, and more euphemistic expressions by the American administration, have eroded the drama and the meaning of the Israeli concession. This is one of the major failures of Israel's foreign policy. It allowed itself to lose a key carrot in this game where sticks were in excessively high supply.

Negotiations in the final status should gear around a central trade-off between territory and sovereignty. The annexation of parts of the West Bank in order to serve both Israel's security needs and the concept of Blocs of Settlements will have to be reached in exchange for degrees of sovereignty Israel can allow the Palestinian State to have. Simultaneously Israel will have to recover through forceful diplomatic efforts the asset it lost: Europe and America should insist on the consensual creation of a Palestinian State, for this is usually a major condition for a durable settlement whereas unilateral Palestinian Statehood will leave the conflict open and unsettled. But, it is especially from the US, the irreplaceable mediator, that Israel expected to refrain from affording recognition to the Palestinian State should this be declared unilaterally and Israel fought for it and won as far as the US is concerned but not the rest. This failure comes from Israel’s counting on elapsing time that most of the international community did recognize with time the Palestinian state.

For Israel the question was no more, at the time of the DOP, whether or not a Palestinian State should be allowed but whether it was going to be a friendly or a hostile state. A unilateral declaration would be tantamount to the creation of a hostile Palestinian State Israel cannot accept and players in the region such as Iran, who wants the destruction of Israel (As it says), did understand this and grabbed the opportunity by backing up GAZA which became its protégé when the time came. All this because of Netanyahu’s (Hence Likud) phobia mentioned earlier.

The deep involvement of the US administration in the Arab / Palestinian track was the result of the failure of Netanyahu to build trust with Chairman Arafat at that time. Obama, having understood that playing the time factor is what Israel (And the Arabs and Iran) followed as a strategy, decided to leave the M-E as a free ground for the players by not intervening waiting for the right moment to do it. This was political realism set by Henry Kissinger a fervent student of “Hans Morgenthau”. There may be reasons to believe that the Americans during Obama days were not too happy with such an intimate level of involvement in the M-E and that the US would have rather preferred the model of peacemaking defended by Rabin at that time, that is the development of bilateral channels of trust and dialogue between the parties concerned with America as a facilitator rather than as a constant broker. Is Israel lucky to have Trump as a president nowadays? Time will tell, but the train is on the track again and it shows that Netanyahu discovered where the mistake of the Likud lied, a look at the speed the peace process is going now with UAE and Bahrain could be a proof. The reconstruction of trust is then a major aspiration of the new Israeli government, so it seems. It is to believe that the Americans will consider helping in creating the conditions that would enhance the chances of an Israeli-Palestinian / Arab peace through economic measures and facilities. Economic growth that has been paralyzed in Israel affected living conditions not only in Israel but also throughout the Palestinian territory in addition to the Arab countries. Economic growth in Israel should be seen as a valid leverage for lifting up the Palestinian economy as well. However, economic development should never be seen as a substitute for Israel national dreams and political projects. Israel government will have to show determination and creativity in its Palestinian / Arab policy and overcome the yawning gap of credibility that existed and still exist. A matter being tackled by the Netanyahu government and this is why we are seeing accords at all levels and of all kinds nowadays with UAE and Bahrain (And surely more countries to come) taking place at the speed of light.

One should however bear in mind that a legacy of the last 20 years is that Israelis have developed a strong aversion to ideological governments and the advent of Gantz (White Blue) as centre right and the multitude of elections whereby the Likud lost a lot proved it this year. Add to it the growing number of the Arabs Israelis representative members in the parliament.  A major dilemma in this peace process is the inextricable link between domestic considerations and foreign policy. Understandably, only an ideological government of the far left joined by the Arab MP’s that have started to be quite an important bloc in the Israeli parliament can meet the minimal requirements that the Palestinians and some of the Arabs would consider acceptable for a permanent settlement. But then such a settlement would lack broad national consensus especially with the existence of the right wings and the fanatics Jews in the parliament.

Let’s go out of the track of this analysis a bit and as a reminder and explanation let’s consider this:

“The last 2 parliamentary elections in 2019 and 2020 did not give both the Likud and White Blue the possibility to form a government due to the number of seats. In the first elections the results were 33 for White Blue and 32 for Likud while the 3rd in place were the Joint Arabs Israelis 13. Netanyahu was nominated prime minister by 61 votes but Lieberman (Beiteinu) and the far right were not willing to join him so he was not able to form a government  after 28 days with extension to 42 days (Their Constitution stipulates this) and Gantz the same. The dilemma of the 2 major parties was that if they make a coalition they can get 65 of the 120 votes and hence the Joint Arabs Israelis would be the leaders of the opposition and as per their constitution the prime minister will have to meet with their leader once a week to report of the state of the country, something that Israeli’s right wing people are not ready to cope with. So Israel had to go for a second parliamentary election. The results were this time Likud 36 seats and White Blue 33 seats while Lieberman lost ground to 7 and the Israeli Arabs got 15. The same happened and both leaders, Netanyahu and Gantz, were not able to form a government and they had to strike a deal where Netanyahu is nominated prime minister for 2 years and then Gantz for the next 2 years. This way Arabs cannot be the leaders of the opposition.


Let’s go back to our analysis:
The central dilemma of the Israeli society and leaders may soon be this: to what extent shall Israel be able to reach a settlement with the Palestinians through a wide national consensus, for the terms of peace will require so many painful compromises and concessions that consensus may not be possible at all. Real leadership may then be tested through the capacity to opt for decision instead of insisting on an impossible consensus. But, if a broad coalition proves incapable of reaching a final settlement, it can nevertheless make substantial and irreversible progress towards such a settlement while increasing the ripeness of Israelis for accepting and absorbing a higher price and more sacrifices down the road. Both Palestinians and Israelis must understand that a permanent and durable peace between them is not a question of strict deadlines; it is rather a process of trial and error whereby these respective societies come gradually to terms with the inevitable sacrifices that have to be made while at the same time enjoying the flavour of the fruits of peace. For such a process to be credible it must continuously create a sense of progress. It must also be based on a strict adherence to a code of conduct whereby on the one hand no settlements are expanded and no new ones are created, and on the other, the Palestinians work to dismantle the infrastructure of terrorism in Gaza and refrain from their diplomatic war against Israel in international forums. A diplomatic armistice is necessary if the conditions are to be created for effective negotiations on the final settlement. Are they both ready?

It is of course also about time that Israel understands that the argument about whether a Palestinian state should or should not exist is redundant and anachronistic. Such a state or semi-state exists already, and it will continue to exist even if no permanent status agreement is reached. Thus the real Israeli-Palestinian agenda now should focus on the borders of that state -- a variant of the territorial disputes with which the traditional study of international relations is replete -- and on its authority -- a central issue in the emerging study of trans-national and supra-national regional and international institutions. In spite of the domestic obstacles in Israel, maybe the disarray of the Israeli right, especially of the extreme right, presents the leader of Israel with unique opportunities to move towards a digestible final settlement between Israel and the Palestinians, while at the same time safeguarding the most essential values and assets that form the basis of Israel’s national consensus on Judea and Samaria. These are:

a) No return to the 1967 borders.

b) No foreign army will be allowed to ever cross the Jordan River.

c) Settlements will be concentrated in "blocs."

d) And United Jerusalem will remain Israel's capital, while creative formulae will be elaborated to accommodate legitimate Palestinian rights in Greater Jerusalem.

Much depends on leadership. Rigidity was already shown to be an inadequate response to the challenge of a changing world order. The times call for a bold confrontation with the fundamental truths of the situation. The dilemma of the peace-maker is cruel and demoralizing, for he has to depend on the goodwill of another party whose real objectives may never be patently clear to him -- Syria was here a case in point. Israel and the Palestinians must tackle this in objectivity and we don’t know if it can.

If a clear-cut settlement with the Palestinians is hard to reach through a broad local coalition, such a coalition is still vital for reaching an agreement with Syria and Lebanon being direct neighbours and Iran by proxy in both countries. This does not mean, however, that Israel will do this on one track. Progress should be decisively tried on the two tracks; otherwise dangerous instability from the paralyzed front can be expected unless Lebanon’s policy changes from being linked to Syria and Iran.

Much depends of course on the Syrians, Iranians and Lebanese. Analysts are always sceptical with regard to the chances of a breakthrough with Syria. The real question is not that of whether or not the new Israeli government accepts to resume negotiations from the point they were interrupted in 1996, whatever the nature of that point may be. The question, as far as B. Assad is concerned, is not the point of departure, but the nature of the end of the process, that is, the acceptance by Israel of the principle of full withdrawal from the Golan Heights. Yet, a major difficulty lies in the nature of Assad's strategy. He understands that full peace may be an indigestible price to pay for a regime whose central rationale now is domestic stability and the ideological conflict with Zionism. The question whether or not Assad is ready for peace is in fact closely dependent on another fundamental question: is he ready to see his dictatorial regime eroded and probably even democratized under the impact of open borders with Israel and the end of the politics of conflict? Is he ready to relinquish his alliance with Iran which brought for him the support he needed? Assad does not seem to be excessively bothered by the future of the Golan; the future of his regime is. Take for example his father’s capitulation on the subject of Ocalan (Kurdish opposition to Turkey); it is an excellent reflection of his fear that a confrontation with Turkey might lead to more instability he can deal with. Now and with the advent of Turkey in northern Syria confrontation with Turkey can unleash processes in Damascus that are not essentially different than those that can be the result of peace with Israel. Both confrontation and peace are destabilizing categories for him at the moment.

In any case Israel is quite happy of the problems facing the regime in Syria, enough to deal with other Arab countries as it has only one concern now, though important, which is the presence of Iran on its border. Seen in the proper perspective, the real powers in the Arab world now and in the foreseeable future are Egypt, Iraq, Algeria, UAE, Bahrain, KSA and Kuwait. The regional weight of Syria was a direct result of its conflict with Israel not of its objective power. Syria lacked, and presently even more, Israel's social and technological advantages; it does not possess the demographic and strategic assets that make Egypt an unquestionable power, and it lacks the financial resources of the Gulf countries or the natural potentialities of Iraq and Algeria. Make the Arab-Israeli conflict vanish and Syria declines to the position of a modest Middle Eastern State. So for the time being Israel considers Syria a battle ground and a trial field for its weapons and a way to keep track of the Iranians and their ally in the region, the Hezbollah.

The unilateral pull-out of 2000 from Lebanon and attacks by the Hezbollah militia on Israeli civilian settlements after Israel had withdrawn to the international border (Blue Line) became a prelude to confrontation hard to prevent. Let alone that at that time Israel knew about the presence of Iran via the Hezbollah and the support of B. Assad / Syria to this axis. Israel second mistake was in reading the Iranian intentions or at least let’s say turned a blind eye hoping to have to deal with Iran on another ground after having helped it during its war with Iraq.

Let’s go out of the track of this analysis related to Israel for a bit:

“Global security in the Middle East became an even more elusive concept with the disintegration of the Soviet Union and the emergence of independent Muslim republics in Central Asia (Turkmenistan. Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, etc...) This may lead us to a redefinition of the political and strategic meaning of the Middle East. It is not at all impossible that these Muslim republics will move towards their own ethnic and religious roots in the Middle East, and may find themselves involved in the power game in the area. Revolutionary powers like Iran these days and Iraq at the time of Saddam seek to acquire advanced nuclear technologies in these republics. Nor is it possible to discard the emergence of secessionist movements along the borders of these republics with Middle Eastern countries. Freedom is being accompanied by a search for distinctive identity, and this may degenerate into a game of sheer power politics. History in the Middle East has not come to an end, to use that Hegelian [and] now very popular metaphor; it may be only beginning. The old forces of history -- nationalism, border disputes, fundamentalism, and ethnic rivalries -- are very much present. This, and the newly expanded perspective of a Middle East that would include the ex-Soviet Muslim republics, give to the challenge of global security in the area an extraordinarily complicated meaning.”

Let’s go back to Israel now:

Consequently, it is normal for Israel to persist in its policy of rapprochement with its immediate neighbours, Jordan and Egypt; it is, and has in fact, strengthened its special relations with Turkey and articulated a national and bipartisan policy towards Russia. Good neighbourly relations with both Jordan and Egypt are dependent, however, on progress in the peace processes. However, it still has to gain the hearts of the populations there. Moreover, it will definitely have to widen the circle of the countries with which peace is necessary in the region and so it did with the help of the USA lately.

However, too deep an intimacy between Egypt and the Palestinians raises an interesting strategic dilemma that Israel is bound to address. The future Palestinian State, when it happens, is bound to become politically dependent on, or linked to, a more powerful Arab State. The Jordanian option may leave open the irredentist aspirations of the Palestinians with regard to the East Bank, but it also strengthens Israel's strategic link with a power, Jordan, that is more militarily benign while at the same time serving as a vital buffer between Israel's future military border, the Jordan River, and potentially unstable scenarios that might emerge from the kingdom's eastern borders (Syria and Iraq). As to the Egyptian option, it is clear that it gives a foothold to a major regional power in a Palestinian State that even after and when Israel policy of Separation from it is applied [it] will remain linked to Israel in a variety of vital aspects.

As for Jordan, its stability and prosperity must be a vital consideration for Israel. This however is inextricably linked with progress in the Palestinian front. Difficulties in that front make it practically impossible for the king to market Jordan's peace with Israel among his subjects. Israel must also allow the king to develop his inter-Arab relations while discreetly making clear that his rapprochement with Syria or Iraq should not reach the point where it changes in any substantial way the regional equilibrium of forces facing Israel. As to the bilateral level, Israel is doing its utmost in terms of economic and financial cooperation. It must be observed that the king's demarches in the field of inter-Arab relations reflect the independence and creative vision of a man in search of a new regional role that might end up loosening Jordan's connection to the Palestinian question, and its moderating influence in some of the more sensitive nerve centres of the issue of Jerusalem, Temple Mount for example.

Erdogan’s Turkey will presumably persist in the policy of strategic cooperation with Israel. But, although Israel is trying to further strengthen its relations with Turkey but it is believed to be for Israel as an ingredient in a wider vision of its regional security. Not to forget that Turkey itself might present a competitor to Israel at the economical level but most importantly at the religious level.

Netanyahu's policy vis-a-vis Russia is seen to be chaotic. It is said also that the policy of the Rabin government towards the Russians lacked seriousness and direction. Has Israel developed a national policy towards Russia? Russia is too important. It is expected that Israel deploys its foreign policy in line with such a possibility. Netanyahu is playing up this agenda for domestic purposes and also at a time Iran was perceived by Netanyahu as an easy way out of the peace process but not anymore in the presence of Trump administration and its open war against this country. But still, Israel needs of course to be cautious in its rapprochement with Russia so as not to be put in a situation where it puts at risk vital American interests. Russia sees Israel as an important regional power; and expects to be treated by Israel as a power to be reckoned with.

Iraq was a concern during Saddam’s days but not anymore but Iran is obviously the most serious strategic threat to Israel's security. Based on the fears set by the Zionists and the policy that Likud follows Israel cannot accept the “nuclearization” of this country, but Israel cannot do much about it. A world that has accepted the “nuclearization” of Pakistan for example can hardly prevent that of Iran. The real struggle may not be that of preventing proliferation, but that of promoting security systems. Let’s look at it this way, the Russians or China do not have any particular interest in preventing the “nuclearization” of Iran for they are interested in a strong Iran. Why? For Russia: In order to break in its favour the Pakistani-Iranian equation as Russia expects Iran to be a threat to Pakistan. For China: It took another turn and dealt with Pakistan to form an economical accord enabling China to have a way in to the Arabian Sea and to have economical accords with Iran. The threat from Iran does not lie in the bomb; it lies in the nature of the regime. It is a competition in space and time: which will come first, the bomb or the victory of a moderate style option in Tehran? The threat lies more in fundamentalism than in the bomb. An Iranian bomb, however, is a threat not only to Israel. It will increase regional instability, underline the fears from Iran in the Arab world, and encourage the “nuclearization” of additional regional powers such as KSA and/or Egypt. Barak Obama’s government succeeded to solve the critical dialogue between the West and Iran as the best way to enhance the processes of internal change in Iran that would eventually contribute to Iran coming to terms with the essential consequences of the Arab-Israeli peace process but Israel couldn’t accept this fact and kept on pushing and lobbying. Israel intensified its strategic readiness to face the Iranian or any other challenge that entails ballistic or nuclear threats. In this context, the strategic dialogue and cooperation with the United States is as vital as ever for it. Netanyahu got lucky with Trump?

The US under the democrats was never too happy to assume the role of too active a broker in the Israeli-Palestinian track. It was more than willing to act as a friendly supervisor of a process that the parties concerned will run on a basis of mutual trust. This, however, was not easy, especially on the Syrian front so Obama turned his head and played it as per the policy of realism: The balance of power whether on the Arab/Israeli front or the Palestinian/Israeli front or the Iranian/Israeli front . But, whatever the model of peacemaking that is to be chosen, the recovery of trust and intimacy between Israel and the US administration is vital. Was Israel lucky to have Trump as president with a republican way of thinking and...Acting?


What about Europe for the Israelis. Europe has a valid and rich concept of security based on international cooperation, the development of the culture of a civil society, the improvement of the environment, the articulation of policies vis-a-vis immigration, the fight against drug traffic, etc., that in the long run will hopefully prevail and be no less relevant than a concept of security based on a balance of power and threats. The proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, the demographic explosion, especially in third world countries, and the growing challenge of fundamentalism, have made the international system more potentially volatile than during the Cold War. One of the consequences of this situation is that indeed the very concept of "security" appears to be highly ambiguous, for it is no longer applied to strictly military threats but also to issues such as religious radicalism, drugs, environment, immigration, water resources, etc. "Security," therefore, cannot be separated from "cooperation" in tackling this wide variety of challenges to the international or regional order...And so, Israel took advantage of this and kept a very good relation with Europe

The focus for Israel's potential economic integration is nowadays  the Mediterranean also. Vital European interests: the need to secure the sources of energy, the freedom of maritime traffic, the movement of migratory trends and tourism as well as the need to protect European investments in the area. The high potential of instability in the Maghreb -- the Algerian case had for a while the effect of creating a kind of apocalyptic mood in some European countries and now the Libyan entanglement  -- is an additional factor, probably even a vital one, in the Mediterranean strategy of the European Union.

Israel did not forget that the world is moving in the direction of large economic blocs -- East Asia and the Pacific Zone (ASEAN, APEC), South and North America (NAFTA, MERCOSUR), The East Med pipeline
forum lately. Europe and the Mediterranean basin could become the widest free trade space in the world (between 600-800 million consumers). Obviously, this pretentious project calls for astronomic investments in order to adapt the economies and the societies of the region to the requirements of the new era in such domains as research and industrial cooperation, the protection of the environment, infrastructure and telecommunications, and financial services. It may also be necessary to promote the creation of smaller free trade agreements between the different countries in the region as a way to enhance the so far dramatically low level of internal trade in the area. All Israel’s efforts have been well targeted and prepared itself for them.

This was a “Tour d’horizon” of how Israel dealt and is dealing with the world. The questions are for our bloc  are:

What kind of FP strategy should Lebanon have if Netanyahu is still backed by Trump?

What kind of FP strategy should Lebanon have if Netanyahu is backed by Biden who clearly said he will revive the Iranian deal?

What kind of FP Strategy should Lebanon have if Gants is backed by Trump?

What kind of FP strategy should Lebanon have if Gants is there and Biden becomes president?