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February 23, 2017 8:54 am

Media and Politicians Overhype Chances of Israeli-Arab Regional Deal, Experts Say

avatar by Ariel Ben Solomon / JNS.org

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Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and US President Donald Trump at the White House on Feb. 16, 2017. Photo: Twitter/Netanyahu.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and US President Donald Trump at the White House on Feb. 16, 2017. Photo: Twitter/Netanyahu.

JNS.org – According to experts, the chances of a formal peace agreement between Israel and the wider Arab world in the near future are slim — despite what the media and some Israeli leaders would have you believe.

Citing unidentified former senior Obama administration officials, Haaretz recently reported that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu secretly met with the Egyptian and Jordanian heads of state last year in Jordan, in order to promote a regional peace agreement. The talks led nowhere, and Haaretz’s report blamed Netanyahu for the missed opportunity.

Israeli opposition leader Isaac Herzog (Zionist Union) used the report to blame Netanyahu for failing to reach a peace deal with the Arab states. Yet critics say that the story is being overhyped by the Israeli Left. The article, they say, did not mention that the gaps between Israel and the Arab world still remain large when it comes to a peace deal.

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“This was a one-sided leak by Obama officials, suggesting there is no reason to believe there was any real prospect of negotiations on serious terms,” Eugene Kontorovich, a professor at Northwestern University’s School of Law and an expert on international law, told JNS.org. 

Kontorovich tweeted on Sunday that the “highly selective” Haaretz report was meant to create a false impression that peace is “just around [the] corner” following President Donald Trump’s recent White House meeting with Netanyahu.

In a joint press conference with the Israeli leader on February 15, Trump seemed to break with decades of US foreign policy by not firmly committing to supporting a two-state solution.

“I’m looking at two states and one state. I am very happy with the one that both parties like… If Israel and the Palestinians are happy, then I’m happy with the one they like the best,” Trump said.

Arab states other than Jordan and Egypt, however, have always insisted that they would require a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict before publicly and formally agreeing to normalize relations with Israel. Given that a two-state solution seems further away than ever, a formal regional agreement also seems distant.

The Saudi-backed Arab Peace Initiative, presented at an Arab League summit in Beirut in 2002, called for recognizing Israel if it ceded land won in the 1967 Six-Day War to the Palestinians, and allowed Palestinian refugees to choose whether or not to return to Israel. Both of these concessions remain non-negotiable for Israel.

Experts say that Sunni Arab Gulf states do not have warm feelings about the Jewish state — but are simply willing to cooperate with Israel clandestinely in order to counter their regional enemy, Iran.

Reflecting the rejectionist mood about formal Arab ties with Israel, Abdel Bari Atwan, editor in chief of the London-based news website Rai al-Youm, wrote last week, “The US seeks to use the ‘Iranian threat’ to milk the Gulf states’ coffers and get them to normalize with Israel.” He claimed that the US is extorting the Arab states.

“Nothing could better illustrate the new low to which the Arab decline has sunk,” he said.

Uzi Rabi, director of the Moshe Dayan Center at Tel Aviv University, told JNS.org that the discourse over Sunday’s Haaretz report, as well as rumors of an emerging Israeli-Arab peace deal, are a “smokescreen.” “There are a variety of ways in which tactical cooperation is ongoing with these Arab Sunni states because of mutual interests, but the Arab states have no sincere willingness to deal with the Palestinian issue.” He said that a regional peace deal is unlikely, especially because it is unpopular with the Arab people.

There should be cooperation between Israel and the Arab world, Rabi said, but such discussions must remain secret in order to avoid embarrassing Arab leaders.

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