Summit opens up huge regional challenges - GulfToday

Summit opens up huge regional challenges

Sheikh Abdullah is welcomed by Yair Lapid  at Sde Boker in southern Israel ahead of the Negev Summit. AFP

Sheikh Abdullah is welcomed by Yair Lapid at Sde Boker in southern Israel ahead of the Negev Summit. AFP

United Arab Emirates Foreign Minister Sheikh Abdullah Bin Zayed Al Nahyan, and his counterparts, Bahrain’s Abdullatif Bin Rashid Al-Zayani, Egypt’s Sameh Shoukry, Morocco’s Nasser Bourita, Israel’s Yair Lapid and the United States Secretary of State Anthony Blinken at Sde Boker, the burial place of the founder of Israel, Ben Gurion on Sunday and Monday, brought into focus two major issues – concern over the revival of the 2015 nuclear pact between Iran on the one hand, and the United States, China, Russia, France and England and the revival of Israel-Palestine peace talks for a two-state solution. Abdullah described the meeting as historic.

Israel and Arab countries had expressed the apprehension that the nuclear deal with Iran would embolden Tehran to make the bomb and back guerrilla groups in the region. Blinken tried to address these apprehensions. He said, “As neighbours, and in the case of the United States, as friends, we will also work together to confront common security challenges and threats, including those from Iran and its proxies.” Israel has stated its reasons for building a common economic and security alliance with the Arab countries.

Israel’s Lapid said, “This new architecture – the shared capabilities we are building – intimidates and deters our common enemies, first and foremost Iran and its proxies.”

On the other hand, the Arab countries and the United States want a revival of the Palestine-Israel talks towards a two-state solution. Blinken did not mince words. He said, “We have to be clear that the regional peace agreements are not a substitute for progress between Palestinians and Israelis.” He was referring to the 2020 Abraham Accords between the UAE, Bahrain and Morocco. Bahrain’s Abdullatif Al-Zayani said the discussions were helpful to fend off Iran-backed groups, and added, “Of course, part of this process will be renewed efforts to resolve the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.”

Israel’s coalition Prime Minister said the time was not ripe for the revival of peace talks. Palestinian Prime Minister Mohammed Shtayyeh told his cabinet on Monday, “Unless the occupation ends, Arab normalisation meetings are nothing but an illusion and free reward for Israel.”

These two – the potential threat from a nuclear-armed Iran to the region and the Palestinian-Israeli conflict – are the major challenges before the Arab countries and Israel as they try to build a new economic and security alliance along with the United States. The two issues are quite different in nature. Iran’s growing military power is seen as disturbing the regional balance of power, and so it is a matter of concern not just for Iran’s Arab neighbours, but also for Israel, and to the United States at another level. Israel cannot hope to have a mutually beneficial partnership with the Arab countries if it wants to evade a settlement with Israel, and it involves the recognition of Palestine as a sovereign state. The Arab states expect an acceptable resolution of the Palestinian-Israeli problem. In return, the Arab states, Israel and the US can hope to confront the rising military power of Iran. But Iran on its part is making its own efforts to build bridges with its Arab neighbours, but it will not succeed unless Tehran reins in the Houthi rebels in Yemen.

So, Iran and Israel have to modify their respective policies, that of Israel towards Palestine, and that of Iran towards the militant groups in the region. The Americans have verbally clarified that Israel cannot have Arab cooperation if it ignores the Palestinian dispute. It is not easy for Israel and Iran to make the necessary compromises, but they will have change their rigid stances if they want the friendship of the Arab states.

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