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For Israel, now is the time for strategic initiatives

Israel’s regional status and its economic, diplomatic and military clout allow it to advance strategic and even historic initiatives it could only have dreamed of in the past.

U.S. Vice President Mike Pence meets with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the U.S. embassy in Jerusalem on Jan. 23, 2020. Photo by Matty Stern/U.S. Embassy Jerusalem.
U.S. Vice President Mike Pence meets with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the U.S. embassy in Jerusalem on Jan. 23, 2020. Photo by Matty Stern/U.S. Embassy Jerusalem.
Eyal Zisser
Eyal Zisser is a lecturer in the Middle East History Department at Tel Aviv University.

In recent weeks, the United States has returned to the Middle East, in a major way. With a lightning strike, it knocked Iran on its heels, erased all its achievements of the past few years and mainly exposed its weakness. It is an illuminating fact that after Iran sustained the U.S. knockout punch—in the form of the assassination of Qassem Soleimani, the brains and engine behind Iran’s regional machinations—thousands in Iran took to the streets, not in solidarity with the ayatollah regime, which lost one of its most senior and dearest sons—but to protest against it.

Truth be told, the United States has lost interest in the Middle East, and has apparently also sobered up to the illusion of a “new Middle East.” The American economy isn’t dependent on gas and oil from the region, and the country is more cognizant that wide swaths of the region are nothing but “sand and death,” in the words of U.S. President Donald Trump.

But the United States hasn’t abandoned the region, and it certainly hasn’t lost its status in it. Its military presence is still significant, and the firepower at its disposal in the region is immense. The fact that the United States is led by an unpredictable president who tends to ignore the experts in Washington—who are known for their caution and hesitance and who in the past have never missed an opportunity to squander historic opportunities—only strengthens his standing in the region as a figure every dictator and terrorist organization, from Bashar Assad in Syria to Hezbollah in Lebanon, must take into account.

Washington’s return to the Middle East also raises expectations for the “resurrection” of the “deal of the century.” Theoretically, Washington currently has no reason to delay unveiling it. The United States has close and positive relations with the majority of Arab states, which are willing to help push the peace plan forward. It has been reported in the past that these states are pressuring the Palestinians to temper their rejectionist position. America’s stance with them against Iran has only increased their commitment to it.

With that, it’s clear to the Americans that progress toward a resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict won’t stabilize the region or cure its ills, and it appears there is deep mistrust in Washington about the Palestinians’ intentions and their leadership’s ability to reach an accord. The Palestinians have assumed a rejectionist posture because the Americans are refusing to coddle them. Furthermore, the Americans are also pressing them to reach an agreement based on the reality on the ground. Cases in point were the Trump administration’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and its sovereignty on the Golan Heights.

However, if the Americans vacillate with regard to unveiling the peace plan, or lose interest in it, which doesn’t seem likely based on recent events, it will be incumbent upon Israel to take action to alter the status quo. Israel’s current status and its economic, diplomatic and military clout allow it to advance strategic and even historic initiatives it could only have dreamed of in the past. It seems such initiatives are fundamentally palatable to the U.S. administration and even coincide with the general outlines of its peace plan.

Apparently there is also broad consensus within the Israeli political system for these initiatives, as evidenced by Blue and White leader Benny Gantz’s recent declaration in favor of annexing the Jordan Valley. It will be regrettable if the political quagmire in Israel prevents these initiatives from materializing, or postpones them until after the election, if ever.

Either way, the burgeoning status of the United States and Israel in the region means that Israel’s future is now in its own hands more than ever before. Shaping this future is the next government’s first order of business.

Eyal Zisser is a lecturer in the Middle East History Department at Tel Aviv University.

This article first appeared in Israel Hayom.

The opinions and facts presented in this article are those of the author, and neither JNS nor its partners assume any responsibility for them.
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