(November 19, 2018 / JNS)
The Arab world has so far been indifferent to the political crisis currently plaguing Israel. This may indicate that the Arabs simply expect the next Israeli elections to bring about more of the same with respect to the makeup and balance of power in the government, but it also seems that many Arab rulers are in no rush to see a change in the nature of the Israeli government.
The messiah may not be coming anytime soon, but we are in the midst of a golden age in term of Israel’s relations with the Arab world. From the Persian Gulf states to North Africa, many in the Arab world no longer regard Israel as a hostile or foreign element in the Middle East, but rather as a solid regional player—one they can cooperate with and even rely on when necessary.
Gulf states have a clear reason to prefer political stability and governmental continuity in Israel: They are concerned about the regional threats, primarily those posed by Iran, and know that Israel and the United States are collaborating on this issue.
Arab states have never taken a special interest in Israeli politics, as they struggle to understand its internal dynamics. As ties with Gulf states began to warm up, Arab rulers have sought to work with Israeli leaders they perceive as reliable and focused, those who wield domestic and international clout.
Egyptian President Anwar Sadat, for example, never hid his desire to see then-Likud leader Menachem Begin win the 1977 and 1981 elections, despite the fact that then-Labor leader Shimon Peres was perceived in Israel and abroad as a moderate on the pressing foreign and security issues of the time.
Sadat sought an effective and committed partner, even if not an easy one to deal with; someone he could “do business” with and whose word could be trusted. He found this partner in the leader of the right.
King Hussein of Jordan also did not bother to hide his satisfaction with Benjamin Netanyahu’s victory in the 1996 elections. He could never forgive Shimon Peres for going behind his back and colluding with then-Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat on the 1993 Oslo Accords, which he perceived as a threat to the Hashemite Kingdom’s stability.
Regardless, the Arab world is up to its neck in domestic problems, and most Arab countries have neither the energy nor the ability to deal with Israel’s internal political strife. They have even lost all interest in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict; all they want to do now is remove this issue from the regional agenda and prevent it from becoming an obstacle to improving their relations with Israel.
This is why they are willing to support efforts to promote a solution to the conflict that will be acceptable to Israel and to the Arabs, even if not necessarily to the Palestinian leadership.
An example of these trends was seen as recently as last week, when the recent flare-up between Israel and Hamas led to Yisrael Beytenu leader Avigdor Lieberman’s resignation as defense minister. No Arab country rushed to stand by the Palestinians against Israel, and most simply sought to restore the calm to the region.
Moreover, no one in the Arab world fell for Hamas’s claims of victory, nor for politicians’ claims that Israeli deterrence has been dangerously eroded. After all, when the dust settles, Israel’s enemies in Gaza, Beirut and Damascus go back to wallowing in their own problems and ever-growing infighting.
No one in the Arab world deludes themselves as to the true balance of power between Israel and its adversaries, which is why many Arab leaders do not really understand the reasons for the government crisis that threatens Israel’s political stability.
Many Arab rulers would gladly relinquish the upcoming elections in Israel as they see them as harboring a subversive message to their citizens, according to which democracy is not necessarily a recipe for chaos, but rather for internal power—a demonstration that a regime can be changed in the polls.
It is precisely because of this that Israeli democracy is admired by many in the Arab world, and it can contribute to bolstering Israel’s regional image as a strong and stable country whose system of government should be emulated.
Eyal Zisser is a lecturer in the Middle East History Department at Tel Aviv University.