The implications of Israel’s peace deals with Arab countries go far beyond the issue of the Palestinians, the longing for peace, the normalization of ties or direct flights. The deals are about Israel’s decades-long struggle to shift the diplomatic paradigm that has prescribed the way it has been treated by the Arab world, Europe and even the United States. They’re about showing that the paradigm is faulty, that it undermines Israel’s standing in the world and pressures it to make reckless compromises.
Israel’s enemies first tried to eliminate it through terrorism and war. After failing, they turned to the global arena. For decades, they have successfully delegitimized Israel by taking advantage of post-colonial guilt in “progressive” circles in the West and the anti-Semitic tendencies prevalent in Europe.
The Palestinians made it look like the Middle East came to hate the West solely because of its support of Israel. And so, Europe and the United States came to believe that forcing “the will of the international community” on Israel, the conditions of which crippled Israel’s ability to defend itself, would end hostilities and increase stability in the region.
The paradigm of pressuring Israel in order to stabilize the region failed at its strategic level thanks to Israel’s determination, as it imposed on its enemies the conditions necessary for Israel to protect itself. Not only has Israel been able to withstand decades of terrorism and achieve military successes, but it also thrived while many Arab countries have been plunged into violence and poverty.
Israel rejected the European and American attempts in the 1950s and 1960s to cut back on its territory and accept Palestinian refugees. Instead, it negotiated a peace deal with Egypt in 1979 in exchange for withdrawing from Sinai and has defiantly and systematically ignored the obsessive and outright hypocritical hostility of the United Nations and other international organizations.
Israel has managed to crush Palestinian terrorism; defeat 70 years of American resistance to the concept of Jerusalem as its capital; thwart Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein and Syrian President Bashar Assad’s nuclear aspirations; undercut Iran’s attempts to establish a foothold in Syria; and withstand pressure from Europe and the United States to reach a deal with the Palestinians.
It is the Arab countries that are starting to understand this the most. Egypt is in partnership with Israel against three common enemies—the Muslim Brotherhood, Iran and Turkey. Jordan is the most aware of the dangers of the Palestinian national movement and knows that its very existence depends on Israel’s strength. The Gulf states understand the existential threat from Iran.
More countries, such as Sudan and Morocco, are starting to take a public stand. They have learned the hard way about Europe and America’s dangerous failures to establish democracy in the Middle East, which only resulted in the rise of radical forces while undermining their own allies.
The Arab world’s growing recognition of Israel’s power and credibility is vital for many reasons. Regional dynamics are changing and the democratic West no longer needs to choose between Israel and the Arabs: Israel and the core states of the Arab world are on the same side, and radical players like Iran, Turkey, the Muslim Brotherhood and Syria are on the other.
Most Arab countries have already understood that it is crucial they create a strategic partnership with Israel. The United States is cautious; eventually, “progressive” Europe will also come to understand this.
Dan Schueftan is the director of the International Graduate Program in National Security Studies at the University of Haifa’s National Security Studies Center.
This article first appeared in Israel Hayom.