Ah - the olde Ghost of something something Palestine trumps nation state theory again!
Last week, Dore Gold, the director general of Israel’s foreign ministry, raised eyebrows across the political world when he remarked of Iran: “What we have is a regime on a roll that is trying to conquer the Middle East, and it’s not Israel talking, that is our Sunni Arab neighbours – and you know what? I’ll use another expression – that is our Sunni Arab allies talking.”So it looks like Skippy Ibish is making a pretty far fetched point. In the face of Gulf States regimes possible downfall by wicked Persians, the sad old tale of Palestine trumps evberything including their survival.
Hizbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah warned Arab states against “talking with Israel and even negotiating with it”. This may have “disastrous results”, he blustered.
Israel cannot have diplomatic progress, let alone anything approaching an alliance, with the Arab world as long as millions of Palestinians remain non-citizens in their own land, with no realistic prospect for freedom. In particular, Israel cannot successfully engage with the Arab states while it is conducting an aggressive settlement project, gobbling up Palestinian land in violation of black-letter international law.
Jordan and Egypt made peace with Israel in their own interests, and those agreements are rock-solid. But Arab states in the Gulf region don’t share the same imperatives. Limited progress might be possible in specific areas. Israel might be able to cooperate with Qatar on reconstruction in Gaza, or with Saudi Arabia on Palestinian national reconciliation and relations between Hamas and Fatah. But despite the diversity in their policies none of the Gulf states will be prepared to enter into anything remotely resembling an alliance with Israel, despite the threat of Iranian hegemony, as long as the occupation continues with no end in sight.
Israelis often debate the cost of the occupation. The fact that it precludes them from building strong working relationships with Arab states with whom they share powerful strategic concerns needs to be factored in as a very high cost indeed.
Imagine a reality in which Mr Gold was completely accurate in referring to Israel’s “Sunni Arab allies”, and what that would mean for Israel’s regional interests and long-term security. And now return to today’s diplomatic reality, in which no matter how much Israel and many of the Arab states agree on the threat posed by Iran’s and the urgent need to counter it, there is a strict limit to how far they can coordinate, largely because of Israel’s own indefensible policies towards the Palestinians. The cost is clear, and prohibitive.