We have remarked upon the newfound comity and cooperation between Israel and its Sunni neighbors. A common foe in Iran and common disappointment in a feckless American president has forged new bonds and, with Turkey, repaired old ones.
Is this revived movement toward some kind of dialogue leading toward peace with Israel just a policy of certain Arab governments, or perhaps of an elite fringe? In other words, does it enjoy any grassroots support? Here the evidence is surprisingly clear, and also surprisingly positive. While Arab publics overwhelmingly dislike Israel (and Jews), solid majorities in most recent surveys, on the order of 60 percent, nevertheless voice support for a “two-state solution,” which implies peace with the Jewish state. And they do so even when the question is worded to call explicitly for peace with Israel, or for abandoning the struggle to liberate all of Palestine. The exception that proves this rule, ironically, is the Palestinian public in the West Bank and Gaza, where support for a two-state solution has lately fallen to just below the halfway mark.
The irony here is that for all President Obama’s harping on the “peace process” and attempt at detente with Iran, he has not only encouraged an anti-Iran alliance between Israel and Sunni states but has left the “peace process” on the back burner, waaaay back. The administration used to insist that Arab states’ top issue in discussions with the United States was Israel’s accommodation with the Palestinians. Even if sincere at the time (as opposed to a familiar excuse for dysfunctional Arab regimes’ lack of economic and political reform), that is no longer the case. The European Union — in which the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement and a new generation of virulent anti-Semitism flourish — is about the only place where the “peace process” is of interest.
As violent and unstable swaths of the Middle East may be, there are also unintended, positive consequences of the administration’s blunders. “The conclusion is clear: today a broader regional approach to Arab-Israeli peacemaking, rather than a strictly bilateral Israeli-Palestinian one, offers somewhat better prospects of success — whether at the official, elite, media, or even popular levels,” Pollock writes. “Normalization with Israel remains controversial in Arab circles, but it is no longer taboo. For an increasing number of Arabs, the Israeli ‘enemy of my enemy’ may not be a friend, but could become a partner. The next U.S. Administration would do well to ponder this unaccustomed situation, and to adjust its policies accordingly.”
Meanwhile, the Palestinian Authority remains mired in corruption and ineptitude. Former deputy national security adviser Elliott Abrams writes: “Municipal elections are scheduled for October 8th in the West Bank and Gaza. … The unpopularity of the Palestinian Authority and the ruling Fatah Party due to corruption, incompetence, and growing repression helps explain why West Bank voters might choose Hamas.” As in 2006, the avowed terrorist group Hamas may prevail. The difference, Abrams notes, is that since 2006 “[Mahmoud] Abbas is ten years older and his time in office is closer to its end. Until succession issues are dealt with the notion of serious Israeli-Palestinian negotiations is completely unrealistic — whatever happens at the United Nations, whatever the French suggest or the Russians try, and whatever the Obama administration or its successor believe.”
So where does that leaves everyone? The administration that continually mouthed the platitude that the “status quo is unsustainable” between Israel and the Palestinians is proving the opposite. Israel thrives economically and is embraced by new Arab friends. The Palestinians still suffer from lack of honest, democratic and competent leadership. Until the latter changes, the status quo will suit Israel just fine.