The back-to-back peace agreements signed by Israel with the Gulf Arab countries may be a death knell for the two-state solution
The last few months of the now outgoing Trump administration have been quite hectic from the foreign policy perspective. In an otherwise turbulent and highly fragile four years of the Trump presidency marked by foreign policy disasters, the last six months of 2020 have been some sort of landmark vis-à-vis Trump’s West Asia policy. In early August, the Trump administration oversaw the signing of the Abraham Accords, which are a series of peace-cum-normalisation agreements between Israel with three Arab states – Bahrain, the UAE, and Sudan.
One issue that remains unaddressed and which can have ramifications for peace and stability in West Asia and Middle East is the two-state solution to the problem of Israel and Palestine. The normalisation agreements have covertly sidelined the issue of Palestinians. What is clear from the normalisation agreements between Israel and the Gulf Arab states is that the politics of West Asia has undergone drastic transformation. It will not be the same any more. Henry Kissinger in his famous book ‘World Order’ wrote that geopolitics and strategic considerations triumph religious issues. These diplomatic agreements are symptomatic of a Zionist-Sunni alliance against Shia Iran. Iran finding itself isolated is desperately trying to find a way out of this stranglehold because Arab-Zionist bonhomie is clearly in the US’s strategic interest.
To undermine the impact of the agreements, Iran stitched a $400 billion strategic partnership with China in late September. Iran approved China’s access to its defence and financial systems so much so that Iran is now a de jure part of the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), much to India’s chagrin. The scales appear firmly tilted in Israel’s favour, however. With the change of regime in the US, it will interesting to see whether the new Biden administration chooses to follow a more reconciliatory policy towards Iran and thinks about resurrecting the Iran nuclear accord, which would alienate Israel and the Sunni Gulf monarchies. If Biden follows a hard line towards Iran, then the outcome will be a recalcitrant Iran pursuing a virile policy using its proxies to destabilise the entire Middle East and West Asia. In such a context, the old fissures in West Asia will be aggravated.
No justice for Palestinians
The aftermath of these diplomatic agreements has been the Palestinians being left high and dry. For decades they have been fighting for the two-state solution, but first it was Britain to betray them through the Balfour declaration of 1916, then the Sykes Picot Agreement, followed by the formation of Israel in 1948 with utter disregard for the rights of the Palestinian people. These agreements have not only alienated Palestinians who are almost facing an existential crisis but also point to a deeper schism within the Muslim world.
The Palestinian cause has been systemically jettisoned by the Gulf monarchies who earlier were the most vocal endorsers of the two-state policy. What compounded the problem was the routine human rights violations that Israel continued to commit. Palestinian homes were demolished and new Israeli settlements built in their place. The height of irony is the volte face by the Gulf monarchies vis-à-vis the Israeli occupation of West Bank. Israel promised to postpone the building of new settlements as part of the recognition agreement considerations but never said anything about bringing the construction work to a halt. This highlights the apathy shown by Israel.
The international community gave a muted response to all this. Despite opposition from the UK and Germany, Israel continues to violate Palestinian rights. The UN is powerless to act as the US and the West call the shots at the world body. Perhaps it is pretty clear that Palestinians will face further rights violations in the coming years.
Saudi recognition: a potential death knell?
The “esoteric” meeting between Israeli and Saudi officials and the subsequent allowance given to Israeli flights to use Saudi airspace to fly over it has generated a new churn in West Asian geopolitics. When seen from the prism of the Palestinian cause, it potentially signals the death knell of the two-state solution, the primary reason being Saudi Arabia being the core state in the Islamic world despite the emergence of fissures in Islamic unity following the emergence of a parallel grouping led by Malaysia, Turkey and Pakistan.
The hush-hush Saudi recognition of Israel signals a paradigm shift, for it could lead to the creation of a new history and may signal a dramatic change in the way the Jewish-Muslim relations evolve. What, however, needs to be remembered is that Palestinians look up to Saudi Arabia as the only remaining ally in the dream of a homeland and their ally seems to be slowly betraying them.
As the world finally sees the light at the end of the tunnel when it comes to the COVID-19 pandemic, there appears very dim light for the Palestinian cause. The only remedy for them is perhaps an urgent course correction by the international community, and the new liberal US leadership under President Joe Biden who must put pressure on Israel to halt all settlement building work and ask Israel to respect Palestinian rights. If that fails, then the international community should think about imposing sanctions on Israel. One thing is very clear: Palestinians have to dig in and fight.