It was a shock for most of the world when the United States’ President Donald Trump recognized Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. Most notably was the reaction of Recep Tayyip Erdogan, President of Turkey, one of the most politically active states in the Middle East. He called Jerusalem the “Red Line” for Muslims.
Six months later, the US officially moved its embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, with high ranking officials from Trump’s administration including Ivanka Trump, the president’s daughter, and her husband, Jared Kushner, who is also the senior adviser to Trump, attending the event. It was clear there are no “red lines” for Israel. The move coincided with the Nakba Day (May 15) commemoration of Palestinian people, over all resulting in the death of more than 60 Palestinian protesters. The world seemed to witness a jolt on this occasion. To those who have followed the developments in the Middle East since the formation of the state of Israel in 1948 closely, however, the expression of the surprise over Israel’s latest moves must be a matter of a grin, especially at a time when the region is already in chaos and Israel has full confidence in the support of the US administration.
Ever since its establishment, Israel acted as an experienced Shifu master in calculating both the amount of force to be applied for the attainment of its objectives and goals, as well as resulting consequences of such force. This process has generally invoked a hierarchy of reactions: first actions would look shocking but over time and through repetition and abundant usage would soon become a norm. Nothing that Israel throughout its short history has planned, remained unaccomplished. Therefore, the US recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, in spite of insistence from international community against the move, should be seen as part of the historic pattern, rather than a temporally isolated act.
However, what is interesting nowadays in the Middle East is the deafening silence, or the tepid response, of the Arab neighbors. From their one time total denial of the existence of an Israel to being almost close allies, what has caused this transformation of Arab States’ attitude towards Israel? And where is Israel headed from now on, given that the situation in the region is only turning in its favor?
To begin with, recognizing Jerusalem as the capital of Israel has been an election promise of every United States’ president ever since the state of Israel was established in 1948. Breaking with the tradition, the current US President Donald Trump finally implemented the US 1995 Congressional legislation that recognizes Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. From an Israeli point of view there could not be more opportune time for the recognition of Jerusalem as its capital than the present one. The change in the US attitude even led some experts to believe that Trump has conflated the US foreign policy towards the Middle East due to the demands of the Israeli administration. Besides, Israel is exploiting sectarian divisions and the new emerging faults lines amid the current hysteria caused by the wars and proxy interventions in Syria and Yemen.
Anyone with complete sight of the temporal frame of the Middle East since the two secretive agreements, Sykes-Picot (1915) and Belfour Declaration (1917), signed by French and British to divide the region and to carve out the state of Israel, would conclude that Jerusalem is just a step, not the step, forward for Israel. Israel’s journey from being a mere territory for Jewish migrant refugees who were enduring purges in Europe during the last century to a concrete and prosperous nation that dominates world’s most contended region indicates that Israel’s expansion has been directly proportional to its rising power, the phenomenon that led to the weakening of other players in the region and diminished the focus on the Palestinian issue.
There are multiple factors that have contributed to the growing power of Israel and its gradual legitimation within the heart of the Arab world. Anti-Israel cry has always been a rallying point for Arabs. However, the Arab uprisings that began in 2011 disrupted the entire Arab world, and the dictatorial regimes that survived or overtook power became inwardly and paranoid. The civil wars in Yemen, Syria and Iraq, rise of non-state transnational actors, such as ISIS and al Qaeda, fear of the expansion of political-Islamic groups like the Muslim Brotherhood, and the refugee crises, successfully diverted the focus from Israel into other issues. Though the threat of disintegration, implosion or overthrow of the regimes have historically been present in every Middle Eastern state, the latest uprising that continues to plough through these countries for the past seven years has increased the danger.
Lately, the sectarian element has starkly come to define fault-lines in the region, forcing Arab regimes, particularly the Gulf ones, to consider the Shiite neighbor Iran as their main rival. Iran’s growing clout throughout the region is forcing the Sunni Arab regimes, including Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Oman, Kuwait and Egypt to an increased raprochement with Israel.
Nevertheless, the inwardness of Arab regimes is not new. It is as old as the Israeli state. In fact, Israel prompted the inwardness of Arab regimes by direct use of force against them, and its ruthless response to any party supporting the Palestinian Cause in order to make the support too costly. Few remarkable events that took place in the second half of the 20th century reflect this reality: Six-Day Arab-Israeli war of 1967 in which Israel gained swift victories against Jordan, Egypt and Syria, capturing West Bank, Sinai Peninsula, and Golan Heights, and at the same time breaking the back of Arab nationalism, which had been so far an important mobilization call for Arabs against Israel; 1973 Arab-Israeli War, though a secretive offensive led jointly by Syria and Egypt, yet the two countries could not make any substantial gains — despite having an upper hand initially — because of their internal disagreement. Due to their internal corruption and realization of their own weaknesses, the Arab regimes broke bread with Israel, resulting in signing of Camp David Accords between Israel and Egypt, then Oslo Accord with the Palestinians and Wadi Araba with Jordan.
After these peace settlements, Palestine increasingly became a peripheral issue and Palestinians were left almost alone to face their own foe. Israel, on the other hand, took advantage of this strategic change in the region and became freer in dealing with Palestinian issues and Palestinians. Israel has unleashed a discourse that applauds itself as the only free and democratic nation in the Middle East, celebrating itself as the power that has defeated terrorism (reference to Palestinian resistance movement), implicitly legitimizing its occupation of Palestine, and priding its growing technological prowess and exportation of lethal weapons. As a result, Israel is becoming an attraction for other powers such as China, Russia, and India, who are looking at it as a promising partner that can fulfill their strategic goals in the region.
So when Israel stands at its strongest turn in history, why should it abandon its ambitions of grasping more influence and domination? Israel’s refusal to define its borders even recognize the pre-1967 boundary line, is as much an expression of its growing power as it is the signification of an indefinite desire for more territorial expansion.
As Israeli Education Minister, Naftali Bennett’s stated in an interview with Aljazeera’s UpFront host Mehdi Hassan last year: “The era of a Palestinian state is over […] there already exist two states for the Palestinians: one in Gaza, a full blown state run by Hamas, and the other is Jordan, where 70 percent of the citizens are, indeed, Palestinians. […] So, the discussion is whether we need a third Palestinian state in the heart of Israel, and the answer is no.”
Tomorrow when Israel lays its claim on the entire West Bank or Gaza, it should not come as a shock. For those who have been sincere to the Palestinian Cause this is not the time to feign surprise or shock at Israel’s moves, rather it is time for recognizing the Arab’s none ending defeats and weakness.
Joe Hammoura, Why Jerusalem is not the “Red Line”? MEIRSS (Middle East Institute for Research and Strategic Studies), June 4, 2018.