Monday, September 12, 2016

Is Abbas' Tantrum The Result of the Success of Netanyau's Latest Strategy?

Last week it was Mahmoud Abbas against the world as Abbas decries pressure from the US, Russia and the Arab world:
“Our relations with everyone must be good, but no one will dictate to us any position or idea...Therefore, let us think as Palestinians. I will think about Palestine, not Washington or Moscow”
President Abbas speaks to Israeli journalists in Ramallah, January 21, 2016.
 of Israel (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
What is going on here?

It turns out that while Abbas has repeatedly resisted US pressure to make peace with Israel,  and has refused to modify his position on Israel as a Jewish state, there may be something different about the kind of pressure Abbas claims to be feeling now.

You may have noticed that the Saudi Arabian press has been coming out with articles favorable to Jews and Israel -- decrying Antisemitism and suggesting that the Arab world can learn from the successes of the Jewish state. Even granted that a great deal of this change in attitude is the threat of Iran, the fact remains that common interests and not affection form the basis for the relations of any two countries.

Saudi Maj.-Gen. (ret.) Anwar Eshki (center with striped tie)
with Israeli Knesset members (Image:, July 23, 2016)

This goes beyond the Saudis. In an article about Israel's new friends, Bloomberg's Eli Lake notes there other countries in the Middle East with improved ties with Israel. Recently, Turkey normalized its ties with the Jewish state. Dore Gold, the director general of Israel's Foreign Ministry told Lake about the negotiations he has conducted with the Gulf monarchies and that he believes "his diplomacy with the Arab states resembles the dynamics that created the predecessor of the European Union after the end of World War II."

Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, president of Turkey 

It is no wonder that The New York Times' concern about Israel's new diplomatic initiatives go beyond just the question of Can Israel and the Arab States Be Friends? While it agrees that improved relations between Israel on the one hand and Saudi Arabia and other Sunni states on the other mean "better relations among these neighbors could put the chaotic Middle East on a more positive course. They could also leave the Palestinians in the dust, a worrisome prospect."

Abbas likely feels the same.

Meanwhile, outside of the Middle East, Israel has steadily improved its relations with both China and Russia. For example, Israel has bombed targets in Syria despite Russian missile-defense system there, an indication of a degree of coordination and common interests between the two countries that goes beyond what the Obama Administration has been able to accomplish.

And of course Russia is trying to arrange their own peace summit with direct talks between Abbas and Netanyahu.

One can begin to understand the new kind of pressure that Abbas may be feeling as the neighborhood is warming up to Israel.

That neighborhood extends to Africa, where Abbas has apparently drawn the line and has decided to fight back. Back in July, The Jerusalem Post reported on Israel, Palestinian Authority in African diplomatic battle:
Israel is continuing to make inroads into Africa, as Chad – which has suddenly found itself on the front lines in the battle against Islamic extremists – is expected to be the next majority-Muslim African state to reestablish ties with Jerusalem, The Jerusalem Post has learned.

Guinea and Israel announced the reestablishment of ties on Wednesday, and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu – who visited four East African countries earlier this month – said that another African country would soon follow suit.

...But while African countries seem to be warming up to Israel, Palestinian Authority Foreign Minister Riyad al-Maliki announced this week that the PA and Sudan were coordinating to “restrain Israeli movements” in Africa.
Foreign Ministry Director-General Dore Gold (left) meets with the president of Chad,
Idriss Déby (right), in the presidential palace in the city of Fada, July 14, 2016.
(Courtesy Foreign Ministry) Credit: Times of Israel

Diplomacy between Israel and Africa should not come as a surprise. Back in 1959, Golda Meir described the common interests behind her push as foreign minister for improved ties with Africa as stemming from "the drive toward universal self-determination and international justice which lies at the heart of my socialist Zionist values...we share with the African peoples a memory of centuries-long suffering" [Yehuda Avner, The Prime Ministers, p.104-105]

Today, the African countries who seek better ties with Israel have more pragmatic interests in common with Israel:
  • African countries want to benefit from Israel's expertise on how to fight radical Islamist terrorism, especially tapping into counter-terrorist training and accessing Israel's intelligence and technology.

  • Israel's established security ties with Egypt and Jordan, along with the improving relations with Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states, means African countries no longer have to fear Arab pressure against developing ties with Israel.
Meanwhile, Reuters reports that Japan, Israel upgrade relations as Arab oil influence wanes, though Japan is also interested in Israeli technology.

Whether Europe with take a hint from Africa and Japan and dial down their antagonism towards Israel may be another story.

The bottom line is that the way Israel is perceived by its neighbors is beginning to change. Even in the best of times, Arab countries that claimed to support the Palestinian Arabs failed to follow up on the millions they pledged to the the Palestinian Authority. This new development of improving relations between Israel and put the lie to the claim that Israel is isolated. It serves as a counter to Abbas' recent successes in the UN and Europe towards recognition of a Palestinian state while avoiding his obligations to negotiate with Israel as laid out in the Oslo Accords.

Now with Russia pushing the idea of direct talks between Abbas and Netanyahu it is no wonder Abbas is feeling cranky

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