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After the Gaza war, conditions could be right for a broader Israel-Arab peace deal

Although the Gaza war was initiated by the inhuman attack of Hamas on Israel, on Oct. 7, the official Arab response was to blame Israel for it

By: EBR - Posted: Friday, January 5, 2024

Only the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain – signatories to the Abraham Accords with Israel – have specifically condemned Hamas for its murderous attack, which invoked the harsh response from Israel.
Only the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain – signatories to the Abraham Accords with Israel – have specifically condemned Hamas for its murderous attack, which invoked the harsh response from Israel.

by Uri Dromi*

Although the Gaza war was initiated by the inhuman attack of Hamas on Israel, on Oct. 7, the official Arab response was to blame Israel for it. Only the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain – signatories to the Abraham Accords with Israel – have specifically condemned Hamas for its murderous attack, which invoked the harsh response from Israel.

There were some dissenting voices by individual Arabs, like the Saudi Loay Al-Shareef, who, on Oct. 11, wrote: “I chose to take a side with the civilized world, not the side of extremism or terrorism presented by Hamas.”

Such statements, though, were the rare exceptions. The general Arab mood prompted Arab leaders – fearing that the popular unrest might turn against them – to take a firm stand against Israel on this issue. So much so, that on Oct. 18, following an angry protest around Israel’s embassy in Amman, Jordan’s King Abdullah took a drastic step and cancelled a summit with U.S. President Joe Biden, Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.

On the same day, however, Mr. el-Sisi hosted the German Chancellor Olaf Scholz in Cairo, and in a joint news conference, he rejected the idea of relocating people from Gaza to the Egyptian Sinai Peninsula. He based his argument not on moral grounds or international law, but on pragmatism: this would create a launching pad for terror attacks against Israel in Sinai, he warned. But then Mr. al-Sisi shocked his listeners by adding the following statement: “If there is an intention for forceful relocation, there is the Negev Desert in Israel. It is very possible to transfer the Palestinians there, until Israel accomplishes its stated mission to liquidate the resistance, or the armed groups, Hamas, the Islamic Jihad, and others in the Gaza Strip. After that, it can return them if it wants.”

Unwittingly, then, Mr. al-Sisi exposed a silent, perhaps subconscious desire to see Israel decimating Hamas. For him it would be a blessing, because of Hamas’s affinity with the Muslim Brotherhood, the great enemy of the Egyptian regime. My guess, however, is that many more in the moderate Sunni Middle East will sigh in relief, if and when Israel succeeds in stripping Hamas of its ability to constantly destabilize the region.

For decades, Hamas has been exhibiting its poisonous impact on Arab affairs. In the Arab League Summit in Beirut in 2002, the Saudi Initiative was adopted, calling for peace between the Arab world and Israel. For Israel, this was a dream come true: Since its founding in 1948, the Jewish state has only faced enmity and aggression from its Arab neighbours, and suddenly it seemed that there was an opening for a different future.

At the same time, for Israel, the Saudi Initiative was a hard pill to swallow. It called for a full withdrawal from the territories conquered in the Six Day War and the establishment of a Palestinian state with its capital in East Jerusalem. Even more difficult was the article calling to find “an agreed, just solution to the problem of Palestinian refugees in conformity with Resolution 194,” which basically meant the return of the 1948 refugees to Israel, something very few Israelis would accept.

Israelis were not given the time to review and discuss the Saudi Initiative, which was also known as the Arab Peace Initiative. A day before it was published, on March 27, 2002, Hamas launched a massive suicide bombing attack, killing 30 Israelis and wounding 140 who were celebrating the Passover Seder in Netanya. Israel responded with Operation Defensive Shield, and obviously, there was no inclination among Israelis to entertain peace ideas.

With this year’s Oct. 7 attack, Hamas moved again to sabotage an Arab motion to come to terms with Israel, this time aiming to torpedo the U.S.-brokered rapprochement between Saudi Arabia and Israel. Hamas, however, made a fatal miscalculation, bringing upon itself its own destruction.

The Arab Peace Initiative is still on the table, and once the disruptive power of Hamas is removed, a modified version of it can serve as a basis for a regional peace summit, presided by the U.S., and supported by those in the Middle East who yearn for a different path for the region. Sounds ambitious, I know, but without Hamas around it has a chance to succeed.

*the spokesman of the Rabin and Peres governments from 1992-1996
**first published in The Globe and Mail 

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