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New Signatures in a Different World

New Signatures in a Different World

Monday, 14 September, 2020 - 09:15
Ghassan Charbel
Ghassan Charbel is the editor-in-chief of Asharq Al-Awsat newspaper

In the history of the efforts exerted to end the Arab-Israeli conflict, pictures hung in the minds of the people of the Middle East. The photo of President Anwar Sadat delivering an address in the Israeli Knesset, and then pictures of the signing of the Camp David Accords, when Sadat and Menachem Begin shook hands, in the presence of President Jimmy Carter. These photos were not simple, nor were they easy to reach.


Then came the photos of Yasser Arafat shaking hands in the White House garden with Yitzhak Rabin and Shimon Peres, under the auspices of President Bill Clinton. These images were considered, shortly before their occurrence, unimaginable.


Each side has sought to cancel the other, but this was not possible, so it was necessary to exchange recognition and signature under the auspices and guarantees of the American mediator.


Also in the photos section are pictures of King Hussein and Yitzhak Rabin, with Bill Clinton between them, and then the signature in Wadi Araba.


Neither the negotiations nor the implementation of the agreements was an easy task. But after decades, the Egyptian-Israeli peace accord is still in place, and the same applies to the Jordanian-Israeli treaty, despite the heavy storms in the region and complaints about Israel’s way of dealing with those agreements and its interpretation of a comprehensive peace in the region.


Tomorrow, the people of the Middle East, regardless of their stances, will turn again to Washington, and specifically to the White House, because new photos will be added to the previous albums, along with new signatures.


Decades after the Egyptian and Jordanian treaties, we will witness tomorrow the conclusion of two new peace accords, the first between the United Arab Emirates and Israel, and the second between the latter and Bahrain.


But this time, the signatures are made in a very different world, under another regional and international context, with countries that do not share borders with the Jewish state, neither do they have occupied lands.


The reactions in the region will naturally be mixed and contradictory, as it has always been towards any attempt to dismantle this long conflict due to the deep wounds and many doubts.


The US administration will undoubtedly celebrate an event of this magnitude, as it comes only weeks ahead of the presidential elections, which will take place under the heavy toll of Covid-19 and the widespread violence that omens the continuation of deep ethnic divisions within American society.


It is difficult to predict President Donald Trump’s electoral gains from tomorrow’s photos, but what is certain is that he can consider the two new breakthroughs in the peace process as the fruit of his efforts and the policy of his administration.


In fact, many believed that Trump’s image in the Middle East would be linked only to the hardline stance he took towards the Iranian regime and his withdrawal from the nuclear deal. Many thought that his photo would be associated with the policy of “maximum pressure” on Tehran and the assassination of its chief general and the second man in its regime, Qassem Soleimani.


Undeniably, the US sanctions against the Iranian regime caused it great economic losses that nearly destabilized it. The Iranian currency recorded an unprecedented slide. Public anger escalated and turned into demonstrations that stopped only after the authorities used methods of murder and excessive arrests.


There is a big difference between the world that witnessed the signing of the Oslo Accords in the White House on September 13, 1993, and the world that will witness, tomorrow, September 15, the signing of the two new treaties.


Between the two occasions, 27 years in which the international and regional scenes changed greatly.


When you ask an Arab player, who followed up on the peace efforts in the region, to explain to you what is happening, he rushes to say that the world has changed.


He says that the last two decades of the current century witnessed the attacks of September 11, which lured the United States into an international punitive campaign, the most prominent victim of which was Saddam Hussein’s regime in 2003. Saddam was an element of concern for the Gulf region, and he committed the invasion of Kuwait, but his fall opened the door to new dangers.


Your interlocutor stops at three events that he deems important in understanding the present. The first is the rise of Iranian influence in the region, and its subsequent success in taking decisions in each of Baghdad, Damascus and Beirut, all the way to Sanaa. The Iranian regime pushed its attack in the region forward, placing its arsenal at the service of the Houthis, and did not hesitate to use its missiles and drones against Saudi economic and civilian targets, and in threatening maritime navigation and energy routes.


The second event is the so-called “Arab Spring”, the interventions in Syria and the Brotherhood attempts to seize decision-making centers, then the emergence of ISIS and its repercussions.


The third event is the exposure of Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s policy and his longing for a difficult past. Thus, the Arab component seemed threatened by more than one regional program, and it appeared that strong relations with the United States were the most reliable guarantees.


The interlocutor continues, pointing out that a change in priorities has occurred due to considerations of security, stability and direct threats. In parallel, Israel succeeded in strengthening its relations with the major powers, especially Russia. The best evidence of the friendly relations between Benjamin Netanyahu and Vladimir Putin was the successive Israeli raids on Iranian targets in Syria, despite the Russian military presence.


This coincided with the harm done to the Palestinian presence as a result of changes in the world, as well as due to Palestinian divisions and the factions’ involvement with the Iranian or Turkish plans.


He says that in light of those developments and the need for a deep engagement with Western countries, major companies and technology giants, the UAE decided to take a sovereign decision to establish peace with Israel, in exchange for the latter suspending its decision to annex large parts of the West Bank.


In the same context, Bahrain took a similar decision to sign a peace treaty. It is clear that the two countries have not abandoned the call for a comprehensive peace and for the two-state solution stipulated in the Arab Peace Initiative.


Tomorrow, the people of the Middle East will again turn to the White House to follow new images and new signatures, in search of peace that the signatories see as urgent in order to focus on new dangers, to wage the battle of development, and to engage without obstacles in the world of technology and progress.


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