By: Prof. Dr. Mohsen Mohammad Saleh.
In the previous article, we talked about the projected Palestinian paths in 2023 regarding the internal situation, Jerusalem, the resistance, and the Israeli scene. In this article, we cover the Arab, Islamic and international aspects of the Palestine issue.
The Arab and Muslim World:
The Arab region continues to be unstable and weak. It is true that the forces of change and reform had a number of frustrations and setbacks, the most recent of which was in Tunisia; however, the anti-Arab Spring forces were not able to swing the battle in their favor. The change movements are still strongly popular, while the Arab regimes are plunged in crises, having the same aggravating conditions that would make the masses rise up again to make a change and revolt. In the midst of these unstable conditions of a confusing strategic landscape, some regimes still consider their relation with Israel a key factor for their stability, whether when confronting the will of their peoples, or to appease the US, or in what they believe serves their security interests in the front against Iran.
However, the decline of direct US pressure, the drop in the US’ international standing, and the formation of the most extremist government in the history of Israel, in addition to the fact that the Arab relations with Israel did not make qualitative improvements for the regimes, make the Arab states hesitant in their drive to normalization.
It seems that the UAE will actively pursue normalization with Israel politically, economically, and in security and tourism, manifested in the rapid development of trade relations, exceeding $2 billion in 2022, and in Netanyahu’s planned visit to UAE. As for Bahrain, it is following the UAE’s lead in normalizing ties with Israel, albeit to a lesser degree, especially as it feels—more than other Arab countries—that Iran poses a greater threat to its regime, but nonetheless, there is a strong, more organized and clear opposition to normalization in Bahrain than the UAE. Morocco also is taking steady, and calculated, however, not hasty, steps towards normalization; for the ruling monarchy is aware of the widespread opposition to normalization, largely manifested in the popular and partisan activities, and in the World Cup in Qatar. As for the faltering normalization process with Sudan, it will increase due to the confusion and instability of Sudan’s government, and the fact that the anti-normalization forces are regaining momentum.
No change is expected in the Jordanian and Egyptian positions towards normalization and Israel. However, they will be more embarrassed when dealing with the extremist Israeli government, and Jordan will be in a more sensitive position, especially that there are influential forces in the Israeli government that want to abolish or marginalize the Hashemite Custodianship of the holy sites, end the peace process and promote the notion of an alternative homeland for Palestinians. Such developments would be concurrent with mounting protests against the worsening living and political conditions in Jordan, hence the Jordanian government may tend to become stricter, albeit to a limited extent, with the Israeli side.
As for Saudi Arabia, which Netanyahu will push hard to normalize ties with, it still prefers quiet relations under the table, not in a hurry to go public, as long as it does not face real pressures or critical circumstances.
Remarkably, Algeria took the lead in resisting normalization and fostering Palestinian reconciliation in 2022, and it seems that it will pursue the same policy in 2023. Kuwait will continue to have strong official and public opposition to normalization. As for Oman, it has expanded its Israel boycott law, which means it would pursue its quiet policy of distancing itself from normalization.
It is unlikely that a large-scale military confrontation will occur between Israel on one hand, and Hizbullah and other resistance forces in Lebanon, on the other hand, especially after the gas agreements reached, regarding the exploitation of gas off the Lebanese coast. Israel will also seek to continue to dominate Syrian airspace and implement the Mowing the Grass strategy, to secure the northern sphere with Syria, while the Syrian regime will continue to pursue its same policies.
Qatar, by practicing proxy diplomacy, maintains a distinguished relationship with the Palestinian forces, hosting Hamas leaders and supporting the Gaza Strip (GS), while having calculated steps of normalization with Israel, albeit in simple or limited forms. Such dynamics enable it to act as a mediator in one way or another. Under such delicate calculations (and to comply with the FIFA conditions), Qatar opened the way for 15 thousand Israelis to attend the soccer World Cup, but at the same time, allowed activities in support of Palestine and the raising of Palestinian flags.
As for the Arab public, it carries on to fervently support the Palestine issue and reject normalization, which will remain within official circles, as per opinion polls and the public’s response, and also as was evident in the World Cup in Qatar.
In the Muslim World, Turkey and Iran play main roles in the Palestine issue, where the former has improved lately its relations with Israel; dispatching ambassadors, bilateral trade exceeding $8.5 billion in 2022, mending diplomatic ties and softening criticism of Israeli actions, in addition to the Turkish desire that Hamas reduces its activities in Turkey. This Turkish policy is expected to continue in 2023, at least until it finishes the presidential and parliamentary elections.
Iran is expected to keep the same policies and positions towards the Palestine issue; whether by refusing to recognize Israel, or by continuing to support the resistance action, financially and militarily. However, in 2023, it will not engage in any armed confrontations with Israel, neither will its allies in Lebanon and Syria, unless there is a direct Israeli aggression that prompt them to respond.
Israel will continue normalizing relations with a number of Muslim countries; particularly Azerbaijan, which recently discussed the opening of an Azerbaijani embassy in Israel during the visit of its Deputy Foreign Minister to Israel, and Israeli attempt to achieve a breakthrough with Indonesia would continue.
The International Scene:
In 2023, the effects of the Russian-Ukrainian war will continue to reverberate across the international scene. Israel has tip-toed between the sides, maintaining its important and delicate relation with Russia, on one hand, and its strong relations with Ukraine, on the other hand, while wanting to appease the United States and the EU countries. At the same time, this war has led to a sharp increase in Jewish immigration to Israel from both Russia and Ukraine, and boosted the Israeli gas supply to Europe to partly offset the drop or loss of Russian gas supply. A situation likely to continue in 2023.
Internationally, in a world of moving to multipolarity, the US international status will continue to decline, and so will, relatively, its capability (and desire) to intervene abroad. The US rising interest in both sides of the Pacific region will continue, particularly its response to China’s rise, while the Middle East will remain on the backburner. However, this does not mean that the US will lose its position as a superpower in the short and medium term. It will remain the most effective international player in the region, and Israel will remain the cornerstone of its Middle Eastern policy. By decline we mean that the US ability to influence events and use hard and soft power, compared to previous years, has decreased, even if it remains at the forefront of the active international forces in the region.
The US will try to preserve the peace process and push for normalization with Israel. It will try to slow the extremist Israeli government’s rush to Judaize al-Aqsa Mosque, Jerusalem and the West Bank, and attack the Palestinian people, in order to preserve the remaining “illusions” of peace and two-state solution, and prevent the shameless exposure of the ugly face of the occupation in the international realm.
As for Europe which is entangled in its own problems, it is not expected that its general behavior, which is close to the US behavior, will change.
Russia, which is stuck in a war of attrition in Ukraine, will be less able to intervene in the region. However, it may use its dissatisfaction with the Israeli position towards the war, and with the Western stance in general, to be more politically open to the Palestinian side, including Hamas; but this doesn’t imply that it would provide financial or military support.
China, which has grown to become an economic power, boosted it defense budget and become the main trading partner of the Arab world, wants to avoid any collision or conflict with the US (Except for the Taiwan issue). It wants to preserve its strong relations with Israel, as long as the Arab region is weak and does not put any pressure on it. The Chinese diplomatic stances towards the Palestine issue will remain the same; supporting the peace process and the two-state solution, while keeping distance from any active political role in Palestinian affairs.
In South America, the pro-Palestine advocates are recovering with their victory in the elections of Chile and Brazil, opening better horizons for the issue.
Concerning the UN and other international bodies, no significant changes are expected, and resolutions in favor of Palestine will continue to be issued by a large majority, whether in the General Assembly or other UN bodies. The “veto” in the Security Council will remain an insurmountable US-Western obstacle to any Palestinian rights that can be achieved in practice. Nevertheless, the UN vote requesting the International Court of Justice (ICJ) to provide an opinion on the legal consequences of Israel’s 1967 occupation of the Palestinian territories, may provide better opportunities to put more pressure on Israel.
The public opinion all over the world, will continue its advocacy, albeit slowly, for more support to Palestinian rights. It will hold increasingly negative views of Israel. This public pressure, in case the Intifadah and resistance in occupied Palestine escalated, may become more powerful and have more influence on governments.
Related Articles: Political Analysis: Projected Palestinian Paths 2023 (1)
Al-Zaytouna Centre for Studies and Consultations, 10/1/2023