Samira A. Zedan
As part of concerted efforts to bring more stability and peace to the region, President Donald Trump announced yesterday that the US had helped broker a fourth peace deal between Israel and an Arab nation.
Axios reports that “Morocco is the fourth Arab country to move toward normalization with Israel in the last four months as part of the Trump administration’s ‘Abraham Accords’ initiative.”
Despite all these efforts, it is not difficult for any Middle East observer to realize that the recent US presidential election brought about reactions that had not been seen in that region during all the previous American elections, since the United States became a major player in the Middle East after World War II.
Nonetheless, the consequences of the election could include changes in many countries in the region, most importantly in Iran, which seemed to be breathing a sigh of relief at the possibility of the United States returning to the nuclear agreement once Biden is inaugurated next month.
Despite all efforts that President Trump headed to contain the Iranian nuclear program, and all the sanctions imposed due Iran’s intention to acquire nuclear weapons, Iran continued to defy all the pressure. On many occasions, it sought to enrich uranium to levels much higher than any level contemplated in the signed agreements with the IAEA or what was known as 5+1 countries (that is, the permanent members of the UN Security Council plus Germany).
The West considered that the activity of the prominent Iranian nuclear scientist Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, a leading figure in the Islamic Republic’s nuclear program, was a good indication of Iran’s relentless pursuit of nuclear weapons. Fakhrizadeh was, of course, recently killed in an attack outside Iran’s capital, Tehran. Western security sources have confirmed that Israel possessed recordings of the murdered scientist in which he said that he was initially ordered by the Iranian mullahs to build five nuclear warheads.
Furthermore, Tehran feels that Biden’s arrival will mean freeing its hands again to serve its hegemonic ambitions in the Gulf region and to strengthen Hezbollah’s role as a state-within-a-state in Lebanon that controls all aspects of life.
As for the peace process in the Middle East, the recent statement by the Saudi Prince Turki Al-Faisal, the former head of Saudi intelligence, caused a huge reaction on social media as he attacked the Jewish state on the sidelines of the Manama Dialogue 2020 in Bahrain.
Prince Turki had several meetings in the past with Israelis in public, in Washington and in Bahrain, mainly to enhance Saudi Arabia’s efforts to encircle Iran in the region, while enlisting Israel’s unequivocal support. His recent attack against Israel came as a big surprise to the Israelis, as well to the Gulf states that have already signed a peace agreement with Israel.
Gaby Ashkenazi, the Israeli Foreign Minister, on his Twitter account described what the “Saudi representative at the Manama conference” said as “false accusations,” and stated that “they did not reflect the spirit of change that the region is going through,” referring to the process of normalization with the Jewish state.
Analysts in the region saw this as a possible Saudi reaction to the possibility of the return of the Biden administration to support a peace process that would harden the Palestinian position. Thus Saudi Arabia does not want to be perceived as leaving the Palestinians alone. After all, the Palestinians always hoped to use the normalization between the Arab states and Israel as leverage to against the Jewish state.
On the other hand, the popular support and welcome from the Gulf states which are already normalizing with Israel so far exceeded all expectations and proved to be more productive than the peace agreements that Israel had previously signed with Egypt and Jordan.
In this video, we see a recent Jewish wedding that took place in the Emirates. This is a good example of how both the Israelis and Emiratis are at ease with each other and fully embrace the new spirit that prevailed after the agreements were signed in Washington.
Photos represent a charitable work that brought Israel and the United Arab Emirates together to help the needy in the US. In a humanitarian initiative that was the first of its kind, employees of the embassies of Israel and the UAE in the United States prepared parcels of necessities to deal with the winter season and the Corona pandemic, which will be distributed to homeless people in the Washington, DC area.
Many countries in the region feel that what has been achieved so far regarding the restabilizing of the region after bloody years due to the so-called Arab spring may be endangered if the hardliners in general feel that the new US administration may reengage with the Muslim Brotherhood movement, as it did during the two terms of President Obama.
In fact, this concern might be the reason behind the recent visit of Egyptian President Sisi to France, which may be a prelude to rejecting any pressure that Egypt may face from the Biden administration regarding the continuous imprisonment of many of Muslim Brotherhood leaders in Egypt.
The French President reiterated that France would continue providing the Egyptian army with weapons without making them conditional on human rights issues which could be perceived as an indirect message to the Biden administration.
Along with other Republican Senators, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) has reintroduced a bill that called on the U.S. State Department to designate the Muslim Brotherhood as a terrorist group. Despite the fact that time is of the essence in regard to passing such a bill, Egypt might find itself at odds with Biden, who promised to fill his administration with Muslims “at all levels.”
Most of the Muslim groups that supported Biden during the election campaign are adamant in their support of the Muslim Brotherhood, such as the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), which is also known for its explicit support to the Palestinian group Hamas.
No wonder the Muslim Brotherhood, banned in Egypt, could not conceal its excitement and issued a statement regarding Joe Biden’s victory over President Donald Trump in the US presidential election.
In the statement issued by its Deputy General Guide Ibrahim Mounir, the Muslim Brotherhood applauded the electoral process in the United States, noting that Biden’s victory was “a victory that proves that the American people are still able to impose their will.”
The Muslim Brotherhood expressed the hope that Biden, the American people, and the people of the whole world would “continue to live in dignity in light of the principles of freedom, justice, democracy, and respect for human rights,” and addressed the new administration with a call stating that “the time has come to review the policies of support and support for dictatorships, and for the crimes and violations committed by tyrannical regimes around the world.”
As for the Palestinians, it became clear that they are yearning for the return of US taxpayer money to support the futile UNRWA program, to reopen the US consulate in East Jerusalem, as well as to reopen the Palestinian Representation Office in Washington, which was closed by the Trump administration.
But the most serious expectation of all is that the Palestinians hope the Biden administration will be willing to accept the return of a roadmap that would include dividing Jerusalem and the demand for full Islamic control over the Temple Mount, which caused the failure of the peace negotiations in the summer of 2000 in Camp David, and at a later stage in Taba, Egypt.
This, in fact, eventually led to the resignation of the Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak, to whom the Palestinians increased their demands to include an influx of hundreds of thousands of Palestinians returning to live in Israel.
Exactly twenty years ago, the Palestinians miscalculated when they thought that the then-incoming Bush administration would be more sympathetic and thus prompted Palestinian leader Arafat to resort to the use of violence in what he called the Al-Aqsa Intifada, following a visit by Ariel Sharon’s visit to the Temple Mount. Arafat bore out the Israelis’ fear that he was more interested in a zero-sum game rather than a genuine peace agreement.
These misjudgments brought a complete breakdown of the political process and a dramatic shrinking of Israeli public support for a peace process that brought unprecedented terrorist attacks against Israeli civilians inside their cities and communities.
This is another reason why the new Biden administration must make it clear to the Palestinian leadership that they need to calibrate their expectations and carefully gauge their stance.
The United States has to reiterate that the Palestinians’ mistakes in the past will bring more dire conditions upon the Palestinian people, and will bring another cycle of violence that the Israelis will be more resolute than ever to reject, fight and defeat.
Samir A. Zedan is a former Senior Counter-Terrorism Analyst at the US Department of State, and a former Development Outreach and Communication Specialist at USAID/Iraq. He has contributed to hundreds of articles published in major media outlets with assignments in the Palestinian Areas, Israel, Jordan, Iraq, and Europe.