The longer-term Middle East roadmap

By Tim Potier

Have you noticed that there is one subject that has fallen off the world’s radar during the past few years; a conflict that the vast majority of us have been reminded of since we were small? That’s right, think of the Middle East, but not Iraq, nor necessarily Syria.

Think rather of the Israel-Palestinian conflict. Since the dawn of the Arab Spring in 2011, the problem has faded from our consciousness. Perhaps it has exhausted us.

The basis for a settlement is essentially known, but it is left to the respective sides to will the necessary compromises and, for different reasons in each case, there appears to be little appetite to make them.

Last week, Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu met US President  Donald Trump at the White House. Until not very long ago, this would have been big news, the date of the meeting much anticipated. Instead, it was relatively little reported and hardly dwelt upon. Nevertheless, President Trump’s stance was highly significant.

For as long as I can remember, the United States government has been committed to a two-state solution. Now, following the press conference between the two leaders, it would appear that President Trump is relaxed about the option of either this or a one-state solution.

This revelation should, at least to the international media, have been sensational. However, we are today so consumed by global jihad and ISIS, Syria and Iraq, and, of course, wearied by almost daily extravagances from the President of the United States, that the world appeared to shrug and move on.

The Israeli authorities will have regarded this as a triumph, at least in the short  – to medium – term. The Palestinian side has become so invisible and its political leadership irrelevant – forgive me if I appear to be a little unfair – that its reaction seemed to be inaudible.

Meanwhile, the building of more homes in the West Bank has recently been authorised; thus, potentially, bringing the day closer when the international community will be left with a fait accompli in the region.

To be fair, I do recognise that Israel has had to keep close watch, recently, of other matters of much more central and immediate concern to the country’s security. Saddam Hussein was not mourned.

Hosni Mubarak was preferred to the alternative, but at least normalcy has since been restored in Egypt. The efforts of those who wished to remove President Assad from power very nearly succeeded, but have now failed. Meanwhile, understandings between Israel and Sunni-dominated kingdoms of the Arabian Peninsula and Persian Gulf continue to solidify.

The biggest threat to Israel’s longer-term security, in the eyes of its politicians and officials, remains Iran and its alleged desire to become a nuclear power. I have written before that I believe there is little that can be done to stop this from happening.

If Tehran, despite what it says in public, is determined to develop nuclear weapons, there is little, short of something akin to World War Three, that can be done to prevent it.

This is why I have been so grateful that President Trump’s earlier pronouncements on Iran have become more restrained in recent weeks.

Tearing up the nuclear deal with Iran would, in my opinion, be a grave mistake, only heighten tensions in the region to a possibly irreversible level and, thus, make a much wider and more destructive conflict almost inevitable.

The only hope for Iran is that we guide their attention much more towards them finding an accommodation with Saudi Arabia, with whom they are engaged in a proxy war in Yemen, and remind Tehran of the positive contribution the country can make, alongside Riyadh, to longer-lasting peace and stability in the region.
Make no mistake, Israel is right to have its demands. It should not be expected to be charitable.

Thus, its cautious, quiet and wise approach should continue. Those understandings, with the continued support of Washington, should be given time to mature. Moscow has a vital role to play in nurturing equivalent understandings between Israel and Iran.

All of this will take some years, in light of the more immediate, not only regional, threat. I believe President Assad will eventually be given time to rehabilitate both himself and his leadership, and that delicate balance needs to be maintained in Lebanon.

By then, a new leadership will have emerged in Palestine, which may enable a broader multiparty regional peace to be signed. In truth, this Hundred Years War has much still to establish, so we will have to be patient.

Dr Tim Potier is Principal Lecturer in Law at Coventry University