In Netanyahu’s Win, Arabs See Another Nail in the Coffin of a Palestinian State


BEIRUT, Lebanon — Benjamin Netanyahu appeared on Wednesday to be on his way to a fifth term as prime minister of Israel, solidifying the sense across the Arab world that the dream of a Palestinian state is more remote than ever — as is the chance that the United States will help create it.

Throughout his campaign, Mr. Netanyahu appealed to right-wing voters by making promises to them about issues long expected to be negotiated with Israel’s Arab neighbors.

And through his close relationship with the Trump administration, he pushed for the United States to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights. Days before the election, he suggested he would annex at least some of the West Bank if he won.

The strategy helped ensure his grip on power.

“It closes all doors for any possible peace settlement and any chance for the Palestinians to have a state of their own,” said Abdulkhaleq Abdulla, a political scientist from the United Arab Emirates. While that would cause frustration among the Arabs, there was little they could do about it, he said.

“The Arabs are at their weakest. The Palestinians are divided like never before. Israel is stronger than ever and Trump backs it, so Israel can do whatever it wants,” he said.

For decades, support for the creation of a Palestinian state was a rare issue met with consensus across the Arab world. Israeli leaders faced limits on the kinds of unilateral actions they could take for fear of causing pushback from the Arabs or from the United States and other Western countries.

But that dynamic has faded as the peace process stalled for years and as the Palestinians remain divided among themselves, with different factions in charge of the West Bank and Gaza.

The Arab Spring uprisings and their violent aftermath left many Arab leaders more focused on staying in power than on standing up for the Palestinians. And Gulf countries like Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates have quietly warmed up to Israel, seeing it as a valuable partner in confronting their common enemy — Iran.

Arab investment in the peace process dwindled even further with the election of President Trump, whose administration has built warm relations with Mr. Netanyahu while isolating the Palestinians. Leaders of allied Arab states did not want to jeopardize their own relations with the new administration by pushing the Palestinian cause.

The shrinking horizon for a Palestinian state “is concerning, but are the Arab regimes concerned?” asked Michael Young, a senior editor at the Carnegie Middle East Center in Beirut, Lebanon. “The Saudi and Emirati minds are on Iran, and they are not going to undermine their relationship with the United States and with Israel over these issues.”

Syria, which has long opposed Israel’s existence, has been so badly weakened by years of civil war that it could muster no more than formulaic condemnations when Mr. Trump recognized Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights. Israel seized the territory from Syria in the 1967 war.

Iraq, too, has been ground down by years of battle to oust the Islamic State from a chunk of its territory.

Dealing with the issue is more complicated for United States allies that made peace with Israel, hoping their agreements would pave the way for a broader agreement with the Palestinians.

In Egypt, President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi rarely speaks of the Palestinians and has embraced Mr. Trump as a rare American leader who does not criticize his human rights record.

Jordan, a close Arab ally of the United States, perhaps has the most to lose from Israel’s rightward lurch. It shares a long border with Israel, has a large Palestinian population and remains invested in resolving the core issues of the conflict, such as the status of Jerusalem and the fate of the Palestinian refugees.

“Now, with the new American approach, none of these positions will be respected,” said Oraib al-Rantawi, the director of the Al Quds Center for Political Studies. “Jordan is not happy to see Netanyahu elected again as prime minister of Israel, and we fear that we are not headed toward more conflict between Israel and the Palestinians but between Israel and Jordan.”

But there was little Jordan could do other than reject proposed settlements that are not to its liking or that impose specific roles on Jordan, like absorbing Palestinian refugees.

Mr. Netanyahu’s win could play into the hands of Arab militants, such as those in Hezbollah and Hamas who call for Israel’s destruction, because it bolsters their argument that negotiating with Israel is a waste of time.

“Netanyahu will likely form a new, right-wing Zionist government, and we are before a new stage of unprecedented cooperation between America and Israel represented in Netanyahu and Trump,” Hezbollah’s leader, Hassan Nasrallah, said in a speech on Wednesday.

It remains to be seen whether Mr. Netanyahu will make good on his election promises. Significant Israeli moves in the West Bank could result in new violence with the Palestinians, and many Arabs would automatically support their Arab brethren.

And cozying up to Israel too much could harm the standing of Arab leaders before their own people.

“The Palestinian situation has been written off so many times but it remains a big issue for many Arab citizens,” said Mr. Young of the Carnegie center. “We shouldn’t underestimate how this could be a problem for some of these regimes in terms of their legitimacy.”

Source : Nytimes