Prof Rubin comments on Blair’s comments


By Barry Rubin

There’s a fascinating interview in the February 10 Jerusalem Post with former British prime minister and now Quartet peace envoy Tony Blair. On one hand, it gets things wrong but on the other hand it expresses some extremely important trends.

Blair states that many Arab leaders back terms for a peace agreement “very close to what Israel is wanting….I have a genuine belief, and this is not shared by everyone in Israel: The Arabs genuinely want this settled now.” And the type of agreement they want and would accept is close to Israel’s requirements.

Continuing, Blair says this comes from leaders who “want to be on the cutting edge of globalization. And they realize their politics and their culture have got to start coming into synch with their economies.” The Arab world, he says, is “in transition” into either a modern, globalized view or the Islamists’ “battle to the death” against “the West and its allies including Israel.” The modernizers realize they have to settle the Arab-Israeli conflict.

What does all this mean? There is no doubt that most Arab leaders would like to see the conflict not troubling them. This means either:

    A. Settled through a peace agreement which costs them little or nothing and which they don’t have to get involved in making or

    B. A conflict which is carried on just in words and does not drag them into warfare, confrontation with the West, or spending a lot of money.

The first problem with Option A is that they recognize it won’t happen unless both the Palestinians and the Syrians make a deal with Israel. They cannot make this happen and they will not try.

One assumes that they doubt these two parties are going to make peace. What that leaves is urging the West and Israel to make lots of concessions which will take the heat off the Arab world, even though they recognize (which doesn’t bother them very much) that those parties making concessions won’t get much in exchange.

The Arab states are unwilling to “buy” peace (after all it is still the West that gives almost all the aid money for the Palestinian Authority) or pressure their friends into making concessions of their own. Remember, for example, that the Egyptians put the emphasis on reconciling Fatah and Hamas, not on helping Fatah achieve victory.

The second problem with Option A is that it would remove many advantages the Arab regimes get from Option B. After all, they already have Option B and can still use demagoguery to mobilize popular support for themselves, bash Israel as the cause of all their people’s problems, and pretend they are militant toward the West.

Of course, they recognize there are costs here: the Islamists use the regimes’ failure to fight harder and certainly their inability to defeat or destroy Israel against them. (The exception is Syria, which has become an honorary Islamist regime because of its backing for Hamas, Hizballah, and the Iraqi insurgency.)

But do the costs exceed the benefits? That is not altogether clear.

The third issue is their precise terms. In theory they (always with the exception of Syria) are not so far from what an Israeli majority wants:

    –The 1967 borders. Israel wants modifications and perhaps land swaps, the Arab world would probably back Palestinian demands for the precise borders even if they don’t care about changes.
    –Jerusalem. Israel wants all, most or some of east Jerusalem. The Arab world would go along with the Palestinians but presumably the Palestinians want everything there.
    –Refugees. Arab states don’t care if all Palestinians are resettled in Palestine but will not demand that the Palestinians give up the “right of return” demand.

So, yes, the solution envisioned by Egypt, Morocco, Jordan, Lebanon (the current government), Saudi Arabia and the other five Gulf Arab states is not so far from that of Israel’s majority. Yet on the above three, and other points, they will back harder line demands and will give those who hold them veto power over any progress.

When Blair is talking, one can see a flashing light that says United Arab Emirates and Qatar. For these are the two places, perhaps Kuwait might also be added, that talk the way he is sounding. They genuinely want to modernize, globalize, make money, and forget about radical slogans. With Iran getting stronger, though—and certainly once its gets nuclear weapons—are they really going to stick their necks out to do much for peace with Israel?

So Blair definitely has grasped something important. But it doesn’t mean quite what he thinks it does. Leaving aside the Islamist aspect (which is pretty huge, of course), the situation regarding the Arab states’ postions is better than it was 20 or 30 years ago.

Yet, certainly, we are not on the verge of peace even if it is true that most Arab rulers would be happy if the Palestinians and Syrians ended the conflict.

Barry Rubin is director of the Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center and editor of the Middle East Review of International Affairs Journal. His latest books are The Truth About Syria (Palgrave-Macmillan) and The Long War for Freedom: The Arab Struggle for Democracy in the Middle East (Wiley).

February 13, 2008 | 4 Comments »

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  1. Peace at all costs is not peace. So many liberals in government positions scream for peace without taking into account the cost of such “agreements”. For example, Israel foolishly (and at the prodding of the US) unilaterally withdrew from Gaza — what did they get for it? A base from which the terrorists have launched nearly continual missile attacks against them. Now Rice and her cadre (I include Blair and the quasimoto quartet in this) want Israel to withdraw from what they call the “West Bank” but what we call Judea and Samaria … between the two a strip of Israel less than 10 miles wide; indefensible by any stretch of the imagination. These politicians are loathe to admit it but they are planting the seeds of the next Jewish holocaust in fertile soil. As a Christian, I believe that G-d will hold us accountable for any harm that comes to His covenent children. This includes voting for leaders who directly or indirectly make such evil possible. The Jews are our brothers and sisters and I, for one, am unwilling to watch my family be slaughtered for the sake of political expediency and yet another washed up politician’s legacy. Frankly, being atoned with G-d, doing what is right and ethical by His law means much more to me than any law written by man or woman. The arabs have shown time and time again through their actions that they have no respect for diplomacy or negotiation in fact they see it as the cardinal sign of weakness within Western civilization. Therefore, I think we should do to them all the things they accuse us of.