Yoni Ben-Menachem, a Middle East analyst with the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, has advanced a highly plausible take on the situation surrounding the Bahrain economic workshop.
The current situation, says Ben-Menachem, represents a significant lowering of US expectations.
Originally, the plan had been to invite Israeli officials, and, indeed, it was expected that Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon would attend. But then the Arab states that were prepared to participate let the American team know that this would be problematic: They knew they would be accused of “betraying” the Palestinian cause. The Palestinian Authority had been charging that there would be attempts made at the workshop to normalize Arab relations with Israel in their absence.
What is more, in three of the countries that were going to be attending, the Muslim Brotherhood was planning potentially destabilizing street demonstrations during the conference.
And so the plan was changed: no Israeli officials will be present (although, I am reading, possibly a former head of COGAT), only entrepreneurial and business types. Even so, says, Ben-Menachem, it is likely that Arab states that have agreed to participate may send only low level officials.
What a comedown for Jared Kushner and Jason Greenblatt, as well as for President Trump. They had envisioned a new world in which Israel would have those normalized relations with Sunni Arab states, irrespective of what happened between Israel and the PLO.
Now, says Ben-Menachem, the Americans are coming to understand that what the Arabs promise in secret is not necessarily what they will stand on in public.
Perhaps we are seeing glimmerings of a brave new Middle-Eastern world that will emerge one day – we certainly cannot say there has been no change, no progress. But we are not on the cusp this new world quite as the “Deal of the Century” team had imagined. The team’s growing awareness of this represents significant learning for them.
Mahmoud Abbas and his cohorts, even as they plan to absent themselves from the workshop, continue to wield considerable manipulative power. It’s quite an amazing and irrational phenomenon. While the Arab rulers despise Abbas and are quite weary of his games, they are not willing to take a public stand that represents abandonment of the “right” of the “Palestinian people” to have their state.
This week Prime Minister Netanyahu said that Israel has “contacts” with “most of the Arab countries.” We have no reason to believe this is not true – he’s been making this point for some time, and it represents progress. But most of the contacts are under the radar with countries that will not come forward publicly. And that is where the situation is holding today.
The list of attendees provided by Ron Kampas is even more tentative than what the US has been indicating:
“RSVPs so far have included finance ministers from the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia. That’s it as far as confirmed attendants.
“Oman has said it might send its finance minister. Qatar reportedly is coming. A US official last week told The Washington Post that Jordan, Egypt and Morocco would attend, setting off a firestorm of criticism in the Arab world. Morocco and Egypt did not confirm they would attend.
“Jordanians as of last week said they might attend…if only to make clear that the outcome of any deal should include Palestinian statehood.”
The latest comments from Jason Greenblatt give us further insight into the current American thinking. Addressing recent discussions regarding a possible change in legal status in Judaea and Samaria, he said (emphasis added):
“I don’t think anyone should make unilateral steps until we at least reveal the plan. I don’t think that’s helpful to anybody.”
He’s telling Israel to hold tight for now, as any unilateral steps at this point would shift the equation. But, as I read it, he is also implicitly signaling that if it turns out to be a bust, Israel is welcome to make a move.
The unilateral steps he is referring to – application of Israeli law over the communities in Judea and Samaria, sovereignty over Area C – are not specified.
Right now, Greenblatt and Kushner are being sorely tested. Referring to the “Deal of the Century” as the “Holocaust of the Century,” Fatah is calling for an “escalation in confrontations” with Israelis on the days next week that the workshop will take place in Bahrain. The Fatah Facebook page has a picture of an Arab throwing a rock.
The American team has been hoping to entice Palestinian Arab businessmen who might be greatly attracted to a plan for improving their economic situation and would then put pressure on PA officials to come forward. But Fatah is too smart for this: its message is that the “Deal” robs Palestinians of their rights and thus should be blocked. Anyone supporting it then becomes a “traitor” to the “Palestinian cause.”
I want to hear Greenblatt and Kushner yelling, with megaphones: All right, you bums, we’ve had it.
Don’t know if that will ever happen, figuratively speaking. At the present juncture, they’re still trying to secure some positive results. And their continuing effort has its own major implications.
I want to note it here and will most certainly return to it later: When the US is invested in a policy, there is an American expectation that Israel will not get in the way. Right now, the American team expects quiet.
This is exceedingly relevant with regard to Hamas. The off again-on again games Israel is playing with them – attempting to show toughness without being tough – is maddening. I am not going to track all of the latest ins and outs; it’s pointless and simply gives me a stomach ache. The fishing limits for the Gazans have just been extended again.
Playing this game with Hamas is NOT in Israel’s best interests. But I am convinced that we persist at least in part because that is what a very friendly US government asks of us. And here we run smack up against a conflict of interests: Do we do the bidding of that friendly government because that seems the wiser path to take in the broader context, or do we focus on what is best for Israel in unilateral terms?
Trump, whom I voted for previously and will eagerly vote for again, is interested in Making America Great Again, not in making Israel great. That is his job. It’s worth remembering this as we consider the ways to best keep Israel great. And strong.
Dealing with Hamas is like dealing with a spoiled child that has temper tantrums – a very toxic spoiled child. Once Israel made concessions (notably to allow Qatar to bring in money to distribute) in order to attempt to keep matters quiet, a pattern was established.
Recently when the Gazan violence increased again, the interpretation was that Hamas was upset because there had been a delay in the next delivery of Qatari cash. Israel then sent a message through a third party assuring Hamas officials that money was on the way.
This past Sunday evening, a Qatari delegation – which is headed by Mohammed Al-Emadi (pictured) – entered Gaza with $15 million in cash. They said $5 million would go to UN “cash for work” projects (already suspect in terms of distribution and utilization), and that $10 million would be distributed via post offices to 100,000 needy families.
By Wednesday, poor families were still waiting for their money, and the story had changed:
It was announced that 40,000 families had been cut from the list of recipients. The money they were to receive will go to “executing other sustainable projects which will be announced in the future.”
But we are not done yet:
Also this week, Kan, the Israel Broadcasting, citing unnamed sources in Gaza, charged that Hamas military personnel and commanders were receiving the funds through their relatives, whose names appear on the list of recipients.
We should not be surprised. In fact, it would be more surprising if something of this sort did not happen. Would Hamas allow all these funds to come in without managing to co-opt a good percentage of them?
Apparently Israel has some oversight over this list and is currently blocking distribution of the funds.
Meanwhile, today Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh declared that the “ceasefire understandings” brokered by Egypt, Qatar and the UN (which, by the way, Israel does not acknowledge) “are hanging in the balance” because Israel has shown “no respect” for the terms and the residents of Gaza “have not felt” any improvement in their living conditions.
There are no words…except to say that this must not go on.
But as it turns out, it is not only with regard to Hamas that the US is asking Israel to hold tight.
I have written several times about Khan El-Amar,the very problematic illegal Bedouin village built by the PA with EU funds on a strategic site in E1 of Area C.
That village must be demolished; after a considerable battle the Supreme Court ordered its demolition by May, but the government stalled. Very recently, the State went back to the Court and requested a six month extension “because of the coming elections.”
Now we have this from MK Yoav Kisch (Likud):
“I understood that because of the transition period, the answer was that we want to wait until after the peace plan is presented. There’s a lot of sensitivity right now in this area and the Americans asked that we not do anything on the subject until afterwards.
“I think it’s still important to explain to them that for us this has enormous and inherent significance. It also sends a problematic message that we’re not doing it, so I think it’s important that we need to solve this issue with the Americans and advance the solution.” (Emphasis added)
Kisch is absolutely correct. This situation is highly problematic, indeed alarming. This village is one high profile instance of creeping usurpation of Israeli land in Area C by the PA/EU. There are major issues of Israeli rights and Israeli security at stake here, and it is imperative that Israel react accordingly.
I will be following with additional information as it comes through.
We are going into Shabbat and I end with good news. I believe we must always hold fast to the good stuff:
“A watchtower dating from the time of the Kingdom of Judah (8th century BCE – during the reign of King Hezekiah) was recently uncovered by archaeological excavations carried out by IDF soldiers, together with the Israel Antiquities Authority, at a paratroopers base in the south of the country…
”The tower, whose dimensions in antiquity are estimated to have been 15 x 10.5 ft., was erected on a high elevation site, and served as an observation point on the Hebron Mountains, the Judean plain and the Ashkelon coastal region (where the Philistines were located).
“It was built using very large stones, weighing some 8 tons each. Its height today reaches around 6 ft.”