"Israel is a reality, Arabs and Israelis must negotiate their future together."
When those words appeared on my screen last week, they looked like good advice from a European or American source, the kind of advice that Arabs usually ignore. Instead, they turned out to be from an interview with the deputy head of the Oman journalists association. Oman is a small (population: four million) oil-rich Sultanate in the Arabian Peninsula. And Oman's foreign minister has remarked that Arab nations must reassure Israel that they do not pose a threat to its existence.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu recently paid a genial, well-photographed visit to Oman, the first such appearance in years. Is it possible that Arab states are increasingly willing to talk with Israel? This is apparently (as one think-tank speculated recently) "out of concern for threats posed by Iran."
If the Arab states feel threatened, they are right to be. Iran has been tireless in spreading its influence and its military force into Syria, Iraq, Yemen and Gaza. It exerts endless pressure on Lebanon through its proxy group, Hezbollah, and funds Hamas in Gaza. Hezbollah has been caught attacking Israel, tunnelling into it from southern Lebanon. There's no telling where it, and Iran, will turn up next.
And Iran, when it acquires nuclear weapons, will be a lot more terrifying.
Tom Gross, probably Europe's leading observer of the Middle East, suggested recently that much of the Arab world is already quietly establishing ties with Israel. An example: last month, during the Artistic Gymnastics World Cup in Qatar, even Hamas-supporting Qatar played the Israeli national anthem and raised its flag when an Israeli won gold. As Gross says, that would have been unthinkable even a year ago.
But what of the Palestinians? Yossi Klein Halevi's recent book, Letters to my Palestinian Neighbor, describes, as gently and generously as possible, the way Palestinians have rejected, again and again, every deal for peace put before them. Perhaps in response, the Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas has said recently that he will meet Netanyahu with no preconditions.
Halevi doesn't deal with the military enthusiasm of the Palestinians. They see themselves as necessary warriors, lifelong enemies of the Jews in a war that never ends. They make martyrs of their dead, name schools and soccer fields after them and encourage children to revere them. They pay salaries to the families of Palestinian "terrorists" while they are imprisoned by Israel. All this is built into their system, validated by years of practice. No deal can ever replace what they consider a sacred duty.
For a long time the Arab states appeared permanently tied to the Palestinians. They felt guilty because they were relatively prosperous and the Palestinians were not. In the struggle between Arabs and Jews, they felt constrained to take the Arab side. But that kind of guilty conscience can fade, making room for self-assertion.
In this way, the Arab states have changed. They are said to be wearied by Palestinian intransigence and refusal to negotiate publicly. By moving the U.S. embassy to western Jerusalem and calling for Israeli sovereignty on the Golan Heights, U.S. President Donald Trump has strengthened America's sympathy with Israel's cause and legitimacy. And the Arab states know (this could be the deciding point) that they will certainly benefit economically from a connection with Israel, which in recent times has notably expanded its industrial position. These days just about every economist seems anxious to praise Israel's corporate achievements.
In the beginning of its modern development, Israel depended on socialists and labour unions for its political momentum -- in fact, Israel's longest-lasting political party was called Labour. Ironically perhaps, in Israel's 2lst-century struggle for existence, capitalism will be the force that determines the future.