Aaron David Miller was involved in the Oslo peace process and often seems wedded to the assumptions of Oslo that have been proven wrong time and time again. As recently as last year he was denigrating the Trump plan without admitting that every single Oslo-style two state plan has been even more doomed and resulted in the exact opposite of peace because of their entirely wrong assumptions.
In Politico, he gets closer to the truth:
Contrary to the warnings from diplomats, analysts and peaceniks who predicted Israel would become a pariah if it didn’t settle up with the Palestinians, Israel seems to be making more progress toward normalization with Arab regimes without a credible peace process than with one.
Clearly the Gulf states aren’t on the verge of full normalization with Israel; nor is the Arab world willing to untether itself from the emotional pull of Palestinian issue or its hostile and all too often anti-Semitic views of Israel. But even the most skeptical observers would have to admit something has changed.
So what explains this shift?
Three significant factors. The rise of Iran and Sunni jihadists spewing terror across the region has created a narrow but important coincidence of interests between Israel and the Arab world. Increasing exhaustion and frustration with the never-ending Palestinian cause has opened up more space for Arab states to follow their own interests. But behind it all, lay a White House enamored of Arab money for arms sales and investment in the U.S. and eager to marshal the Arabs in the service of its anti-Iranian and pro-Israeli agenda. Indeed, in an effort to court the Gulf Arabs, Trump and his Middle East envoy son-in-law Jared Kushner have given the Saudis carte blanche to pursue disastrous policies while holding their coats. And Arab nations, sensing opportunities with an autocrat-friendly U.S. president, have been only too happy to follow.
It is refreshing to see someone who has been involved in Oslo admit that Netanyahu, doing everything people like Miller have warned would be disastrous, has actually brought Israel closer to peace than all the world’s diplomats combined.
All three reasons for this that Miller brings are valid, although I don’t agree that the third is the major reason. Israel was cultivating these relationships before anyone dreamed Trump would become president.
There is a fourth reason, though, that is hugely important and unreported: Israel’s strength.
As noted in Lee Smith’s 2010 book with that name, Arabs respect “The Strong Horse.” In the years since that was written, Israel’s strength in the Middle East has become overwhelming – not only militarily but also economically, technologically, politically and even in entertainment and on social media.
Arab antisemitism is still endemic but there are millions of Arabs who admire Israel. They admire its military strength above all, as this ties into a deep Arab respect for warriors. But Arab leaders aren’t stupid – they know that Israeli scientific expertise can help them survive past the oil era. They see that Israeli TV shows are on Netflix, and they know their people are watching them. They look at Israeli newspapers and follow Israeli government accounts online. (Even when they insult Israel’s government on the “Israel in Arabic” social media sites, they admire the fact that their insults don’t get removed.)
Israel’s seeming disregard for international law (from their perspective) and willingness to “annex” parts of Judea and Samaria is not a reason for hating Israel – it is a reason to further admire Israel, because only a strong nation can stand up to the international community.
They certainly are eager to ally with the US, but that is not the main reason they are interested in Israel now. That interest won’t go away if Trump loses in November.