These days, the only thing more promising for Israel’s growing acceptance in the world than the weekly stories of its improving relations with countries like Australia, Singapore and India, are the stories about improving relations between Israel and the Arab Gulf countries such as Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and the UAE.
There was similar hope for the future during the 1950’s, when a permanent solution to the problem of the Palestine refugees seemed within reach.
In their book, Religion, Politics, and the Origins of Palestine Refugee Relief, the authors Asaf Romirowsky and Alexander H. Joffe write about the leading role of the Quaker American Friends Service Committee in the UN’s relief program for Palestine Arab refugees in 1948-1950. They touch on the promise of the reintegration of the refugees at the time and their acceptance into the surrounding Arab countries.
By November 1951, the American Chiefs of Middle East Missions were convinced that although during 1950,
the Arabs have not abandoned the principle of repatriation [in Israel], and may be expected to reaffirm it, they show signs of becoming more realistic as to the obstacles to any satisfactory implementation of this principle, and are giving serious thought to the alternative of compensation and to the concept of reintegration [in Arab countries]. (p. 146; emphasis added)
There was a belief that the solution to the resettlement of the refugees was not solely dependent on their repatriation back to Israel, but their resettlement among the Arabs — an understanding held not only by the US but by the British as well, based on indications of the willingness of the Arab states to accept the Palestine refugees. After all, the Arab states themselves would benefit from the funding for the projects in their countries that would lead not only to the reintegration of the refugees but would also aid the host countries as well.
It wasn’t until a letter from the Arab League in 1959, rejecting the idea of resettlement outright, that the concept died altogether.
Today, there is an understanding that the common enemy of Iran will draw together Israel and the Gulf Arabs.
Is that understanding any different; is it any more likely?
After all, those Arab states would benefit not only from Israeli intelligence, but also from military cooperation and weapons — not to mention Israeli technology in other areas, such as water, as well.
In the previous post, we went over positive indications that a fundamental change in attitude was possible — and had already begun: an unofficial Saudi visit to Israel and the beginnings of an effort to address the problem of Antisemitism.
|Saudi ex-General Anwar Eshki, standing in the middle with striped tie, with members of the Israeli Knesset.
At the same time, Saudis have continued to openly describe Israel as an enemy, and even a war criminal, due to the problem of the “Palestine refugees.”
Just recently, while praising their own “progress” in human rights, a Saudi official slammed Israel for “flagrant violations of human rights”:
Just a few days ago, Yousef Al Otaiba, the United Arab Emirates’ ambassador to the US, wrote a piece in the Wall Street Journal describing how the Arab world looked forward to US involvement in the region — without a single reference to Israel.
Just a few weeks earlier, an article appeared in the same Wall Street Journal about the US suggestion for an alliance against Iran that would include countries such as Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Jordan, and Egypt, with the potential for other Arab countries to join. But the Israeli role in an Arab alliance against Iran would be limited:
The U.S. would offer military and intelligence support to the alliance, beyond the kind of limited backing it has been providing to a Saudi-led coalition fighting Iran-backed Houthi rebels in Yemen, the officials said. But neither the U.S. nor Israel would be part of the mutual-defense pact.
“They’ve been asking diplomatic missions in Washington if we’d be willing to join this force that has an Israeli component,” said one Arab diplomat. “Israel’s role would likely be intelligence sharing, not training or boots on the ground. They’d provide intelligence and targets. That’s what the Israelis are good at.”
While neither the US nor Israel would be part of the proposed alliance, the aid from the US would include military aid. The role of Israel, as currently proposed, would not include weapons but only intelligence. The preference for a limited role from Israel, comes from the Arabs, not the US.
In the Iraqi war, during Operation Desert Storm, Israel was left out, and was even encouraged not to retaliate against Iraqi missile attacks, lest the Arab coalition be compromised.
Have matters improved, 27 years later?
In some areas, they clearly have.
But just as Arab assistance to resolve the crisis of Arab refugees decades ago did not materialize, the idea of the Arab normalization of relations with Israel — even in the interests of defense against Iran — appear distant. Back then, the Arab countries were not adverse to accepting the benefit of work programs that came with the integration progress.
Today, clearly Arab states are not adverse to accepting military aid and weapons to protect themselves from Iran — when the weapons come from the US.
No doubt there are improvements in Arab-Israel ties that never make it to the headlines, but their extent and the potential for normalization are far from clear.
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