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Israeli soldiers patrol the northern Israeli-Lebanon border on December 21, 2015
Israel has seen "unprecedented" intelligence cooperation with Egypt and Jordan as the fight against the Islamic State group nudges them to work together more closely, a military chief said Wednesday. Major General Yair Golan said "there is a strong feeling in the region... that we have to put aside past animosities and concentrate on mutual interests and working together" to deal with the jihadist threat. The Israeli military's deputy chief of staff spoke of an "unprecedented level of cooperation" mainly regarding intelligence.

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file under: PalestineMiddle East PeaceIsrael 10 Feb 2010 4:30 PM
The Peace Puzzle Posted by Nissim Dahan
Peace in the Middle East has long been an illusive dream, but there are hints in the air that peace negotiations between Palestinians and Israel may soon be underway, and that this time around, some measure of success may be in the offing.


What indications do we have that negotiations are imminent? In late December, for example, Prime Minister Netanyahu addressed a convention of Israeli diplomats and made it clear that his intent is to conclude a peace deal based on two states for two people. He said, "The time for excuses is over. Now's the time for action." Such words could easily be dismissed as self-serving, but perhaps there is more to this than meets the eye. At around the same time, Netanyahu invited Zippi Livny, the leader of the opposition, to join his government. Was this simply an empty and cynical gesture, or could Netanyahu be seriously interested in enlarging his coalition, to counter a defection by some of his supporters in the wake of peace negotiations and the concessions which will have to be made? In addition, Yossi Beilin, one of the chief architects of the Oslo Accords, said recently that Netanyahu is very close to finalizing the terms of reference (TOR), or preliminary understandings, for a renewal of talks.


There are other indications that talks may soon be underway. With respect to reducing the number of roadblocks, and curbing settlement construction in the West Bank, Netanyahu has gone further than any previous Israeli government. Is this due simply to pressure from the U.S., or could it be something more? In addition, after Netanyahu met Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak on December 31, Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Aboul Gheit offered rare words of praise for Netanyahu, thanking him for raising new ideas and advancing the peace process. Reportedly, Netanyahu was quoted as saying, "Help me with Abbas and I will be ready to go for a far-reaching deal."


These and other indications all point to an imminent resumption of peace talks, but the question still remains: What reason is there, this time around, to expect a successful outcome from the negotiations which may soon be underway? The answer may be that a peace deal may be in the offing not because the two sides love one another, but because for the first time, they need one another, in a substantial way, and this sense of mutual need may be shared by many of the key players in the region, and beyond.


Why would Palestinians, particularly in the West Bank, be inclined to conclude a peace deal at this time? It is clear to many observers that Fatah and Hamas find themselves locked in an existential battle for survival. The more moderate and secular Palestinians in the West Bank, including members of the Fatah leadership, do not want to see a takeover by Hamas fundamentalists, as occurred in Gaza. To stave off this threat, Prime Minister Salam Fayyad has launched and is implementing a two-year state-building plan, which is similar to Netanyahu's vision of peace through economic prosperity, and which includes General Dayton's training of Palestinian security forces. Economic prosperity and job creation, along with a consolidation and strengthening of the security apparatus, would be an effective way of containing Hamas. Israel could play a major role on both these fronts, economy and security: helping with job creation, taking down more roadblocks, bringing in foreign investment, and helping to consolidate Palestinian security, perhaps as part of a regional military and economic alliance, in exchange for a peace deal.


But why would Israel be inclined to push the peace process forward at this time? The answer is relatively straight forward: Iran. Just as Hamas poses an existential threat to Fatah, so too does Iran, with its nuclear and foreign policy ambitions, pose an existential threat to Israel. And Israel, in order to stave off this threat, will need international support from the region, and from the international community at large. Such support will be needed even if Israel acts unilaterally to destroy Iran's nuclear installations. The negative repercussions from such an attack will be significant, and Israel will require international consensus and support to mitigate the effects of these repercussions. A peace deal with Palestine will give Israel some measure of credibility, as she undertakes to contain the Iranian threat.


And why would the nations of the region be likely now to support a peace deal between Israel and Palestine, when in the past it served their interests to block such an agreement? The answer, once again, is relatively simple: Iran. The existential struggle between Hamas and Fatah, and between Israel and Iran, is even more pronounced between Iran and many of the Sunni states of the region. Iran undertakes, on many levels, to challenge many of the quiet understandings that have been reached in much of the Arab world, and poses a credible threat to many of the regimes in the region. Iran does not hide her intention to foment unrest using her various proxies, and a nuclear Iran would render that threat even more palpable. A regional nuclear arms race would likely ensue, bringing even more instability to an already volatile region.


And why would the United States, the Europeans, and large segments of the international community, be likely to support a peace deal between Israel and Palestine? The answer, once again is not difficult to fathom: To insure the free flow of oil, and to gain a measure of credibility in the fight against ideological extremism. Peace in the Middle East would go a long way to mitigate the volatility of the region, and would bring some semblance of stability to the price and supply of oil. In addition, an historic peace deal of this sort, along with the regional cooperation and even prosperity which would be engendered as a result, would go a long way to weaken the appeal of extremist thinking, even though much more would have to be done in this regard.


In sum, while it is always difficult to predict what will happen in the Middle East, especially when it comes to peace, there may be some reason for optimism due to the unique alignment of self-interest among the key players in the region, and beyond. Usually, self-interest takes us in different directions from one another. In this case, however, it may be the key to bringing us together in common purpose.





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