Multiple factors contributing to Middle East’s potential new dawn
The Middle East has been going through a difficult period for more than 10 years, but can we expect an entirely new environment once the dust settles?
Some of the problems in the region are decades or even centuries-old, so a quick change may not be expected.
The US Trump administration unilaterally withdrew from the multilateral nuclear agreement, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, that was negotiated with Iran. It was negotiated with the participation of six other major powers — China, France, Germany, Russia, the UK and the EU. The US is now focusing on two alternatives: One is to force Iran to come back to the denounced agreement, the other is to admit that the deal is no longer tenable.
Washington is also considering an entirely different scenario in which there is no JCPOA at all. It is trying to persuade the other JCPOA countries not to allow Iran to acquire a nuclear weapon. But this is more easily said than done. In fact, Donald Trump’s denunciation of the agreement backfired and Iran withdrew its commitment to curbing the amount of fissile material in its possession. Therefore, it will be unsafe to bank on the US pressure on Iran.
The other thorny issue in the Middle East is the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. It contains more seeds of discordance. With the blindfolded support of the US, Israel acts with impunity in the Occupied Territories. The two-state solution, which is sometimes favored and rejected at other times, is still the most elaborate package, but Israel continues to find excuses for not supporting it. In 2017, the US shattered the peace process by recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. By doing so, Washington also renounced the decision it made in 1947, when it supported the UN General Assembly’s declaration of Jerusalem as a “corpus separatum” (separate body). In other words, the US Embassy in Israel was moved to territory that was not Israeli.
Former Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s policy of constructing new settlements in the West Bank further exacerbated the situation. A big majority of Palestinians — and an even bigger majority of Gaza’s Palestinians — continue to claim their inalienable rights on Palestinian soil, including the right to self-determination. New settlements in the West Bank will continue to be a headache for the Israeli government. I had a chance to follow the Palestinian issue in my 40 years in diplomacy. With each move, Israel managed to grab more Palestinian territory, but it has so far not made any concessions at all in favor of the Palestinian people. This gives an idea about the future prospects of the Palestinian cause.
Besides these long-term problems, there are also positive developments in the Middle East. With the US-brokered Abraham Accords, the UAE became the first GCC country to establish formal diplomatic relations with Israel, following in the footsteps of fellow Arab nations Egypt and Jordan.
Besides the long-term problems, there are also positive developments in the region.
Efforts are underway to invite Syria back into the Arab League, although some Arab countries continue to reserve their position on Syria’s return, probably at America’s behest.
Two months ago, Egypt facilitated a meeting of Libya’s Constitutional Track Committee under the chairmanship of UN Special Adviser Stephanie Williams. The meeting was attended by members of the Tobruk-based House of Representatives and the High Council of State. This process may help eliminate the deadlock that blocks the holding of the country’s postponed elections.
With the previous US administration’s abrupt decision to withdraw American forces from the east of the Euphrates in Syria and Russia’s focus on the war in Ukraine, Iran has started to move into several critical places in the country. This may increase Tehran’s presence in Syria and further consolidate its position in Lebanon.
Turkey’s declared intention to carry out a new military operation in northern Syria may push the Syrian Defense Forces, whose backbone is composed of Kurdish fighters of the People’s Protection Units, to ally with the Syrian regime. Russia may be happy about such an outcome, but the US may try to foil this alliance. This may heavily affect the evolution of events in Syria.
The new defense architecture of the post-Arab Spring Middle East will be shaped by these and a multitude of other factors.
- Yasar Yakis is a former foreign minister of Turkey and founding member of the ruling AK Party. Twitter: @yakis_yasar