The Arab World and the elusive two-state solution
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Recently, the global media gleefully proclaimed the newly minted ‘Abraham Accord’ to describe a happening of political significance. Abraham is a patriarchal entity that flourished in the Second Millennium BCE which is revered by three religions — Judaism, Christianity, and Islam — and whose followers today account for a little over 55% of the world’s population.
- Till the end of World War I, most of the Arabic-speaking lands of West Asia and North Africa were ruled directly or indirectly by the Ottoman Empire. Today, thanks to geopolitical cartography, they constitute the ‘Arab World’ whose 22 members are members of the UN. The point of commonality is the language.
- The seeds of Arab nationalism were sown in the 19th century. The classic work of George Antonius, published in 1938, records the origins: ‘It was at a secret gathering of certain members of the Syrian Scientific Society that the Arab national movement may be said to have uttered its first cry.’
- A poem by one of its members gave it the battle cry: Arise, ye Arabs, and awake! The poem, viewed as seditious by the Ottoman rulers, did much to foster the national movement in its infancy.
Birth of Arab League
- In 1945 and reportedly on British prompting, the League of Arab States was formed to ‘draw closer the relations between member states and co-ordinate their political activities with the aim of realising a close collaboration between them, to safeguard their independence and sovereignty, and to consider in a general way the affairs and interests of the Arab countries’. It has achieved none of its objectives and its hopes have been ‘worn down to disillusion and cynicism’ emanating from what Bassam Tibi has called ‘the duality of words and deeds’.
- The absence of participatory governance and its institutions, disregard for individual freedoms, and the prevalence of one-person rule resulted in what Abdullah Laroui characterised as ‘living in Infra-historical rhythm’.
- Admittedly, sectional though uneven progress was made, but as the experience of the Arab Uprising of 2011 showed, deep disagreements prevented the emergence of an Arab order and its impact on ‘Arab unity’. It was most evident in their responses to regional and global problems.
The Palestine issue
- The one problem on which Arab states professed unity of opinion, but not necessarily of approach, related to Palestine and to the demand for a Palestinian state.
- After multiple resorts to war and popular uprisings, the tenacity of Israel and its American backers forced the Arab states and their international supporters to accept the Camp David and Oslo Accords and finally the Saudi-sponsored 2002 Arab Peace Initiative.
- It involved a de facto recognition of Israel and the latter accepted it with 14 reservations.
Why ‘Abraham Accords’?
- The ostensible reason for this, according to some Arab-American commentators, is ‘perceived threat from Iran, the spread of regional terrorism and the rise of Islamism’. The take-off occasion, according to them, was the conference in Warsaw in February 2019 that was hailed by Israel Prime Minister Netanyahu as ‘a breakthrough in Arab-Israeli relations’.
- This could be seen as a stage in the success of Israel’s grand strategy candidly spelt out in Yossi Alpher’s 2015 book, Periphery, aimed to outflank the hostile core that surrounds it and gain the major political-security goal of countering Arab hostility through relations with alternate regional powers and potential allies.
- It has been furthered by post-2011 developments in individual Arab countries and the aura bestowed on ‘political Islam’ or Islamism presented by its protagonists such as Fahmy Howeidy who argued that Arab nationalism is a stage towards greater Islamic unity.
- So the Arab World in a geopolitical sense no longer exists. It will retain its focus on linguistic homogeneity and attendant cultural glory.
- As for the Palestinians and in the event of hard tactical options being forsaken, they might even explore the creation of a Palestinian point of lamentation, a ‘wailing wall’, hoping that divine justice would eventually be forthcoming as has been with their Abrahamic cousins.