A Changing Middle East

The Middle East that Joe Biden will confront when he becomes the 46th president of the United States of America is not the same place that it was when he assumed the post of vice president in Barack Obama’s administration back in January 2009.

The so-called Arab Spring that Obama hoped would bring democracy to the Middle East turned out to be a disappointment. Elections in Egypt led to the Muslim Brotherhood taking power under the leadership of Mohamed Morsi in 2012, but just a year later he was ousted by General Abdel Fattah el-Sisi in a coup d’état.

The Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action implemented in 2016, which was intended to rein in Iran’s nuclear ambitions, has to all intents and purposes failed, and Iran has since rolled back its compliance with the deal’s operational limits.

Any prospect of a two-state solution bringing the conflict between the Palestinians and Israel to an end is further away than ever. Gaza and the West Bank are in effect two separate and independent political entities. The Palestinians have never been prepared to forego the right of return for the descendants of refugees of the 1948 war, and no Palestinian leader had the courage to agree to the offers made by former Israeli prime ministers Rabin, Barak and Olmert.

The political reality in Israel has also changed. The Labor party, which back in the days of Yitzhak Rabin held 44 seats in the 120-seat Knesset, would be unlikely to pass the threshold were elections to be held today.

Every opinion poll has demonstrated that Israel’s next government, just like the previous one, will be center-right in its political orientation making the prospect of a two-state solution, even were that to be on the cards, increasingly unlikely.

On a more optimistic note, a delegation from the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain took part in a Chanukah candle-lighting ceremony at the Western Wall this week. That would have been unthinkable even six months ago, but things are changing. And they are changing fast.

During Trump’s presidency, with all of its problems, diplomatic relations were established with the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Sudan and Morocco. Oman may well be next in line, and an historic meeting took place at the end of November between Israel’s prime minister and Saudi Arabia’s crown prince sending a strong signal to allies and enemies alike that the two countries remain deeply committed to containing their common enemy, Iran.

Israel is no longer an isolated Jewish State in the Middle East surrounded by enemies. It enjoys diplomatic relations with a growing number of Arab Muslim states, who have put the Palestinian conflict on the back burner as they line up to address the threat posed by a nuclear Iran.

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