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Israeli security chiefs and Arab leaders agree: Trump's plan is a disaster

As top officials reassure their Palestinian counterparts annexation is coming no time soon, everyone is banking on Israel's March elections
A picture of Jordanian King Abdullah and his father, the late King Hussein, is seen as a girl visits the "Island of Peace" on the Jordanian side of the border with Israel (Reuters)
By Yossi Melman in Tel Aviv, Israel

From a strict security point of view, Israel, the Palestinian Authority (PA) and practically all Arab governments share the same estimate that the Trump Middle East plan is bad and so dangerous that it could set the region in flames.

Over the past week, Israeli security chiefs have expressed a growing concern that if the right-wing government of Benjamin Netanyahu fulfills its Donald Trump-supported promise to annex the Jordan Valley and Jewish settlements, the West Bank and Gaza Strip could explode.

In secret meetings Israeli security officials from the Shin Bet domestic security agency and military tried to calm down their Palestinian counterparts, urging them to wait and not rush to unilateral decisions.

The major Israeli security concern is that the PA leadership will decide to stop its security cooperation with the occupying Israeli forces.

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Both sides benefit from this cooperation. Israeli security agencies are assisted by the PA’s security apparatus to monitor, reduce and prevent attacks planned by Hamas.

At the same time the Shin Bet and Israeli military work hard to stop attempts by Hamas officials in their Gaza headquarters to destabilise the West Bank and undermine PA rule there.

Israeli security officials’ message of “don’t rush” is based on hints given in these meetings that, even if the Netanyahu government passes an annexation bill, there are so many legal, political and international hurdles that it will be almost impossible to implement the decision before the Israeli elections due to be held in a month’s time.  

In other words, Israeli security officials in secret and off-the-record meetings express views that contradict public statements made by their own government.

But because they can’t say it publicly, the PA’s President Mahmoud Abbas has to stick by the party line and express his anger and frustration at the apparent looming annexation, repeating threats that security cooperation will be halted.

Double speak

The double speak by Israeli and Palestinian officials echoes the positions of Arab governments.

Across the Arab world from Rabat to Cairo and Oman to Baghdad, Arab leaders have the same view on Israel’s occupation of Palestinian lands: “Don’t rock the boat.” 

All of them, including Abbas, know very well the reality on the ground. The Israeli occupation, accompanied by land confiscations, violations of human rights, arrests and construction of illegal settlements, is a fact of life.

Deep in their heart they know that probably after 53 years the occupation can’t be reversed. So they ask themselves, why are you Israelis and Trump rocking the boat? Why do you need a de jure annexation? Can’t you just settle for a de facto one?

So far Arab leaders and governments sit on the fence. They aren’t commenting, or when they do they use weak and non-committal language. Foreign ministers of the entire Arab world refused to accept Trump’s invitation to attend Tuesday’s White House ceremony. Only the ambassadors of Oman, Bahrain and UAE were present.

From Rabat to Cairo and Oman to Baghdad, Arab leaders have the same view on Israel’s occupation of Palestinian lands: 'Don't rock the boat'

For at least the last two decades most Arab leaders have shown very little interest in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. They are fatigued by Palestinian rejections, Israel's lack of interest in enhancing a serious peace, and the cycles of violence.

Arab governments have more acute matters to deal with: they face domestic unrest in Lebanon and Iraq, civil wars in Syria and Yemen, and the ongoing confrontation between Gulf Arab states and Iran.

Gulf Arab countries need Israel as a whip against Iran. Their heads of intelligence meet frequently with Mossad chiefs. They do business with Israel cyber and high-tech firms to improve their military and defence capabilities against Tehran and its proxies. Israel’s intelligence gadgets are handy to spy on their own citizens, too.

As long as the protests in the streets against the Israel-American plan to annex big chunks of the West Bank don’t get out of control, Arab governments will pay lip service to the Palestinian cause – the cheapest kind of anti-Israeli currency.

But if a major and violent escalation breaks out as a result of the Israeli plans and actions, then Arab leaders, fearing their own staunchly pro-Palestinian populations, will have no choice to take harsher measures against Israel.

Jordan trapped

The most sensitive relations are with the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan. Already King Abdullah’s throne is very shaky. Most of his citizens are Palestinians, the economic crisis is widening and the difficulties to absorb and treat so many refugees from Syria are growing by the day.

If now, on top of all these troubles, Israel annexes the Jordan Valley, which is the border between Israel, the West Bank and the Hashemite kingdom, the ramifications for the king could be unbearable.

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King Abdullah and his security and military chiefs know that Israel is their most important strategic ally. The two countries have spent decades sharing intelligence, conducting joint military exercises and helping each other keep Hamas, Hezbollah and the Islamic State at arm’s length.

Jordan might find itself trapped. It can’t afford not to have Israel as an ally, but on the other hand Israeli annexation cannot go unpunished.

All in all, half of Israelis, including the security chiefs, as well as the PA and the Arab leaders, hope that somehow Netanyahu will be blocked for whatever reasons from annexing the land, thereby keeping the status quo and de facto annexation in place – at least until the 2 March elections.

Then, perhaps, the corruption charges-plagued Netanyahu might lose the election, and maybe even Trump too in November.

This article is available in French on Middle East Eye French edition.

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