As many people know, the Israeli government was supposed to be formed after the elections of April 9, 2019, but Netanyahu himself failed to do so and the Knesset was dissolved again to prepare for further elections, which took place on September 17, 2019.
Even after this second election there were not the political and numerical conditions to create a stable and homogeneous government majority and new elections were held on March 2, 2020.
On April 20, 2020, an agreement was reached between Benny Gantz and Bibi Netanyahu, which led to the current government of national unity, which officially began to work on May 17, 2020.
As already said, based on the agreement with Benny Gantz, the Prime Minister is Netanyahu himself, who will be replaced by the current Defence Minister, Benny Gantz, in November 2021.
Gantz was Chief of Staff of the Israel Defence Forces (IDF) from 2011 to 2015 and later became Speaker of the Knesset from March 26 to May 17, 2020.
He created his “Israel Resilience” Party in December 2018, based on an alliance with the centre-right group Telem, founded by former Defence Minister Moshe Yaalon, and also with Yesh Atid, (literally “There is a Future”), a party founded in 2012 by YairLapid, thus creating the “Blue and White” alliance.
The Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development is Alon Schuster, from the “Blue and White” alliance.
Son of a German and an Argentinean, he was born in Sderot, one of the most famous and oldest Kibbutzin Israel. He was later part of the Nahal Brigade and was wounded at war.
The Nahal Brigade, which became autonomous in 1982, during the Lebanon War,is a particular structure in the IDF: it stems from a regular paratrooper battalion, but it is also formed by volunteers of the Zionist political movement Nahal, which represents a tradition combining social voluntarism, kibbutzlife and the Israeli military tradition, of which the kibbutz is an integral part (just think of the history of Palmach, for example).
Schuster was a traditional member of the Labour Party (Ha Avoda), which is a socialist democratic, but above all a Zionist party – a political group born in 1968 from the merger of Mapai (literally “Workers’ Party of the Land of Israel”),Ahdut Ha Avoda, (literally “Labour Unity”), which is Ben Gurion’s old party, and Rafi (literally “Israeli Workers’ List”) founded by Ben Gurion in 1965.
In 1965 personalities such as Moshe Dayan, Shimon Peres, Chaim Herzog and Teddy Kollek followed the Founder of the State of Israel within Rafi.
Kollek, who was mayor of Jerusalem for several years, was a very important figure for the creation of the Israeli State, both publicly and with its covert operations in Europe and above all in Italy.
Schuster joined the centrist “Blue and White” alliance in April 2019 and was elected to the Knesset.
The Immigration Minister (also known as the Minister of Aliyah, (literally “Ascent”), i.e. the right of all Jews to return from the Diaspora to the Land of Israel), who more exactly defines herself as “Minister of Aliyah and Integration”, is Prima Tamano-Shata.
She is a Jewish lawyer, journalist and political activist born in Ethiopia.
At the end of March 2020, she left the Yesh Atid group to join the centrist “Blue and White” alliance.
Prima Tamano-Shata was born near Gondar, in the region of the Ahmara, the tribe that heroically followed the deeds of Amedeo Guillet, whom they called Kummandant Shaitan, namely the “Devil Commander”.
The family of the future Minister arrived in Israel with “Operation Moses”, when the Ethiopian Jews (known as Beta Israel community or Falas has)were covertly evacuated from Sudan by the IDF during a civil war that caused a famine in 1984.
The newly created Minister for Community Empowerment and Advancement”, i.e. the Ministry that deals with municipal and local administrations, is Orly Levy-Abekasis, who is member of the Gesher movement (literally “Bridge”) belonging to a centre-liberal area.
The party was founded by Orly Levy-Abekasis’ father.
The new Minister joined the Knesset in 2009 with the Israel Beitenu movement and again in 2019 she founded the aforementioned Gesher Party, which initially ran together with the Labour Party.
It should be recalled that her father was the Moroccan Foreign Minister, David Levy, who was also a personal friend of the Moroccan King.
Orly did her national service in the Israeli Air Force and later got a law degree at the Interdisciplinary Center Herzliya. She now lives in the Mesilot Kibbutz.
The current Minister of Telecommunications, who is essential in a country like Israel, is Yoaz Hendel.
He belongs to Derekh Eretzthat, based on European standards, can be considered a small centre-right movement. It was founded in March 2020 by Zvi Hauser and Yoaz Hendel himself, after their leaving Telem, one of the components of the “Blue and White” alliance.
A military historian by training, he worked as a journalist and was the Chairman of the Institute for Zionist Strategies (ZTS), established in 2005, whose real goal is to draft a real Constitution for Israel.
The Institute deals much with demography, as also the other modern governments should do.
He was born to a father of Romanian Jewish descent and a mother of Romanian and Polish Jewish descent and grew up in the religious settlement of Elkana.
He served in the Shayetet 13naval commando unit, one of the most important elite forces.
He was discharged after six years of service and remained active for several years in the Israeli security system and Prime Minister’s Office.
He holds the rank of a Lieutenant Colonel in the Reserves where he serves each year.
Yaachov Litzman is the current Minister of Housing and Construction. He previously served as Minister of Health.
He was born to two Polish survivors of the Holocaust in a German refugee camp. Later his family immigrated to Brooklyn and, at age 17, he immigrated to Israel with his parents.
He is a Haredi and belongs to the “United Torah Judaism”, an alliance of Agudat Israel, which is traditionally linked to the movement of the same name in Upper Silesia, which is now more Hasidic than Haredi, although it has a long history as a non-Zionist movement of observant Jews.
The Minister of Culture and Sports is Hili Tropper, who belongs to the “Blue and White” alliance.
Son of a Rabbi, he began his political career in the Labour Party. He also has long experience in educational and school matters and an effective personal relationship with Benny Gantz.
David “Dudi” Amsalem, from the Likud Party, was appointed as Minister for Cyber and National Digital Matters.
His parents were immigrants from Morocco and he previously held the post of Minister of Telecommunications. During his IDF national service he was a tank commander in the Armoured Corps and later obtained a Bachelor’s Degree in Economics and Business Administration from Bar-Ilan University.
He is Chairman of the Likud Party’s Jerusalem branch.
A”Blue and White” alliance member, Michael Biton, was chosen for the key post of Defence Minister.
He was born to parents who had immigrated from Morocco. He got a BA in Behavioural Studies and Hebrew Literature from Ben Gurion University of the Negev, as well as a MA in organizational leadership from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.
Already elected as a candidate of Kadima – the old centrist and liberal party established in 2005 by Likud and Labour members who supported the unilateral plan of disengagement on the Arab issue, developed by Ariel Sharon -later Michael Biton formed a new political party, called Ahi Israel. Due to a leadership dispute, however, he quickly decided to leave the party and become member of the “Blue and White” alliance.
The current Minister of Diaspora Affairs is Omer Yankelevitch, born Galitsky.
An attorney and civil rights activist, she is a member of the party formed by Benny Gantz and co-founder of the Just Begun Foundation, which sponsors social initiatives to help integrate peripheral and marginal populations in Israel.
Her father was a native of Lithuania and she received a Haredi education. At age 16 shetaught Hebrew and Judaism in Moscow and Ukraine.
The Economy Ministry, which was merged with the Welfare Ministry in 1970, is currently led by Amir Peretz.
A “historical” Labour member currently serving as leader of the Labour Party, he also served as Minister of Defence and Minister of Environmental Protection, as well heading the Histadrut union federation – born at the time of the British Mandate for Palestine – between 1995 and 2006..
After five years as mayor of Sderot, in 1999 he left the Labour Party to establish his own party, One Nation, also known as Am Ehad (literally, and more precisely, “One People”). In 2004 he merged it back into the Labour Party.
Following the 2006 elections, however, Peretz and his partially new Labour Party joined the Kadima-led coalition, which had been established in 2005 to support Ariel Sharon’s unilateral plan for disengagement from the Gaza Strip. Peretz served as Defence Minister in the Kadima-led coalition government.
During his tenure as Defence Minister he greatly supported the 2006 Lebanon War and, above all, approved the Iron Dome defence system. He was later defeated by Ehud Barak in another Labour leadership election and resigned from the Cabinet.
In 2012 he resigned from the Knesset after leaving the Labour Party to join the new party called Hatnua, (literally “the Movement”), belonging to the centrist and liberal-democratic area.
In 2013 he ran with the Greens, who had previously merged with Hatnua, while in 2015 he was elected to the Knesset with a list formed together with the Labour Party, called “the Zionist Union”, which became the second largest parliamentary group at the time.
Hatnua was a party whose demands focused – especially in 2013 – on peace between Israel and the Arabs, social justice, full employment and also full merger between army and citizens, as well as on religious pluralism and secularism.
The current Education Minister is Yoav Galant.
He was former Commander of the Southern Command in the Israel Defence Forces and former Minister of Construction in 2015. In 2018 he joined the Likud Party.
His Polish mother was a Holocaust survivor and his father fought the Nazis, as a partisan of the Jewish brigades, in the forests of Ukraine and Belarus.
.[He served in the 84thGivatiBrigade and he fought the 1948 Arab-Israeli war and other subsequent wars.
The GivatiBrigade was stationed in the Gaza Strip and mainly carried out counter-guerrilla operations until the Sharon Plan. He received a BA in Business and Finance Management from the University of Haifa.
Galiant began his military career in 1977 as a naval commander in the 13th Flotilla. In the 1980s he moved to Alaska and worked as lumberjack. He then returned to the Navy and served as Commander of a ship-based missile launcher. In 1994 he took up the command of the whole 13th Flotilla.
After serving for three years as Commander of the 13th Flotilla he moved up to command the Gaza Division. In 2001 he was appointed as Chief of Staff, while in 2002 he became the Prime Minister’s Military Secretary.
In 2005 he was appointed as Commander of the Southern Command. During his tenure the IDF embarked on Operation Cast Lead against Hamas in the Gaza Strip.
In his political career Galant initially accepted to run for the Kulanu Movement created in 2014, while in 2018 he joined the Likud Party and was appointed as Minister of Aliyah and Integration. In 2019, however, he resigned from the Knesset.
The current Minister of Environmental Protection is Gila Gamliel, a female member of the Likud Party born in 1974 to a Jewish Yemeni family.
Her mother was from Libya. She studied at the Ben-Gurion University of the Negev where she was awarded a BA in Middle Eastern History and Philosophy. Later she also graduated in Law.
The Finance Ministry is led by Israel Katz from the Likud Party. Katz. previously held the posts of Minister of Agriculture, Minister of Transport, Minister of Intelligence and Minister of Foreign Affairs and was also member of the Security Cabinet of Israel.
His parents were German Holocaust survivors coming from the German-speaking region of Romania, on the border with Germany and Hungary.
He drafted into the IDF in 1973 and volunteered in the Paratroopers Brigade. After his discharge in 1977 he studied at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. He entered the Knesset tin 1998 as a replacement for Ehud Olmert.
In 2003 he was appointed Minister of Agriculture in Ariel Sharon’s government and in January 2004 he announced a plan to increase settlements in the Golan Heights. Along with Netanyahu, Katz was also against Sharon’s Gaza disengagement plan. In the same period, he even lobbied with the World Zionist Organisation to provide incentives and subsidies for settlements in the West Bank.
Former Minister of Transport in Netanyahu’s government in 2009, Gabi Ashkenazi is the current Foreign Minister in the government formed by the Likud Party, the “Blue and White” alliance and other groups.
He was Chief of General Staff from 2007 to 2011. He is a Mizrahi Jew -i.e. an Eastern Jew, often of Maghreb origin – born in the Sharon region of central Israel. His father, a Holocaust survivor, had immigrated to Israel from Bulgaria while his mother had immigrated from Syria.
He attended a renowned high school affiliated with the prestigious Gymnasia Herzliya in Tel Aviv and later studied at the U.S. Marine Corps University.
He served in the Golani Brigade from 1972 to 1988 and he first saw action during the 1973 Yom Kippur War. Later he took part in the Operation Thunderbolt, the Operation Entebbe and in the Operation Litani of 1978.
During the 1982 Lebanon War Ashkenazi served as deputy Commander of the Golani Brigade. He was promoted to Commander of said Brigade in 1987.
A year later he was appointed Head of Intelligence for Israeli Northern Command.
He later worked as the Chief of Israel’s civil administration in the occupied Lebanon and in 1994 he was promoted to Chief of the General Staff’s Operations Directorate. In 1998 he was appointed Head of the Israeli Northern Command, a position that would make him responsible for Israel’s withdrawal from its Security Zone in Southern Lebanon. He criticized the withdrawal, believing that it should have been accompanied by negotiations with Syria.
He was appointed IDF Deputy Chief of Staff in 2002, but he had also been in charge of the construction and maintenance of the fence physically separating Israeli and Palestinian communities in the West Bank.
He advocated building the fence very close to the Green Line, i.e. the 1949 “Armistice border”.
In 2006 Ashkenazi was appointed Director-General of the Defence Ministry and served as Chief of the General Staff from 2007 until 2011.
He joined the current government as member of the “Blue and White” alliance.
Yuli Edelstein, from the Likud Party, is the current Minister of Health.
He is of Ukrainian descent and son of a Jewish father and a Christian mother. Later both parents converted to Christianity. Currently the Minister declares he is an Orthodox Christian and he is also a “Russian Orthodox priest”.
He arrived in Israel in 1977, but then went back home and was later “sent” to the Siberian penal colonies by the KGB, after being arrested by the Russian Intelligence Service on fabricated charges: coincidentallyhe was charged with home possession of drugs.
He immigrated definitively to Israel in May 1987,moving to the West Bank settlement of AlonShvut.He did his national military service in the Israel Defence Forces, attaining the rank of Corporal.
In 1996 he founded the Yisrael Ba Aliyah Party, together with the famous Soviet dissident Nathaniel Sharansky.
In 1996 he was elected to the Knesset and became Minister of Immigrant Absorption in a Netanyahu’s Likud-led government.
In 2009 he was appointed Minister of Information and Diaspora.
Following the 2013 elections, he became Speaker of the Knesset.
Another Likud member, Ze’ev Elkin, was appointed to the newly-created posts of Minister of High Education and Minister of Water Resources.
He was born to a secular Jewish family living in Ukraine and, as a young man, he joined Bnei Atikva, the largest Zionist religious movement in the world.
He studied mathematics and physics at Kharkiv University from 1987 to 1990. He later became the General Secretary of the Soviet Union branch of Bnei Atikva, the aforementioned association founded during the British Mandate for Palestine.
After immigrating to Israel, he studied at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. He was elected to the Knesset for Kadimain 2006.
He served as Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs from 2013 to 2014 and then became Chairman of the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defence Committee.
In 2015 Elkin was also appointed Minister of Immigrant Absorption and Minister of Strategic Affairs, a post he had to surrender after only 11 days when Gilad Erdan was appointed Minister of Public Security, Strategic Affairs and Public Diplomacy. Elkin asked for Minister of Jerusalem Affairs portfolio as compensation for losing Strategic Affairs and Netanyahu met his demand.
The Ministry of Intelligence is led by Eli Cohen from the Likud Party.He previously held the post of Minister of the Economy and Industry and was a member of the Security Cabinet of Israel.
He has a MBA in Accounting and in ance, as well as specific qualifications and skills in management.
The current Minister of the Development of the Negev and Galilee is Aryeh Deri, from Shas, the Haredi religious political party.
He previously served as Minister of the Economy and in 1999 he was convicted to a three-year jail sentence on bribery and fraud charges.
He was born in Morocco and he is the brother of Rabbi Beer Sheva. In 1998, as Interior Minister, he abolished the censorship of plays in theatres.
TheMinistry of Jerusalem Affairs and Heritage, which is not a permanent Ministry in Israeli politics, is led by Rafi Peretz,who served as the Chief Military Rabbi of the Israel Defence Forces and is currently leader of the “Jewish Home” party.
He was born in Jerusalem to parents of Moroccan Jewish descent and in 2019 he served as Minister of Education.
Avi Nissenkorn is the current Minister of Justice. He is a lawyer and former General Secretary of Histadrut labour union.
He is a member of the “Blue and White” alliance.
His parents immigrated from Poland. In February 2016 he became a member of the Labour Party and later joined the Israel Resilience Party led by Benny Gantz.
The Ministry of Labour, Social Affairs and Social Services is led by Itzik Shmuli, a Labour Party member and former leader of the National Union of Israeli Students.
His parents are of Iraqi Jewish descent: He was conscripted to the Israel Defence Forces in 1998 and served as tank commander. In 2001 he opened a restaurant and catering company with his father in Tel Aviv where he worked for two years. In 2003 he moved to Argentina. After returning to Israel, he attended the Oranim Academic College and graduated in Special Education and Social Community Action. As stated in various articles, he officially belongs to the LGBT community.
He is a member of the Zionist Union.
A member of the Likud Party, Yuval Steinitz, is the current Minister of National Infrastructure, Energy and Water Resources.
He served as Minister of Finance (2009-2013) and as Minister of Intelligence and Strategic Affairs (2013-2015). He holds a Ph.D in Philosophy and was a senior lecturer at the University of Haifa.
He joined the “Peace Now” movement as a young student.
The Minister of Public Security, who deals with Police Forces, Prison System and Fire Department, is led by Amir Ohana, another member of the LGBT community.
He previously held the post of Minister of Justice. His parents are Sephardic Jewish immigrants from Morocco. He served in the IDF as a road accident investigator in the Military Police. After leaving regular military service, he served in the Shin Bet, the Israel Security Agency.
He is also Chairman of the Likudgay caucus Likud Pride.
Gilad Erdan from the Likud Party is the current Regional Cooperation Minister.
He formerly held the posts of Minister of Public Security, Strategic Affairs, as well as Minister of Information, Minister of Environmental Protection, Minister of Communications, Home Front Defence Minister and Minister of Internal Affairs.
Son of Romanian Jews of Hungarian descent, he studied law at Bar-Ilan University and practices as a lawyer. He is also legal advisor to Benyamin Netanyahu.
He is very close to the U.S. Evangelical Zionist network and was also Israeli Ambassador to the United States from January 2020 to date.
Yaakov Avitan is the current Minister of Religious Affairs. He is the son of the Rabbi of Be’er Tuvla Regional Council. He was ordained as a Rabbi at the age of 19 and is a current member of the Shas party.
The Ministry of Science and Technology is led by Yizar Shai from the “Blue and White” alliance.
He was born to parents from Argentina. In 1981 he started his national service in the Israel Defence Forces, joining the Paratroopers Brigade and serving in the 1982 Lebanon War.
He studied at Technion, the best scientific university in Israel and in the whole Middle East, established in 1912, which is currently 85thin the world’s scientific university ranking.
He established the Business Layers company in 1998.
The Ministry of Settlement Affairs is led by Tzipi Hotovely from the Likud Party.
She already served as Minister of Diaspora Affairs and has a sound legal background.
She practices Orthodox Judaism and was born to parents who immigrated to Israel from Georgia. She is a famous TV journalist, known for her radical anti-assimilation views on Israeli Arabs.
Meirav Cohen is the Minister for Social Equality and was born to parents who immigrated from Morocco.
During her national service in the Israel Defence Forces she worked at Army radio as a presenter and editor. She studied at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem for a BA in Economics and Business Administration. She is a member of the “Blue and White” alliance.
Orit Farkash-Hacohen, from the “Blue and White” alliance, was appointed Minister of Strategic Affairs. She was previously Chairwoman of the Electricity Authority.
She had a career as lawyer and worked for the Anti-Trust Authority. Between 2006 and 2007 she attended Harvard University, earning a Master’s Degree in Public Administration.
Asaf Zamir serves as the new Minister of Tourism for the “Blue and White” alliance. Formerly Deputy Mayor of Tel Aviv, his family lived in the United States for four years during his childhood. During his national service in the Israel Defence Forces he served in the central control unit of the Israel Air Force. After graduating from Tel Aviv University, he started his career as a lawyer.
An old friend of Italy, Miri Regev, was appointed Minister of Transportation for the Likud Party. She also previously served as Minister of Culture and Sports. Her father was from Morocco and her mother from Spain.
She began serving as the IDF spokeperson’s representative in the Israeli Southern Command and in 2003 she was appointed coordinator of the national public relations efforts at the Israeli Prime Minister’s Office in preparation for the IraqWar.
She continued to work in the field of military communication during Israel’s disengagement from Gaza in 2005 and the 2006 Lebanon War.
Finally, Tzachi Hanegbi, a national security expert, is the current Minister without portfolio at the Prime Minister’s Office.
He previously served as Minister of Agriculture and rural Development and Minister of Regional Cooperation, as well as Minister of Justice, Minister of Internal Security, Minister of Intelligence and Nuclear Affairs and Minister in the Prime Minister’s Office supervising Israel’s Intelligence Agencies. He was born to a family of founders of the covert and underground organizations that later reported to the Likud Party.
A Middle Eastern Westphalia
This book, Towards a Westphalia for the Middle East, is a product of many conferences and seminars between government officials, policy wonks, academics, international organization officials, experts from Europe, and the Middle East; in addition to a host of think tanks. The authors, Brendan Simms, Michael Axworthy, and Patrick Milton “have summarized the results” of the “discussions, provided a detailed account of the most important elements of the Peace of Westphalia, and outlined elements of a possible framework for peace in the Middle East.”
The Westphalia project started with the observation of the parallels between the current situation in the Middle East and the Thirty Year War that ended up with the Westphalia Treaty (1648) to put paid to the “war of all wars.” The German Körber Foundation and the Policy Planning Unit of the Federal Foreign Office in cooperation with Cambridge University launched the project to see if there were lessons to be drawn from the European conflict in the first half of the 17th century and the subsequent peace treaty to shed lights on the current crisis in Syria. The authors are well aware that parallels do not mean similar. “The analogy between the Thirty Years War and the war in Syria informing the present work thus ought to be employed as an analytical framework, and the Peace of Westphalia ought not to be used as a blueprint.”
There are models to regional peace and security other than Westphalia. The authors see Westphalia as the aptest for two reasons. One is structural: the current Middle Eastern crisis comprises a set of interlocking political and religious struggles at the local and the regional levels.” The second is the religious factor: although in both cases, religion cannot be entirely blamed, however, “sectarian tension has tended to merge and interact with other levels of conflict.”
From the outset, the authors debunk two main myths about Westphalia. One is that Westphalia had established sovereign states. Two, Westphalia reduced religious order in favor of a secular one. “Sovereign states existed well before 1648, and interventions in the domestic affairs of other states (and other Imperial Estates) continued well after 1648.” Further, although Westphalia foregrounded secular laws over ecclesiastical laws, “Westphalia was explicitly a Christian peace”. The Treaty reorganized confessional balance into constitutional laws “and regulated relations between Catholics, Lutherans, and Calvinists in a highly detailed set of confessional laws.”
Turning to the Middle East, the authors see three interconnected factors that influence the dynamics of the conflict. The lack of state legitimacy, according to the authors, harks back a century, i.e., to the inception of these states as a result of Sykes-Picot. The reason is arguably attributed to being contrived by colonial states. After all, it was a colonial power, namely Britain that reneged on its promises to deliver a unified Arab state from Syria to Yemen.
Political Islam cannot solely be ascribed to “secular Arab autocracy and against the failure of Arab nationalism to achieve its aims”, as the authors claim. Islamic revivalism predates secular Arab regimes and had started in the nineteenth century. Moreover, Hassan al-Banna launched his Muslim Brotherhood in 1928; more than two decades before Nasser assumed power in Egypt: It was the defeat of these regimes in the 1967 war, however, that gave political Islam prominence as an alternative ideology to secular nationalism.
The second factor pertains to what the authors call Saudi-Iran dualism and great power rivalry. The geopolitical competition between Riyadh and Tehran has fueled the fire in the region. Various hot spots have seen both countries on opposing sides. The Syrian civil strife witnessed Iran’s direct involvement in support of Assad’s regime and Saudi backing of some opposition groups. Likewise, Yemen has seen both actors and allies supporting the warring sides in that internecine conflict.
Iran is not alone in picking sides in the Middle Eastern confrontations. More recently, Turkey has been playing a significant role in regional maelstroms. The Arab Spring and the ascendancy of political Islam have enticed Turkey to play a larger role in the Arab World. Turkey is involved in several areas of contention. Turkey’s interest in containing the Kurds and fear of irredentist claims led to its involvement in northern Syria. Geoeconomic and geopolitical imperatives, as well as ideological competition, dictated Ankara’s propping up the Government of National Accord in Tripoli; and showing its fangs to the Europeans in the East of the Mediterranean, to boot.
Last, sectarianism is the third factor that influences the regional dynamics. The historical rivalry between Sunnis and Shiites contributed to the current situation. The authors are quite cognizant of the role played by confessional enmity; however, they do not assign a deterministic power to such a factor. Many legitimate demands have nonetheless “descended into sectarianised conflict in many quarters”.
The conflict-ridden region of the Middle East is in a dire need for regional peace. The question is what the Thirty Year War offers in terms of lessons for the Middle East. The European geopolitical scene, according to the authors, was dominated by the rivalry between France and the Habsburg powers. “It is the equivalent of the Saudi–Iranian rivalry in the Middle East, the chief difference being that France and the Habsburgs were not divided by religion (they were both Catholic) and that they often engaged in direct full-scale war.”
The rise of Calvinism in the 1560s has thrown the delicate balance into chaos. Few leading princes had converted to the proscribed creed and had caused a clash with the Lutherans. The Calvinists had upped the ante and resisted the banning of their faith, “and were determined to confessionalise disputes and thereby paralyse the system”.
As with the conflict in the Middle East, the Thirty Year War cannot be characterized as a religious conflict. The polarization was not clearly on confessional lines, and intra-confessional wars had their share of the pervasive conflict. However, religion had colored the threat perception among the warring countries, and faith and geopolitics had interplayed in a very pernicious manner. Similarly, the Middle East in this century has mirrored Europe in the seventeenth century: “the quest for security has become increasingly sectarianised, as it was and is assumed that one will find automatic allies among co-religionists.”
Naturally, one can find similarities and analogies between varieties of conflicts. The question remains how conceptually these conflicts are analogous to warrant the comparison under discussion. The authors found a few structural parallels between Europe in the seventieth century and today’s Middle East.
The authors outline five structural analogies between the two cases. The conflicts then and now tend to be complex and of a variety of types: “state-on-state wars; internal rebellions; civil wars; proxy wars; [and] external interventions in civil wars”. The second parallel is conflict over sovereignty and civil war. Thirdly, the growth of rebellious conflicts into full-fledged wars. Another similarity is great power competition and interventions. Finally, in both situations, no war is declared and wars resulting from the process of state formation.
The authors provide ample examples of such parallels and analogies within these categories. However, the context seems to be glaringly different. For example, one cannot draw a parallel between a secessionist movement in seventeenth-century Bohemia and the rebel forces like ISIS as state-building wars; alternatively, one cannot compare the geopolitical competition between Saudi Arabia and Iran to dynastic squabbles in early modern Europe.
The authors seem to be more well-grounded in European history than Middle Eastern current affairs, which presents a skewed view of the entire comparison. The idea that “Arab–Israeli problem has been less prominent in regional geopolitics,” shows less perspicacity of the current strategic realignment in the region, and flies in the face of the most recent developments. Israel and oil have been the most important strategic concern for the US in the Middle East. Without both Washington would’ve slept better.
Examples of useful lessons from Westphalia for the Middle East abound. A normative consensus had been a fulcrum of the Westphalia Peace. The authors find in religion, culture, language, and legal tradition, without specification, serve as the basis for normative consensus in the Middle Eastern region.
Other lessons that could be drawn from Westphalia are the establishment of trust, inclusivity, the role of diplomacy and negotiations, mediations, security guarantors, and de-sectarianization of the conflict among others.
There is also the question of why Westphalia and not other regional orders! Can one be selective and draw lessons from, say, Concert of Europe, for example. Alternatively, are there other examples from Africa and Asia that one can look at and select bits and pieces that might work for a new Middle Eastern order?
The problem with the Westphalian order for the Middle East is the diachronic comparison. At the time of Westphalia the world system and had not congealed to what is today. Globalization and great powers rivalry has allowed extra-regional powers to play a bigger role, and not always in the interest of the region.
The book, hopefully, would spark a discussion that is very important for a new security structure in the Middle East. One wishes translations of the book in Middle Eastern languages would appear to allow access to a wider audience in the region.
Shaping Palestinian politics: The UAE has a leg up on Turkey
The United Arab Emirates may have the upper hand in its competition with Turkey in efforts to shape Palestinian politics. Similarly, the UAE’s recognition of the Jewish state gives it a leg up in ensuring that its voice is heard in Israel and Washington irrespective of who wins the November US election.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan didn’t miss a beat during his address to the United Nations General Assembly, insisting that he, unlike the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain, would not accept a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict that is not endorsed by the Palestinians.
Mr. Erdogan’s solemn pledge may earn him brownie points with large segments of Middle Eastern and Muslim public opinion critical of the establishment of diplomatic relations between Israel and the two Gulf states but does not strengthen his weak hand.
The UAE, with whom Mr. Erdogan is at loggerheads over Libya, Syria, and the future of political Islam, may have less clout than it thinks in bringing Israelis and Palestinians back to the negotiating table, but has, for now, more cards to play.
What those cards are worth will only emerge over time.
The UAE is betting that a combination of soft power garnered through recognition of Israel and close security, economic and technological cooperation will enable it to convince the Israeli government that an independent Palestinian state is in Israel’s interest.
While there is little reason to believe that the UAE will succeed where others have failed in recent decades, Emirati leaders, in contrast to Turkey, potentially could in cooperation with Israel also try to impose an unpopular Palestinian figure who has close ties to the US, Emirati and Israeli leadership.
The move would be designed to install a leader who would be more conducive to engaging in peace talks on terms that hold out little hope of meeting long-standing Palestinian aspirations.
It is a scenario that 84-year-old Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas appears to be taking seriously and appears to be trying to pre-empt.
The Democratic Reform Bloc, a political group headed by Mohammed Dahlan, a controversial Abu Dhabi-based former Palestinian security chief believed to be close to Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed, the UAE’s de facto ruler, said dozens of his supporters had been arrested or summoned for questioning by Palestinian security forces in recent days.
Mr. Dahlan appeared to be walking a fine line when he recently denied any role in mediating relations between the UAE and Israel.
Mr. Abbas’ suspicions stem from an unsuccessful effort last year by the UAE to engineer a deal in which Hamas, the Islamist group that controls the Gaza Strip, would share power with Mr. Dahlan.
Mr. Dahlan went into exile in the UAE in 2007 after Hamas defeated his US-backed efforts to thwart the group’s control of Gaza. US President George W. Bush described Mr. Dahlan at the time as “our boy.”
He has since been indicted by Mr. Abbas’ Palestine Authority on corruption charges.
UAE recognition of Israel constituted an acknowledgment that the 18-year old Arab peace plan that offered Israel diplomatic relations in exchange for land and a Palestinian state had produced naught.
In its rivalry with Turkey, whose assertive support for the Palestinian cause has likewise failed to produce results so far, the UAE is banking on the expectation that it has the upper hand in getting not only Israeli but also the attention of Washington that under US President Donald J. Trump has disregarded Palestinian rights.
The UAE assumes that it will be able to capitalize on the fact that Emirati recognition of Israel has further complicated Turkey’s relations with its NATO ally, the United States.
Turkey’s relations with the US are already troubled by US support for Syrian Kurds; Turkish military backing of the Libyan government in Tripoli; tensions between Turkey and Greece, another NATO ally, in the Eastern Mediterranean; and Turkey’s acquisition of Russia’s S-400 anti-missile defense system.
The Trump administration hopes to finalize by December the sale of F-35 fighter planes to the UAE in the wake of the deal with Israel. Earlier, it cancelled Turkey’s acquisition of the same plane in response to the country’s S-400 deal with Russia.
For now, Turkey can look at appreciation by important segments of Arab and Muslim public opinion as an upside of its strident support for the Palestinians.
Seeking to capitalize on its Palestinian goodwill, Turkey has been attempting to end the rift between Mr. Abbas’ Al Fatah movement and Hamas in a bid to get the Palestinians to agree on elections and the formation of a joint government.
The two groups, agreed during talks in Istanbul this week to work together and hold long overdue elections in the next six months.
The joker in Turkish-Emirati differences over Israel and Palestine is the upcoming US presidential election in November.
Irrespective of who wins, Turkey has lost to the UAE the beneficial mantle of being Israel’s best Muslim friend.
Nonetheless, an electoral victory by Democratic challenger Joe Biden, who is expected to be more critical of arms purchases by the UAE and other Gulf states and take them to task on human rights issues, could put both Turkey and the Emirates on the back foot.
A Biden victory would be for Turkey a lost opportunity. The very issues that are at the core of its strained relations with the UAE are likely to complicate its relations with a Democratic administration.
Recent media reports reminded Mr. Erdogan that Mr. Biden had described him in a conversation with The New York Times early this year as an “autocrat.” The Democratic candidate suggested that the US. should “embolden” his opponents to defeat him in elections.
In the conversation, Mr. Biden mentioned other issues, including the Kurds, Syria, and tension in the Eastern Mediterranean that do not bode well for US-Turkish relations should the Democrat occupy the White House. Mr. Biden is expected to be also critical of the UAE’s interventions in Yemen and Libya.
Nonetheless, the UAE, despite its own issues with the US, is likely to still find itself in a better place in Washington no matter who emerges victorious from the November election.
Arabs-Israeli Peace must be Well-Anchored, not Neatly Fantasized
Watching a few Emirati and Israeli citizens dance in Chabad House, Dubai to celebrate normalization may give the impression that these nations have realized a genuine peace; a false assumption that disregards the facts that the peace treaty between Israel and two Arab Nations is meant to serve Donald Trump in his upcoming presidential election, values the “ground reality” that clearly favors Israel over United Nations resolutions upholding the “land for peace” principle, and advances western politicians’ view that peace can be imposed top-down, seconded by autocratic Arab rulers.
As an Egyptian, I highly value the peace treaty between my country and Israel that was based on regaining occupied Egyptian land, the Sinai Peninsula. The treaty has helped to alter Egyptians’ views of Israel fundamentally; no longer seen as a permanent enemy, Israel is presently perceived as a “cooperative” neighbor that has offered us millions of tourists and a few sound investments – solid pillars for normalization. Meanwhile, the clear majority of Egyptians, Arabs and Muslims continue to sympathize with the Palestinians living under Israeli occupation – a crisis that can only be resolved by pursuing the same path towards peace as that of Egypt.
For years, the United States has been trying to impose a peace treaty between the Arab nations and Israel based on the concept that Arabs should accept Israeli territorial expansion in return for the injection of substantial U.S. funds to boost the Palestinian economy, a proposition strengthened by Israel’s military power and Arab rulers’ injudicious, hasty attitude towards the crisis. Underneath this reality lurks the further empowerment of the political Islamist proposition that places Israel as a permanent enemy, which could easily drag our region into additional, unpredicted violence.
Arabs societies generally appear to lead a “double life”. On the one hand is the reality that 60% are either poor citizens or citizens who are vulnerable to poverty, an unemployment rate of roughly 11%, the lack of basic freedoms and living under autocratic rule; a sad status that has become even more dramatic with the advent of Covid-19. These factors combined intensify Arab youth’s anger and frustration towards their rulers and towards the United States, seen as a solid supporter of those rulers. Obviously, Palestinians living under Israeli occupation rule have an extra challenge to deal with.
On the other hand is the fantasy life constituted of GDP growth and the implementation of a few mega projects that Arab rulers like to exhibit and that western politicians and scholars tend to recognize as a sign of success – completely overlooking the fact that these projects are often awarded to the rulers’ cronies and that the unequal distribution of wealth will keep large portions of Arabs living in poverty for generations to come, making them more vulnerable to violence. Likewise, expanding trade deals between Arab nations and Israel or receiving economic incentives from the United States have proven to benefit only the same cronies.
Moreover, the present rumour that the United States is building a block of Arab nations and Israel meant to potentially engage in a war with Iran is a catastrophic approach. Should it happen, it will thrust the entire region into a state of intense violence and enduring war that could well lead to the collapse of many of the signed treaties. Furthermore, a peace treaty between Israel and two Arab nations, who are not in conflict with Israel, will not help to resolve either the Palestinian crisis or the Iranian conflict – Bahraini and the Emirati citizens will never validate such a treaty, if it is presented to them fairly.
There is a huge difference between a peace treaty concluded between two mature, democratic nations whose respective governments truly represent their citizens, and an agreement that is imposed on nations whose citizens are – to put it mildly – in disharmony with their rulers. Arab citizens, often accused of engaging in violence and declining to peacefully settle with Israel, are in fact caught between two fires: their autocratic rulers, who deliberately offer them undignified living conditions and Islamic extremists, who promise them eternal salvation as a reward for engaging in violence and terrorism.
Permanent Arab-Israeli peace can only be achieved through a bottom-up approach that is designed to last, which entails keeping away from western pragmatism and enforcement, both of no value to this crisis. Israel is continually working to enhance its security, an absolute necessity for its citizens. It needs to offer Palestinians the opportunity to live a dignified life based, first, on regaining their occupied land and establishing a state of their own, followed by advancing their economic status. Offering the later at the expense of the former will keep us in this vicious circle of violence for decades to come.
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