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Negotiations in a Strategic Trap

TEL AVIV – The Israeli-Palestinian peace process, stymied by irreconcilable differences between the parties, has always depended on the strategic regional context. It was born, after all, in the wake of the first Gulf War, and was facilitated by the regional consequences of the Cold War’s end. These days, the process is shaped by two major regional dynamics, the so-called Arab Spring and the Iran nuclear deal.

The Iran deal has turned into one of the most serious crises of trust ever in the United States’ relations with its Middle East allies. Though they have no alternative, both Israel and the Arab states will find it difficult to trust future US commitments to their security. To Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, US President Barack Obama betrayed Israel when he sacrificed Egypt’s former president, Hosni Mubarak, and paved the way for the Muslim Brotherhood’s rise to power. Now he has wielded the knife a second time by reaching a deal with Iran, supposedly behind Netanyahu’s back.

Israel’s conventional strategic wisdom was based on an equation of “Bushehr versus Yitzhar” – that is, a readiness to dismantle West Bank settlements if the Iranian centrifuges in Bushehr were dismantled. As far as Netanyahu is concerned, this is not taking place.

Nor do the Arab revolutions counsel Israel’s strategic planners to take security risks. Israel, they would say, is now surrounded by imploding, failing states/regions (Lebanon, Syria, Gaza, and Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula), as well as by a strategically vital buffer state, Jordan, whose long-term survival cannot be taken for granted. The anarchy along Israel’s borders is becoming a breeding ground for Sunni extremists for whom the Jewish state is the ultimate enemy. To create a Palestinian state when existing Arab states are crumbling – and with a part of Palestine controlled by Hamas – does not seem like a brilliant idea.