Signatories of Abraham Accords should take a hard look at Cyprus
When I first heard about the normalization agreement between Israel and the UAE, I reminisced Amin Malouf’s book “The Crusades Through Arab Eyes,” where he writes that every Arab chieftain saw the oncoming Crusades as an opportunity to deal with their local enemies. They thought that if they elevated their local skirmishes to a new, continent-wide level, they could come out on top. The result was a bloodbath. The “enemy of your enemy may also be your enemy,” as former U.S. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger said about ISIL a few years ago.
So, what about the Abraham Accords? I do agree that any peace deal is laudable, but there is no need for daydreaming. The deal between Israel and the UAE is based on their common fear of Iranian power and the Shia populations in the Gulf. It is orchestrated by the Trump White House in its unabashedly zero-sum view of the world, just ahead of the presidential elections in the United States.
The deal seeks to bury the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, hoping that over time – and nobody on the Arab side is going to admit this – Israel will somehow make it go away. In doing so, the Gulf Arabs and some Israelis may probably be thinking that they are turning the Israeli-Palestinian conflict into a part of a larger problem. I’m afraid that far from resolving the conflict, it will only make it bigger.
Let me take your attention to the current eastern Mediterranean conflict. There, we once had a small, relatively contained conflict between the Turkish and Greek populations on the island. By rejecting the Annan plan in 2004 and looping in the EU, the Greek Cypriot leadership sought to bypass the local conflict. They hoped that this would allow them to dominate terms in the future. More than a decade later, the Greek Cypriots started to distribute drilling rights to French and other Western petroleum companies while shutting out the Turks. Now they’re finding the conflict is coming back, this time on a regional scale. Despite the pandemic, our countries are spending incredible amounts of money on weapons systems to be stationed on the shores of our borders, pumping fear and hate into the hearts of our young people, and this is only the beginning.
Turning the conflict between Greek and Turkish Cypriots into a regional problem has only made the Cyprus conflict deeper and harder to solve. The normalization agreement between Israel and the UAE is no different if you ask me. Burying the Israeli-Palestinian conflict under the wider Iran-Gulf rivalry is only going to make things worse. The Palestinians are not going anywhere, and they won’t let it be forgotten. I can guarantee you that.
The road to normalization – real normalization – between Israel and the Arab states still runs through the Palestinian issue. No amount of Trumpian gloss can change that.
And yes, the road to normalization in the eastern Mediterranean still runs through Cyprus. The threat of sanctions and flashy new fighter jets can suppress this conflict, but they cannot make it go away. To deal with the issue, you have to solve the problem on the island in a fair and square way.
Despair is our biggest enemy here. We only defer problems when we think that they are unsolvable. They are not. Western statesmanship, at its best, recognizes the systemic dimension of conflict and acts accordingly. Leave it to the Trumps of the world to defer and detract.