Friday, May 22, 2020

When Peace Treaties are Leveraged as Extortion - by Maj. Gen. (res.) Gershon Hacohen

The problem with Israel's "cold peace" with its neighbors isn't the lack of symmetry in the treaties, but rather that Jordan and Egypt are using the agreements to deter Israel from acting in its own best interest.

Maj. Gen. (res.) Gershon Hacohen..
Israel Hayom..
20 May '20..

In Defense Minister Benny Gantz and Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi's swearing-in speeches, they both declared their loyalty to the path of peace.

"I am committed to doing everything possible to promote diplomatic solutions and making peace," Gantz stated, while Ashkenazi said, "President Trump's peace plan is a historic opportunity … it will be promoted, responsibly and in coordination with the US, while keeping peace agreements in place."

If it weren't for the unusual political context, in light of the dispute over Israel applying sovereignty to Judea, Samaria, and the Jordan Valley, the discussion about peace agreements would be nothing more than a standard message. But given warnings from King Abdullah of Jordan and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas against Israel's planned moves, and given the internal debate in Israel about the issue, their words take on a special meaning, a king of commitment to making Israeli steps toward sovereignty conditional upon regional consent.

No one disagrees that peace is worthy goal. The picture becomes more complicated when we look at the ways in which the peace between Israel and its neighbors has been implemented. A dynamic has developed in which their behavior toward Israel is often reminiscent of demanding protection money to be left alone. The Hashemite Kingdom plays an important and welcome role in keeping the peace along the Israeli-Jordanian border, but when experts on Israeli-Jordanian relations recommend that because of that, Israel refrain from taking action on behalf of its own interests in the Jordan Valley, and warn about the risk of losing the peace deal, we are getting close to extortion.

Countries that live in peace should be considerate of each other. But the obligation to take each other into account, as characterized in Israel's peace treaties with Jordan and Egypt, is far from symmetric. From the start of the negotiations between Israel and Egypt, a critical element has been the demand that Israel solve the Palestinian issue. However, top-ranking officials in Israel's Foreign Ministry explain the cold peace with Egypt as the result of Israel not meeting its commitments on the Palestinian issue. Israel's peace with Jordan exists in similar conditions.

The peace treaties with Israel gave Jordan and Egypt leverage to limit Israel's ability to act on its own interests in Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and the Jordan Valley. Back when the 1978 Camp David Accords were being written, Yigal Allon warned of the danger of hinging Israeli-Egyptian peace on progress with the Palestinians. He wanted to separate the two processes, and explained, "What will happen if the Arab side in establishing [Palestinian] autonomy sets conditions that Israel cannot accept? By doing so, Egypt wants to retain the option of avoiding normalization."

Israel gives Jordan a lot, such as the regular supply of 100 million cubes of water per year, but the question isn't who benefits more from peace. What casts a shadow of "protection" over the relations does not stem from the treaty's asymmetry, but the way in which Amman is leveraging the peace treaty as extortion, to deter Israel from acting in its own interests on defense and security, as well as domestic affairs.

Israel is now at a crossroads, facing threats from the leaders in the region. An independent Israeli decision to promote its own interests and sovereignty is nothing less than a declaration of independence.

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