‘There can be Arab Spring 2.0’

18 Oct 2020

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A screen grab of the event.—White Star
A screen grab of the event.—White Star

KARACHI: The Pakistan Institute of International Affairs (PIIA) organised a webinar on Saturday on ‘US-brokered agreement between UAE, Bahrain and Israel’.

Dr Seyed Mohammed Kazem Sajjadpour, president of the Institute for Political and International Studies, Iranian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, said the accord or deal could be analysed as ABC — A (American problematic); B (betrayal); and C (composition of forces).

It’s an American project mostly oriented towards American election, a psychological ploy. There has been no achievement for Trump in the last four years in foreign policy. The accord is addressed for a special American constituency based on religious reading.

“Why are they calling it Abraham [Accords]?” They look at Israel with a Biblical sense. There’s a link between, Pompeo, Jared Kushner and that constituency. American policy in the Middle East was in limbo and the agreement is reflective of a very deep crisis of America in the region, he added.

On the second point, he said there were contacts between smaller states and Zionist entity in the past, it’s nothing new. But now Palestinians have been betrayed. “Who can ignore the Palestinian plight?” He asked and highlighted that in the last 70 years, there have been 60 American and European plans to fix the Palestinian issue but they haven’t been successful because there is a real problem called Palestine. You can’t ignore it by having deals. Whoever is ignoring their plight is not seeing the reality. “Now there’s a third generation of refugees. Can they ignore their origin? The Palestinians have been betrayed.”

The issue of Palestine cannot be ignored by having deals

‘Fear of Iran is fabricated’

Dr Sajjadpour on his final point, and referring to an argument made by an earlier speaker, said fear of Iran is fabricated. “Of course, Iran is on the rise. Iran is a regional power because of its size, population and location. It connects at least five regions.”

It’s not in the subcontinent, but it borders the subcontinent; it’s not a Central Asian country but borders Central Asia; it’s not Caucasian but it’s the only country bordering Armenia and Azerbaijan; it’s not a Mediterranean country but borders the eastern Mediterranean region, he said.

Furthermore, he underlined, in the last 40 years it’s the only country in the region whose security is completely home-grown as is its politics. “We have been witnessing collapses [of Soviet Union, Saddam Hussein etc]. Who did we invade? We have been on defence for 40 years. Nobody should be fearful of Iran.”

Unlike Iran, he reasoned, the others may be lacking in confidence in their own security or may be overconfident about themselves so they come up with such deals. “This deal will not solve the fundamental problem of Palestine. It could create more polarisation even among the Arab states.”

Dr Tughral Yamin, Associate Dean, Department of Peace and Conflict Studies, NUST, Islamabad, said the Middle East is known for surfeit of resources, religions and conflicts (Arab-Israel, Yemen civil war, Syrian civil war, Arab-Iran tension etc). It has 17 countries with a population of 411 million.

He said he was given the topic whether Palestinians and Iranians are losers in the situation arising out of the accord, and argued that it depends on how you look at the situation. In his view, it‘s not about American elections (in some peripheral way, it might be). The constant here is ‘peace in the Middle East’. There are other Arab states which could fall in line. The independent variable is the peace deal between Israel, the UAE and Bahrain and the dependant variable in the scheme of things is the Palestinians and Iranians.

‘Palestine will be neglected’

Dr Yamin went back in time to talk about the different peace deals, starting from the 1973 war between Israel and Egypt in which Egypt broke the myth that Israel was invincible. But Anwar Sadat had a larger political agenda and started peace with Israel. Subsequently, Egypt became a strategic US partner. During the Oslo process, the PLO and Israel recognised each other. There was an acceptance that the PLO existed and a treaty meant to fulfil the Palestinian people’s right to self-determination. There were two Oslo accords (1993 and 1995) but nothing happened.

Dr Yamin said after Trump came to power, he recognised Israeli settlements. The US-Bahrain and UAE agreement is all about security, though they already have security; it has nothing to do with religion. “Iran will be more isolated, Israel will be more secure, and Palestine will be neglected.” The possible consequences will be that there can be an Arab Spring 2.0 if the local populations are upset with what’s happening.

Concluding his arguments, he said everyone wins if there’s a just and equitable peace in Palestine and Palestine is recognised as a sovereign state. There will be some winners and some losers if peace is achieved at the expense of one or two nations. And everybody will lose if peace is just for one entity.

Ambassador Syed Hasan Habib, Senior Fellow, Centre for Area and Policy Studies (IoBM), said the world needs US leadership on several important issues. It would be strange to predict that the American public would forget all their issues such as unemployment, the pandemic, North Korea and south China and just be happy with the Abraham Accords.

Published in Dawn, October 18th, 2020