Can new crises overshadow old ones?

Osama al sharif
Osama Al Sharif is a journalist and a political commentator based in Amman. (Photo: Jordan News)
It has been an extraordinary week of regional summits and high-level meetings that spell out an evolving "new Middle East", to borrow a term from the late Israeli prime minister Shimon Peres, versus an old one, and how possible bridges can be built to connect the two.اضافة اعلان

It began last Tuesday when Egyptian President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi hosted Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett and Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed for a one-day meeting at Sharm Al Sheikh. A photo opportunity was the main outcome of this meeting that indicated a new shift in inter-regional relations following the signing of the Abraham Accords in 2020.

On Friday, King Abdullah hosted a four-way meeting in Aqaba that included Sisi, bin Zayed and Iraqi Prime Minister Mustapha Kadhimi, now heading a caretaker government. Once again there was no official joint declaration or statement.

On Sunday and Monday, Israeli Foreign Minister Yair Lapid received the foreign ministers of Egypt, Morocco, Bahrain and the UAE, who were joined by US Secretary of State Antony Blinken. They held a six-way historic summit in the Israeli desert town of Sde Boker that commemorated the Abraham Accords and underlined the emergence of a new regional quasi-alliance in the making.

On the same day that the Naqab summit formally convened, King Abdullah flew to Ramallah to meet with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. Amman had declined an Israeli invite to join the Naqab summit. King Abdullah wanted to send a message that the old conflict matters as much as the more recent ones.

To complete the series, Qatari Foreign Minister Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al Thani on Monday flew to Cairo to meet his Egyptian counterpart, Sameh Shukri, who had just returned from Israel. Interestingly, Shukri said that the Naqab summit was not about new regional alliances, apparently a reference to Iran.

These meetings point to a clash of axes and possible alliances that coincided with a high-level visit to the region by Blinken. The top US official had traveled to Ramallah on Sunday to meet with a despondent Abbas, who talked about double standards with regard to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine as well as the two-state solution. Blinken, aside from repeating the Biden administration’s policy of backing the two-state solution, had one clear message: the need to avoid escalations during Ramadan.

That was his message to the Israelis as well. For Israeli officials, the main theme was America’s closing on a deal with Tehran. And the Naqab summit appeared to show Arab and Israeli frustration with the Biden administration over its handling of the Iran file.

While the Palestinian issue was mentioned in statements by Lapid, Blinken, and almost all Arab officials attending the summit, the main issue was the changing US role in the region.

Blinken’s regional tour was to reassure America’s allies that while a deal with Iran is close, it will not affect regional security paradigms in any way. His visit had nothing to do with Palestinian rights, the opening of a US consulate in East Jerusalem or any other issue. On Blinken’s mind were two things: to keep the US regional allies in line and to ramp up support for America’s attempt to strangle the Russian economy.

It is safe to say that he failed on both accounts: most participants in the Naqab summit have a position that differs from the US on Russia’s war in Ukraine. While Abdullah bin Zayed was in Moscow last week, regional leaders stayed in touch with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

To assume that the Naqab summit achieved the immediate US goals would be an overstatement. The reality is that the US is more concerned now with finalizing a deal with Iran than with the pressing security concerns of its regional partners. This has to do with a bigger geopolitical game where Putin's fate takes center stage.

Shifting regional alliances is the main story. But old conflicts still matter. On the eve of the convening of the Naqab summit, two Israeli Arabs killed two Israeli policemen in a terror attack that was claimed, for the first time, by Daesh. How new regional developments can change the existing power struggle in occupied Palestine remains to be seen. But one thing now emerges as a new reality, and that is that new conflicts can never overshadow old ones.

While new alliances can cross over old conflicts — the elephant in the room will always be the Palestinian issue — it would be almost impossible to create a new geopolitical dynamic which pretends that old conflicts can just disappear.  

The writer is a journalist and a political commentator based in Amman. 

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