By Alan Heil
Secretary of State Antony Blinken concluded a two-day mission to the Middle East May 26, winning what the Associated Press termed “valuable diplomatic support” for a ceasefire between Israel and the Gaza Strip’s Hamas leaders.
This followed quickly on the heels of an 11-day war that cost the lives of nearly 250 people, including more than 232 Palestinians and 12 Israelis. The latest conflict exploded during the second week in May, after Israel took over Palestinian homes in east Jerusalem and expelled residents. Hamas in Gaza responded by firing rockets into the Jewish state.
The latest spasm of Arab-Israeli hostilities began to ease May 19 when President Biden and other world leaders made direct ceasefire appeals to both sides. Now, Mr. Blinken’s mission appears to have strengthened the prospects.
The legacy of Arab-Israeli wars
The first modern war, 73 years ago, was in 1948, when Israel was founded immediately after World War II. Then there was a succession of follow up conflicts in the Middle East: in 1967, 1973, 1982 and 1991. No reliable total death toll is available, but millions, even tens of millions, of civilian and military lives have been lost.
The Blinken mission appears to have stressed Washington’s position for a “cooling off” period after the May 2021 crisis which had threatened to plunge the entire Middle East into yet another disastrous full-scale war.
What should happen now
As a half century observer of the region and former VOA Middle East Bureau chief and later Deputy Director of the Voice, let me share my thoughts on the wisest course ahead for key actors in the seemingly endless Arab-Israeli debate. There are building blocks toward a more stable peace.
- Expand contacts between Arabian peninsula and Israeli leaders set in motion last year in what has become known as “the Abraham accords.” Under this framework, formal diplomatic ties were established between Jerusalem and three Arabian peninsula Gulf states with full U.S. support as a co-signer.
- Initial signatories to the historic accords of 2020: the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Israel and the U. S. Later, Sudan, Morocco, and Oman established unprecedented ties with Israel.
- To the extent possible, encourage Egypt, Jordan, Iraq, Syria and North African Arab states to formally sign on to this unprecedented and constructive Arab-Israeli diplomatic initiative.
- An encouraging sign during Secretary Blinken’s late May visit to the Middle East: his talks with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak and Jordanian King Abdullah II in their respective capitals.
And here are the overriding guidelines going forward.
- No cross-border air or land-based attacks by any Arab entity or Israel against a neighbor
- A continuing effort on all sides to sign on to the seven-nation agreement outlined above
- An international or U.N. Security Council consensus on the necessity of preserving the latest ceasefire accord in line with that treaty.
- A mechanism to advance additional sign-ons to the 2000-2001 consensus. That’s an unprecedented opportunity to advance the idea that a comprehensive peace between Israel and Arab countries might endure.
As a 36-year veteran of the Voice of America (VOA), Alan Heil traveled to more than 40 countries a foreign correspondent in the Middle East, and later as director of News and Current Affairs, deputy director of programs, and deputy director of the nation’s largest publicly-funded overseas multimedia network. Today, VOA reaches more than 275 million people around the world each week via radio, television and online media. Read More