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The Death of the Arab-Israeli Conflict

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A big problem that the Biden administration suddenly won’t have to deal with

Michael Oren

January 12, 2021

Entire shelves of my office library are devoted to the Arab-Israeli conflict. The titles range from The History of the Arab-Israeli Conflict, 5th Edition, to the Routledge Atlas of the Arab-Israeli Conflict, and Teaching the Arab-Israeli Conflict. There are the reference books once considered essential—The Arab-Israeli Conflict: Readings and Documents, by John Norton Moore, and Walter Laqueur’s, The Arab-Israel Reader. There are right- and left-wing perspectives, works by Muslims, Christians, Jews, the memoirs of peacemakers and generals. The literature spans over seven decades and seemed destined to expand through many more. But, suddenly, these books about history have become books of history. Now, with the signing of the Abraham Accords between Israel, the United Arab Emirates, Sudan, and Bahrain, and the Moroccan-Israeli peace deal, the Arab-Israeli conflict is dead.

In fact, it was never fully alive. The notion that Israel faced an Arab world uniformly devoted to its destruction was belied by years of secret talks, even in-depth cooperation, between Israel and several Arab states such as Jordan, Lebanon, and Egypt. Shortly after seizing power in 1952, a young Gamal Abdel Nasser warmly corresponded with Israeli leaders, and years before making peace with Israel, Jordan’s King Hussein maintained an open line with Jerusalem. Peace proposals were routinely exchanged and weighed, sometimes with the most virulently anti-Zionist regimes.


The Abraham Accords merely dealt a coup de grace to this myth, but it had in fact been dying for decades. The process began with the Egypt-Israel peace treaty of 1979, the 1993 Oslo Accords between Israel and the PLO and the following year, Israel’s peace agreement with Jordan. Two Gulf wars, in 1991 and 2003, proved once again that the Arabs had faced bigger threats than Israel, and the Arab Spring of 2011 demonstrated that Middle Easterners had other things on their minds, such as democracy and freedom.


But there is one achievement that these diplomatic breakthroughs have not produced: an end to Middle Eastern conflict. On the contrary, such disputes will continue to plague the region and even proliferate. In place of the Arab-Israeli conflict, there is now a broader and potentially more explosive showdown between the Sunnis supported by Egypt, Jordan, Morocco, and the Gulf states, and the Shiites backed by Iran. There is battle between moderate Sunnis and Islamic extremists, many of them embraced by Turkey. And there will still be civil wars in Syria and Yemen and chronic instability in Iraq. And there will be an unresolved conflict between Israel and the Palestinians waged in the U.N. and in the international courts but also, occasionally, on the battlefield.

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