The Middle East region can be described as the most volatile areas in the world as characterized by multiple geopolitical conflicts. The conflicts have often revolved around the relationship between Israel and her Arab neighbors. For example, a recent confrontation with Hamas in the Gaza Strip epitomizes decades of strained relations in the Middle East (Zweiri, 2021). The Israel-Palestine struggle remains an unresolved problem, which should be one of the last gaps to be filled for a full normalization to take place. The argument is that over the past two decades, Israel has fostered ties with the Persian Gulf States, even though unofficially (Hitman & Zwilling, 2021). Tensions with these states may have declined, which means that the normalization is proving successful. Therefore, the Palestinian question remains the biggest hurdle to the possibility of peace in the Middle East (Sadiki, 2020). With proper negotiations and agreements, the Middle East can become peaceful.
Why is normalization the only path towards the peaceful Middle East? This question will be answered by exploring what the concept of normalization entails, how it can be achieved, and how it can facilitate peaceful relations where conflicts are replaced with cooperation. The current efforts have been manifested by peace treaties in the region, often with the help of key international players, and reduced tensions between states that used to engage in violent confrontations.
A review of literature seeks to highlight both the progression of the tensions, the key players, peace treaties, current gaps, and the current efforts with normalization. With the insights obtained from this exercise, a case for normalization can be developed, which will focus majorly on filling gaps and deliberate efforts towards full normalization. Therefore, the research does not only address why normalization is beneficial but also why all players must strive to make it work. The method used in this analysis is a review of literature where secondary data is explored. Current data is available, which means that the only limitation is potentially the accuracy of the data.
The Middle East conflict may be traced back several decades, with several variables playing a key role. The state of affairs of this region has majorly been determined by the postcolonial political and cultural rivalries. The postcolonial era has been characterized by the emergence of opposing sides, namely nationalists and Islamists. However, culture has played a critical role in escalating the confrontation between the movements. Gerges (2018) has written a book titled ‘Making the Arab World: Nasser, Qutb, and the clash that shaped the Middle East’. The key themes in the book revolve around culture and how it has been used as a weapon of choice by both Islamists and nationalists, which means that the identity of the region has revolved around the imaginations spearheaded by the two. The Shia-Suni divide after the death of Mohamed has been characterized by social antagonism, some of which revolved around the redefinition of Islam.
It might be argued that Israel’s presence in the Middle East is not necessarily a source of conflict because Arab governments have been involved in both internal and inter-state conflicts. However, the establishment of Israel in the Middle East has seen a new course in the conflict with the Arab states opposed to the move. Since then, such countries as Egypt, Syria, and Palestine have all been at war with Israel over conflicting claims to territory. ‘From Madrid and Oslo to Camp David’ by Pressman (2018) is a perfect illustration of how Israel came to existence with a key role played by the United States. The title highlights the use of treaties in the conflict, which forms the central themes in this publication. The author reveals that parties to the conflict have different views on the idea of peace, because of the terms of the agreements and the concessions demanded from each party.
A key question that needs addressing is whether peace is not achievable with all the Arab states opposed to the existence of Israel in the region. The answers to this question can be found in the nature of the relationships of countries that have been involved. Firstly, such states as Palestine believe that their land was taken from them and they would do everything possible to reclaim it. With Israel keen on maintaining a Jewish state, it can be argued that none of the opponents would be keen to make concessions. The Israeli-Arab conflict seems to be notoriously resistant to mediation efforts as explained by Hitman and Kertcher (2018) in their journal article ‘The case for Arab-Islaeli normalization during conflict’. The key themes in the article revolve around the role of such players as the United Nations and the United States in facilitating peaceful negotiations. Additionally, the authors illustrate how the resolutions have not lasted long enough to promote a period of prolonged peace. However, all peace negotiations appear to fail to address issues of justice raised by Palestine, which raises doubts about the neutrality and fairness of the third parties involved.
Some observers will lead to believe that the persistence of conflicts in the Middle East is the result of continuous meddling by the Western powers. Such sentiment has been expressed by (Davidson, 2016), in the book ‘Shadow Wars’ where the major theme is the use of covert strategies by Western countries to exercise control over the Middle East. Should a third party focus on the gains from a conflict, then it follows that the progression and outcomes of the war are designed to favor the mediators. Israel can be considered a key ally of the United States and other Western states. As a result, its presence in the region can be viewed as a weapon for exercising power and a buffer for external countries fighting potential Arab aggression. Therefore, addressing the possibility of peace and normalization of relationships in the Middle East should start with exploring the role played by external powers.
The issue of Palestine resembles many social issues studied in liberal discourses, including anti-racism, environmentalism, identity politics, and feminism. The argument is that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict persists because Palestine continues to be denied justice and the right to statehood (Sadiki, 2020). A manifestation of this scenario can be found with the ‘Trump Deal’, which has been considered to make glaring omissions solely intended for the benefit of Israel. The United States’ foreign policy in the Israel-Arab conflict becomes questionable because any mediator is supposed to be neutral and to observe justice and fairness. The absence of justice has been described by Sadiki (2020) as ‘me-first’ politics that turn a blind eye to the moral issues that remain detrimental to peace-making. Justice for Palestinians can be equated to such movements as equality and anti-racism that have dominated the politics and discourses in the United States and other Western countries. If the omissions in peace agreements favor some parties at the expense of others, then it is only logical to assume that normalization remains impossible.
The impossibility of normalization mentioned above is illustrated by the fact that peace agreements have failed. However, the possibility is highlighted by the observation that those states not in confrontation with Israel have started to make positive progress. Hitman and Zwilling (2021) present a text analysis of social media accounts covering six countries in the Gulf region, which explore the acceptance or rejection of normalization. The study reveals that over 25% of the accounts analyzed approve normalization with Israel. A majority of these came from Qatar and Saudi Arabia. Therefore, the fact that there are hardly any conflicts between these Arabian states and Israel reveals that normalization is possible. However, it can also be argued that few if any of the social media accounts from Palestinians will express the same sentiment considering that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is not nearly over. The current ties are only unofficial despite there being some peace treaties between the Arab states and Israel. Arguably, those countries that have been left to chart their own courses in international relations in the region have found means to make peace and diplomacy work.
It is important to acknowledge that Palestine is not the only Arab state with tense relations with neighbors and the international community. The case is Iran has been discussed by Rezaei (2017), who expresses that Iran has followed the principle of revolutionary export, which includes the use of terror to destabilize neighbors and further countries. As mentioned earlier, cultural issues have shaped the nature and course of violence in the Middle East. Iran’s doctrine can be the primary reason why the country has been part of many terror activities across the region and even in the United States. The case of Iran differs from that of Palestine in that while the latter fights over territories, the former’s political and cultural identity explains why it attracts enemies from the region and across the world. It can be understood that even other Arab states would remain opposed to such a neighbor, especially if these countries follow a different economic, social, and political path.
The United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, and Qatar are examples of countries that seek economic, political, and social progression, as well as a cultural revolution to allow them to interact better with external countries. Therefore, the fact that some of these countries oppose Iran and are willing to make friends with Israel illustrates means that normalization can be achieved if all the countries agree that progress is better achieved through peaceful relations. Even though the region is majorly Islamist, extremism is declining in most states with Irn the only country to be tied to terror operations (Rezaei, 2017). Even with such an aggressive country, the presence of a normalization project between Iran, her neighbors, and the United States illustrates that as long as there is fairness and justice then agreements can have more permanence.
In the case that there is truth in the position that agreements have hindered normalization because of favoritism, then the role of the mediators should be redefined. The idea of ‘shadow wars’ should be re-examined and any covert practices are eliminated to allow all players to have a fair playing ground. Foreign countries often wield undue influence in the Middle East, which does not always work in the governments’ favor. Such governments as the United States, France, and Britain have been directly involved in wars in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region (Davidson, 2016). Governments have been withdrawn and replaced by others whose policies are more aligned with the Western powers. It can be argued that such a practice will never lead to a ceasefire because resistance will always be present.
The need to eliminate foreign influence is critical for the region to ever realize full normalization. According to Sadiki (2020), the current normalization has adopted a reductionist and exclusionary approach. The goals are often pursued and implemented by singular rulers without the approval of the citizens. The intention by most is to re-label themselves from non-democratic leaders to peace-makers. Such rulers then become darlings to the West even though there are parties whose interests have not been addressed. Normalization can become a political charade that seeks to ensure the positions of the rulers while the real issues have not been addressed. This is the scenario faced by Palestine where unfair agreements are presented to the country and the rejection of which labels the country as opposed to normalization. The key idea of normalization is that all parties can understand each other and find solutions that work for all involved.
A few alternatives are available for the Middle East to Achieve peace but none of them are better than normalization. For example, non-violence agreements can be made between the parties where all conflicts are resolved amicably without using violence. The current treaties often seek to find a solution to the conflict but the recommended nature of agreements is that the conflicts can proceed without engaging the military. In this case, all queries are launched diplomatically, where even the issue of Israeli-Palestine can be approached this way. The rationale is that solutions are not close to being achieved but parties can agree that the quest for resolutions can proceed amicably. Additionally, this resolution is suggested as one of the best alternatives because earlier efforts and approached have failed. However, normalization is the only way because even non-violence arrangements will require significant levels of normalization for them to be applicable.
The main argument is that normalization in the Middle East is a possibility and that it is the only path towards peace. Recently, the Middle East has seen a rapid rise of rich and politically stable regimes that are equally worried about national security as any other country. Examples have included the United Arab Emirates (UAE), which has risen both economically and politically. Today, the UAE has become a multilingual state since it has welcomed and embraced foreigners who provide both labor and markets for the country’s businesses. During the 2019 Warsaw Conference, which was co-organized by the United States and Poland, numerous Arab bureaucrats interacted with their Israeli counterparts expressing their desire for normalization (Zweiri, 2021). Particularly, the UAE seemed keen on improving its national security, which was majorly threatened by Iran’s foreign policy. Even though the UAE might have had a few selfish interests, the Arab states and Israel recognized a common threat in Iran. Their only focus was that if the region could be assured of greater peace, then the countries’ path towards prosperity could become easier.
The dyadic conflict theory can be used to illustrate how normalization works. As described by Hitman and Kertcher (2018), the theory is founded on the expectation that a formal peace agreement followed by the elimination of overt violent practices creates the conditions necessary for peacebuilding. The stalling peace between Israel and the Arab neighbors has been characterized by a pattern of formal agreements faltering because violence and overt activities erupt during implementation to thwart any chance of success. The reason behind this pattern is that the formal agreements have often involved comprises that are not welcome by certain factions of the countries’ political arena. Therefore, such groups feel that unfair agreements should not proceed and they often have the means to derail the agreements (Pressman, 2018). On the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, violent opponents from both sides have often forced the states’ leadership back to the renegotiation tables, which explains why the removal of overt violent activities is vital in the normalization process. In the case of Israeli-Palestinian encounters, it is less likely that the situation will change since neither party has ever reached mutually fair agreements.
Normalization can help reduce external meddling, which only deteriorates the conflict. The countries in this region are some of the largest producers of such resources as natural gas and oil. They should be the richest countries on the planet if these resources are channeled towards economic development. The states can trade amongst themselves and attract partners from other nations. The external influence has not been positive because the mediators have their own agenda. For example, the United States needs to protect its oil-producing partners in the region, which means that arms have to be traded as well. For the Americans, this is a lucrative side trade that should be sustained for as long as there is oil (Davidson, 2016). In essence, there would be no threats to national security when relations are normalized and the countries have an arrangement not to go to war. The Americans and other Western powers would not have a market for their weapons and peaceful coexistence can be sustained. The main argument is that normalization serves the interests of all parties better than violence would.
As normalization is seen as the best pathway to peace, there is the question of why all countries should pursue it. The primary reason is that peace is good for progress with trade and commerce becoming a tool for economic growth and progress. Additionally, foreign meddling reduces as the states show that they can effectively handle their affairs. However, these goals are achievable only if all parties can be fair and just. Countries that have foreign policies similar to those of Iran may not be keen on normalization but external pressure from cooperating states can force such a neighbor to adopt better practices. Arguably, if such countries as UAE, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Egypt, and Qatar can join efforts to oppose terrorism from Iran then peace can be achieved. Currently, normalization efforts in Iran mean that this case is nearly resolved if Iran can accept that destabilizing other countries can be costly to itself.
However, there is the case where normalization is hindered by a lack of fairness and justice on the part of some members. No country fancies losing territory to another, which means that the case of Israel should be addressed in earnest. Normalization agreements of the past have had little to do with Palestine, a country that keeps insisting on recognition (Sadiki, 2020). There cannot be normalization where Palestine is excluded and ignored. Without involving external parties, Israeli and Palestinian delegates should consider what works for them. Terms should not be dictated to them by an external party. As has been the case in the past, both Israel and Palestine had proven their willingness to make concessions in the areas of conflict. However, the pursuit of these goals has been hindered either by external influence or the lack of trust among the parties.
Normalization is touted as the best pathway to peace in the Middle East. However, there are core issues that are ignored by certain parties to the conflict, including those serving as mediators. The argument that normalization is the solution has been presented, starting with an exploration of the nature and course of the conflict. While the pursuit of power historically drives violence, it is the culture that defines the course and the possibility of peace. Today, peace is determined by the actions of Western powers whose covert actions ensure that allies are safe and the rest remain destabilized. People should care about the findings regarding the nature of conflict in the Middle East.
Davidson, C. (2016). Shadow wars: The secret struggle for the Middle East. OneWorld.
Gerges, F. (2018). Making the Arab World: Nasser, Qutb, and the clash that shaped the Middle East. Princeton University Press.
Hitman, G., & Kertcher, C. (2018). The case for Arab-Israeli normalization during conflict. The Journal for Interdisciplinary Middle Eastern Studies, 2, 47-70. Web.
Hitman, G., & Zwilling, M. (2021). Normalization with Israel: An analysis of social networks discourse within Gulf States. Ethnopolitics, 1-27. Web.
Pressman, J. (2018). From Madrid and Oslo to Camp David: The United States and the Arab-Israeli conflict, 1991-2001. In D. Lesch, & M. Haas, The Middle East and the United States: History, Politics, and Ideology (pp. 185-202). Routledge.
Rezaei, F. (2017). Iran’s normalization project: Custodians and spoilers. Middle East Policy, 24(2), 87-101. Web.
Sadiki, L. (2020). Peace-making in the Middle East: “Normalization” with…without Palestine? Al Sharq Strategic Research. Web.
Zweiri, M. (2021). The new wave of normalization: Shifting sands or a major earthquake? Arab Reform Initiative. Web.