Greg Sheridan: Arab Spring makes Israeli-Palestinian settlement hopeless

Greg has been in Israel for a week, under the auspices of the Australia Israel United Kingdom Leadership Dialogue. His dispatch is among the best Middle East analysis we’ve seen recently: Territorial compromise loses ground in Arab Spring [subscription required]. To over-simplify Greg’s report: the power vacuums created by the Arab Spring have been largely filled by Islamist parties, especially the Muslim Brotherhood. Meanwhile, Hamas and the Palestinian Authority are in such conflict that they cannot even travel safely onto each other’s territory. This toxic brew is very unlikely to lead to a permanent settlement. Here’s an excerpt to give you the flavor:

(…) What makes me especially pessimistic about a peace deal at the moment is the interaction of two related dynamics — the unfolding of the Arab Spring and the confused mess of Palestinian politics. The Arab Spring so far has yielded bitter fruit. Across much of North Africa, elections have been held and they have shown us again that elections alone do not make democracy.

Nonetheless, elections have results and these ones have greatly strengthened Islamists and Islamist extremists. In Egypt the biggest vote went to the Muslim Brotherhood, which was backed by some of the small but rich Persian Gulf oil states. Not very far behind the Brotherhood in Egypt was the even more extreme Salafists, who were strongly backed by Saudi Arabia. The Salafists’ electoral success was extraordinary. Five minutes ago it didn’t exist as a political movement, yet it won near enough to a quarter of the votes.

But overall, all across the Middle East, the big winner is the Muslim Brotherhood. Partly as a result, the Brotherhood is in great flux internally. But on one thing the Brotherhood is absolutely clear, its constant and comprehensive demonising and delegitimising of Israel. These newly empowered forces would denounce and fatally undermine any serious Palestinian compromise with Israel.

(…) This all plays into the exceedingly dysfunctional state of Palestinian politics. The Palestinian Authority, dominated by Fatah, rules in the West Bank. Hamas, which is the Palestinian branch of the Muslim Brotherhood, rules Gaza. Naturally Hamas is fantastically empowered by the way the Arab Spring is unfolding. Islamism has shown itself to be the most powerful ideological and political force in the Middle East.

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