The recent breakdown in talks with the Palestinian Authority cannot overshadow a two-decade-long process, in which Israel is increasingly viewed by many in the Middle East — which has never been more volatile than today — as an integral part of the solution to the region’s long-term geopolitical development.
This was clearly not the case upon Israel’s inception — 66 years ago this week — as it was forced repeatedly to defend its very existence on the battlefield and its legitimacy in the international arena. Historical developments, strategic challenges and socio-economic necessities have all converged in a way we could only dream about back in 1948.
This is no small feat, particularly in a region where stability has never looked more fragile in our surroundings than today.
Perhaps no example illustrates this evolving status better than Israel’s relations with its neighbor to the east, Jordan, with whom we maintain a formal peace treaty since 1994. Indeed, bilateral meetings between Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and King Abdullah are a matter of routine, with the meeting this past January following three such meetings in 2013.
Reflecting the maturity of the Israel-Jordan ties, mishaps and disagreements between the two countries are handled as they would be in any healthy bilateral relationship. The recent death of a Jordanian judge at the Allenby border crossing, for example, was quickly followed by Israel’s launching of a probe and expression of regret.
To our north, the civil war in Syria has brought its own challenges in terms of Israel’s security, our approach to that country’s future leadership, as well as our ties with the country’s civilian population. This, in addition to the parallel challenges to other countries friendly to Israel that border on Syria.
Despite the complexities, Israel’s approach has clearly won it admiration among many on the other side of the border. Syrian refugees eagerly avail themselves of the humanitarian aid we provide — not only in Israel itself, but as far as Bulgaria — and Israeli nongovernmental organizations are providing humanitarian aid within Syria itself. It is therefore not surprising that opposition figures have spoken positively and publicly about our conduct.
Also in the Syrian context, the developing chaos there is fueling the creation of alternative commercial routes to which Israel can also be a partner.
To our south in Egypt, bilateral relations have weathered developments in a country which was the first to sign a peace treaty with Israel in 1979, to this day a central pillar in the building blocks of regional stability.
The scarcity of natural resources in the region has also begun to play a role in the changing attitude toward Israel, whose water self-sufficiency, advanced desalination infrastructure and newly discovered natural gas reserves are being touted as a long-term lifesaver in the Middle East. In this context, we recently struck historic deals with Jordan and the Palestinian Authority which pave the way for broader sharing of resources.
This potential is critical in understanding Israel’s budding status among the Gulf states. For while it has almost become common wisdom that the Iranian crisis is creating a rapprochement, there are other significant issues that are relevant to future progress.
All these developments point to one bottom line: Israel’s contribution as an asset to the United States’ efforts to secure stability in the Middle East, and the world over, steadily grows. Particularly in view of signs that regional volatility could very well continue over the long term, Israel will remain there for the U.S. in the Middle East into its 67th birthday and beyond with a responsible, cautious and well-considered policy vis-a-vis our neighbors.
Yehuda Yaakov is Israel’s consul general to New England.