Horror of Netanyahu heals Arab divisions

Peace at the crossroads: Arab League to meet for first time since Gulf war as region is plunged into flux

The last time the Arab League held a summit meeting, the Iraqi delegate hurled his food at his Kuwaiti counterpart who promptly fainted and had to be carried from the room. That was just after Iraq's invasion of Kuwait, six years ago. The League has not met since.

But, prompted by Binyamin Netanyahu's victory in the election in Israel, Arab leaders, with the exception of Iraq, have decided to come together again. Meeting in Damascus at the weekend, President Hafez al-Assad of Syria, Crown Prince Abdullah of Saudi Arabia and President Hosni Mubarak of Egypt have called for a summit in Cairo in two weeks time.

The crisis for the Arab states is not on the scale of the invasion of Kuwait, but there is a growing fear that the Oslo accords between Israel and the Palestinians are about to fall apart. "Any retraction by Israel on the basis of the peace process ... represents a real threat of returning the region to the cycle of tension and violence," reads the final statement from Damascus.

Relatives of the 101 Lebanese killed by Israeli shells at Qana in April, or the families of the 59 people killed by Palestinian suicide-bombers in Israel in February and March, might be surprised to learn the cycle of violence ever went away. But in Israel and the Arab world there is now a widespread belief that the Oslo accords will unravel under Mr Netanyahu.

The course of events will depend in part on Mr Netanyahu's real political character. Is he an arch-manipulator, or a committed ideologue? His government's policy guidelines, as leaked to the press, suggest that he will say no to compromise on Jerusalem, no to a Palestinian state and no to restraint on the expansion of Israeli settlements.

But even if he wanted to, can Mr Netanyahu compromise? His promises on Jerusalem, Palestinian statehood and settlements were specific in the election. He is flanked by the religious right and friends of the settlers, such as General Ariel Sharon. To appease the US they might compromise over withdrawal from Hebron, but not over matters of principle.

The problem for Mr Netanyahu is simple: He cannot deliver to voters because he has made contradictory promises. He says he will provide better security for Israelis but make no concessions to Yasser Arafat, the Palestinian leader. But the two objectives are linked. Danny Rubinstein in the daily Haaretz writes that Mr Arafat "does not have to be Israel's loyal cop, the hunter of Hamas, as he has been in recent months." He could let Hamas and Islamic militants back onto the streets of Gaza, which will mean more suicide attacks on Israel.

With no concessions from Israel, Mr Arafat will probably have no choice but to do just that. Palestinian public opinion will not accept a clampdown on Islamic militants if Israel reneges on the next stage of Oslo. And if more bombs do go off, Mr Netanyahu has promised to send the army in hot pursuit into autonomous Palestinian enclaves. Even if such pursuits were covert operations rather than invasions, the 30,000 police and troops loyal to Mr Arafat would fight and there would be retaliatory bombings in Israel.

Despite his election victory, Mr Netanyahu's fate is linked to that of Mr Arafat. In his one television debate with Shimon Peres, his defeated rival, he accused him of leaving "the security of our children in the hands of Arafat." There was some truth in this. Mr Peres could scarcely reply that co-operation with the Palestinian Authority was the only realistic way to stop suicide bombers who require little equipment, or training.

Some Palestinians and Israelis argue there are alternative scenarios. In one view, Mr Arafat will become a Palestinian chief Buthelezi, enforcing Israeli rule in a Palestinian Bantustan. But Mr Arafat in the past never allowed himself to become somebody else's catspaw. It is not likely that he would live very long if he tried.

There is also an optimistic view that Mr Netanyahu will prove to be Israel's General de Gaulle, using his right-wing credentials to reach an accommodation with the Palestinians, just as the French leader did in Algeria. But there is little sign of it. Indeed, the parallel is ominous, as the one Israeli politician resembling General de Gaulle was Yitzhak Rabin, the former chief-of-staff, murdered in November precisely because as prime minister he made concessions to secure peace.

tTel Aviv - Two people were shot and killed in a drive-by shooting late last night in central Israel, Israeli police said, AP reports. A police spokesman said two mortally wounded people were found in a car outside the entrance to the village of Zaharia, halfway between Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. An ambulance service reported a baby girl was found unharmed in the car. A police official said the attack was "probably a terrorist attack".

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Senior Web Designer / Front End Developer

£28000 - £32000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This fast expanding web managem...

Ashdown Group: Trainee Consultant - Surrey / South West London

£22000 per annum + pension,bonus,career progression: Ashdown Group: An establi...

Ashdown Group: Trainee Consultant - Surrey/ South West London

£22000 per annum + pension,bonus,career progression: Ashdown Group: An establi...

Ashdown Group: Recruitment Consultant / Account Manager - Surrey / SW London

£40000 per annum + realistic targets: Ashdown Group: A thriving recruitment co...

Day In a Page

No postcode? No vote

Floating voters

How living on a houseboat meant I didn't officially 'exist'
Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin

By Reason of Insanity

Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin
Power dressing is back – but no shoulderpads!

Power dressing is back

But banish all thoughts of Eighties shoulderpads
Spanish stone-age cave paintings 'under threat' after being re-opened to the public

Spanish stone-age cave paintings in Altamira 'under threat'

Caves were re-opened to the public
'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'

Vince Cable interview

'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'
Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

Promises, promises

But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

The death of a Gaza fisherman

He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat
Saudi Arabia's airstrikes in Yemen are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Saudi airstrikes are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Arab intervention in Yemen risks entrenching Sunni-Shia divide and handing a victory to Isis, says Patrick Cockburn
Zayn Malik's departure from One Direction shows the perils of fame in the age of social media

The only direction Zayn could go

We wince at the anguish of One Direction's fans, but Malik's departure shows the perils of fame in the age of social media
Young Magician of the Year 2015: Meet the schoolgirl from Newcastle who has her heart set on being the competition's first female winner

Spells like teen spirit

A 16-year-old from Newcastle has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year. Jonathan Owen meets her
Jonathan Anderson: If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

British designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
Number plates scheme could provide a licence to offend in the land of the free

Licence to offend in the land of the free

Cash-strapped states have hit on a way of making money out of drivers that may be in collision with the First Amendment, says Rupert Cornwell
From farm to fork: Meet the Cornish fishermen, vegetable-growers and butchers causing a stir in London's top restaurants

From farm to fork in Cornwall

One man is bringing together Cornwall's most accomplished growers, fishermen and butchers with London's best chefs to put the finest, freshest produce on the plates of some of the country’s best restaurants
Robert Parker interview: The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes

Robert Parker interview

The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes
Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

We exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, says DJ Taylor