Analysis: Netanyahu’s return to power raises fears in Arab countries and relief in others

A Reuters analysis revealed that the likely return of former Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to power in Israel will raise fears of exacerbating tension with its Arab neighbors, but the Gulf countries that established relations with Israel during his leadership will see it as a regional balancing factor in the face of Iran.

Arab leaders remained largely silent on Wednesday about Netanyahu’s victory in the Israeli elections. The head of the caretaker government in Lebanon, Najib Mikati, expected that a new agreement to demarcate the maritime borders would hold, while Palestinian and Jordanian experts expected new tensions.

In the Gulf region, where Arab states’ concern about Iran’s growing regional power dominates the region’s security strategy, Netanyahu’s hard-line approach has helped establish relations between him and Arab leaders.

Under the Netanyahu government, Israel concluded agreements to normalize relations with the UAE and Bahrain in 2020, and a few months later with Morocco and Sudan.

Abdul Khaleq Abdullah, a prominent Emirati political analyst, said that Iran is a major source of concern to the Gulf states, including the UAE, and that Israel, regardless of which government takes power in it, always takes a strong stance against Iran and its nuclear agreement with world powers.

“Netanyahu was a party to the Ibrahim agreements and signed them, so there is no change in the course of normalization,” he added.

He went on to say that the Gulf states will consider Netanyahu’s return an internal Israeli affair with which they have nothing to do with, and they will be happy to deal with whomever the Israeli people choose as their leader.

Abdullah added that the victory of what he described as “the worst of the worst in the Israeli political scene” will mainly affect the Palestinians and will eliminate any talk of a two-state solution.

Saudi Arabia has not yet normalized relations with Israel, although it has taken some steps towards rapprochement.

Saudi academic, Abdulaziz Al-Ghasyan, said that no further moves should be expected from Riyadh.

Al-Ghashiyan added that for any significant changes to occur, there must be a peace process between the Palestinians and the Israelis, and this is unlikely now under the new government.

Lebanon agreement

Regarding Lebanon, Netanyahu has threatened to “neutralize” the US-brokered maritime delimitation agreement even though Lebanon still considers itself at war with Israel. Beirut said it had received assurances from Washington that the agreement would not be destroyed.

Lebanon’s caretaker prime minister, Najib Mikati, told Reuters by phone, “We are not afraid of a change of authorities in Israel. If Netanyahu or someone else wins, no one can stand in the way of this issue.”

He added that US guarantees would ensure the implementation of the maritime border demarcation agreement with Israel, despite opposition from Netanyahu, who said it might benefit the armed Hezbollah group that fought Israel.

“Israel cannot go too far in opposing US wishes because it needs American protection, and therefore a Netanyahu-led government is unlikely to tear up the border demarcation agreement,” said Lina Al-Khatib, director of the Middle East and North Africa program at London-based think tank Chatham House. The navy, which was mediated by the United States (…) despite Netanyahu’s strong statements.”

Palestinians and Jordan

The leaders at a summit in Algeria overcame their differences over relations with Israel and renewed their support for the establishment of a Palestinian state, which Netanyahu strongly opposed, but they did not address the elections.

Netanyahu, whose policies have angered many in the Arab world since he first came to power nearly 26 years ago, vowed that a government headed by him would act responsibly, avoid “unnecessary adventures” and “widen the circle of peace.”

But in Jordan, home to millions of Palestinian refugees and their families, his expected victory has been met with concern.

Relations between the two countries deteriorated at the time of the last government headed by Netanyahu to the extent that the Jordanian monarch, King Abdullah II, terminated part of the Jordanian-Israeli peace treaty concluded in 1994 that allowed Israel to use two areas of Jordanian land on the border.

Hamada Faraaneh, a former member of the Jordanian parliament, who demanded the majority of its members last April to cancel the peace treaty, said that Israeli policy during the Netanyahu era was confrontational with the official Jordanian policy.

Pharaoh added that Jordan fears that more tension and violence in the Palestinian territories will push more Palestinians to immigrate to the kingdom.

The Jordanian Islamic opposition called on the Arab countries to adopt a strong position.

Murad Al-Adayleh, Secretary-General of the Jordanian Islamic Action Front, said that the Israeli right is talking today about expelling the Palestinians and says that there will be no Palestinian state.

He added that what is required of the Arab countries is to rely on their people and support the resistance of the Palestinians.

H.A. Heller, a scholar at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, said Egypt, which was the first Arab country to conclude a peace treaty with Israel and has mediated an end to the Israeli-Palestinian conflicts, is likely to find a way to work with Netanyahu again.

He added that Netanyahu was rejecting even any aspect of a peace process, which Egypt officially supports, “but they dealt with it and will deal with it again.”

For his part, Palestinian Prime Minister Muhammad Shtayyeh said that Netanyahu’s victory “is nothing but a reinforcement of extremism and racism towards the Palestinians,” stressing that “the results of voting in the Israeli elections show the growth of extremism and racism.”

Shtayyeh added that “the results of the elections confirmed that there is no partner in Israel for peace,” noting that “the rise of the extreme right in the Knesset elections is a natural result of the growth of extremism and racism against the Palestinians.”

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