By Baraah Darazi
With the beginning of 2020, Israel started to pump natural gas to Jordan and, two weeks later, Egypt announced that it has started to receive natural gas from Israel. Notwithstanding the fact that the gas is stolen from Palestinians, this development in relations between Israel and the two Arab countries takes normalization yet another step which only serves Israeli interests and aspirations.
Despite the huge Western support it receives, Israel has failed to this time to consecrate itself as a “normal” part of the region, mainly due to popular view which still sees it as an occupation state that has killed Palestinians, usurped their land and rights, and continues to commit more crimes with sheer immunity from prosecution.
The peace deals Israel has signed with Egypt and Jordan did not succeed in making it popularly accepted in these two countries, not to mention in other Arab countries including those where political figures have shown inclination towards normalizing relations with Israel and assuring it that it is not under threat from its Arab neighbors!
Exporting gas and being a part of the “energy market” are quite important for Israel. This was reiterated in comments by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu who lauded the deal with Egypt as he said: “We turned Israel into an energy superpower […] This is a seminal economic event, a seminal diplomatic event, because this is very great news and an agreement that Israel initiated in the Middle East and is spreading to the Arab World and into Europe.”
This development for Israel is buttressed by its membership in the Eastern Mediterranean Gas Forum (EMGF) announced in January 2019 and including, besides Israel, Cyprus, Greece, Egypt, Italy, Jordan and the Palestinian Authority. The Forum, which adopted its charter this January, is vital for Israel as it brings it together with Arab sides within a regional body, officially and publicly.
However, the story for Israel is not only diplomacy and politics or gaining economic benefits and turning into an energy superpower. Rather, there is the fact that Israel is trying to sneak into Arabs’ homes, their kitchens and living rooms, and provide for their needs, which would eventually make “peace” indispensable for them to protect the “gains” they have attained. A study by Ofir Winter published recently by Israel’s Institute for National Security Studies (INSS) entitled “Under Mediterranean Skies: Channels for Deepening Israel-Egypt Relations” suggests that Israel has an interest in broadening the range of its relations with Egypt, and it has the ability to promote this aim through the formulation of policies affecting various aspects of the Mediterranean region and increasing its involvement in Mediterranean regional frameworks.” Thus, deeper relations with Egypt, and subsequently with other Arab countries, would serve to foster a “Mediterranean identity” for Israel that “emphasizes common denominators among countries of the region and the values of mutual openness, tolerance, and acceptance of the other.” Encouraging ties between Mediterranean peoples, encounters between young people,
and cultural exchanges, Winter concludes, would contribute towards shaping an ethos of a “common region” and help Israel’s integration into the area.
This suggestion by Winter resonates with views expressed by Israeli political figures. In his book, The New Middle East, Shimon Peres wrote that “Ultimately, the Middle East will unite in a common market–after we achieve peace. And the very existence of this common market will foster vital interests in maintaining the peace over the long term.” In other words, “peace” could enhance relations and lead to the creation of common market, but it is this common market and the interests it generates that would make peace sustainable, and make it less likely for those involved to consider fighting Israel.
The same very perception was advocated for in 1973 by then Foreign Minister Abba Eban in his address to the Geneva Peace Conference when he said that “Peace is not a mere cease-fire or armistice […] The ultimate guarantee of a peace agreement lies in the creation of common regional interests, in such degree of intensity, in such multiplicity of inter-action, in such entanglement of reciprocal advantage, in such mutual human accessibility, as to put the possibility of future war beyond any rational contingency.”
Israel’s military power might be uncontested; nonetheless, this power has not proven it as, in the words of Abba Eban, “an organic part of the texture and memory” of the region. Entering energy market is undoubtedly beneficial for Israel from an economic perspective; yet, what it seeks when it exports gas to Arabs is to become a “normal” entity, a supplier of basic needs, and a needed partner whose resistance is harmful for those who embrace it. So, how far would Arabs go in helping Israel legalize its occupation and consolidate its presence?