01.06.2022 Author: Vladimir Odintsov

Iraq Prevents Washington from Rallying the Arab World around Israel


For the past two years, the US has been actively trying to rally the Arab world around Israel, to solve the “Palestinian issue” on American terms and to force Palestine to resolve the conflict with Israel through Donald Trump’s “deal of the century,” which has a clear bias in favor of the Jewish state.

Washington does not support the Palestinian authorities’ desire to resolve the issue through EU, Russian and UN mediation, insisting on the US-Palestinian-Israeli framework of negotiations.

However, the White House’s proposed agreement did not take into account the principal Palestinian demand for establishing a future state capital in East Jerusalem, and did not even consider other key matters for the Palestinians. On the contrary, the US plan recognized the city as an indivisible part of the Jewish state. In preparing it, the Trump administration never listened to the other side of the conflict, cooperating mainly with Israel in drafting the deal. It is also well known that President Trump presented the main part of the plan jointly with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Washington, while Palestinian representatives were not even invited to the meeting.

The White House’s desire for a diplomatic breakthrough on this issue has been particularly pressing against the backdrop of the US presidential election in late 2020 and with Donald Trump playing an active role. However, the Palestinians refuse to consider the US proposals because the “deal of the century” has a clear pro-Israeli bias. Along with the Palestinians, many other Arab states have remained critical of the US initiatives, despite the constant pressure from Washington. It is therefore not surprising that by now the only Arab states that have diplomatic relations with Israel are Egypt, Jordan, the UAE, Bahrain and Morocco. Moreover, the normalization of relations with the latter three states started under active mediation of US President Trump less than two years ago.

The sixth country to take part in the “deal of the century” was to be Sudan, but the normalization process has stalled.

The White House has paid a great deal of attention in recent years to promoting a settlement of Israel’s relations with Saudi Arabia. Back in 2020, former US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo made no secret of Washington’s hopes of normalizing relations between the two countries, saying that if the White House actions on this issue were successful, and Saudi Arabia were to join Israel as an ally, it would be possible to talk of creating a “new Middle East.” At the same time, the US clearly expected that the course of most Arab states towards engagement with Tel Aviv until all disputes with the Palestinian side had been resolved would somehow play against Palestine, whose authorities would increasingly lose support from the Arab world and be “more accommodating” in response to Israeli claims and actions.

And Palestine’s demands, as everyone remembers, are very justified and clear. In particular, the Palestinian side is committed to resolving the conflict with Israel on the basis of international law and the two-state solution, with the return of the Jewish state to the 1967 borders — liberation of the occupied territories in the Golan Heights and Shebaa Farms, abandonment of illegal settlements in the West Bank, and the transfer of East Jerusalem to Palestine. Meanwhile, international law and UN resolutions all refer to a genuine peace process with clear terms of reference and timelines for achieving an end to the Israeli occupation. The UN, the EU and Russia are in favor of direct negotiations between Israel and Palestine, supporting a resolution of the conflict based on past agreements, in particular the establishment of a Palestinian state capital in East Jerusalem.

Because of the blatantly provocative policy of the US in the Middle East and its desire in resolving any conflict, including that of the Middle East, to make only its unilateral gains and strengthen Israel’s position in the region, the “Palestinian issue” has only worsened of late. And Tel Aviv’s latest plans to double the number of Israelis in the Jordan Valley and the Golan Heights by 2026 have played no small part in this aggravation. As a result of such actions, as Permanent Representative of Russia to the UN Vasily Nebenzya said at a latest UN Security Council meeting, the already explosive situation is exacerbated by Tel Aviv’s unlawful unilateral steps to create irreversible realities “on the ground,” and such plans themselves can be seen as annexation of occupied territory.

As Nebenzya stressed, last year Tel Aviv approved the construction of over 12,000 housing units in settlements by expanding those already existing and building new ones, and demolished over 1,000 Palestinian houses. Land confiscations and forced evictions of Palestinian families continue, olive plantations are being cut down, there has been an increase in attacks by settlers, and there has been disproportionate use of force by the Israeli military.

In these circumstances, many countries in the region have begun to respond to such abusive policies by Israel. In particular, the reaction of the Iraqi parliament, which has been unable to resolve the paramount tasks of electing a president and determining the head of the future government for more than six months, has been quite remarkable. It nevertheless managed to approve on May 26, in three readings, a bill entitled “Criminalizing the Establishment and Normalization of Relations with the Zionist System” (as Iraq calls Israel), which criminalizes the normalization of relations with the Jewish state. This law declares any relations, formal or informal, to be a punishable offence and its violation is punishable in Iraq by death or life imprisonment. The law will also affect businesses and companies that operate in Iraq while maintaining cooperation with partners in Israel.

It should be recalled that Iraq has never recognized the state of Israel since its creation in 1948, the countries have not had diplomatic relations, and Iraqi citizens and companies are not allowed to visit the country.

The new law was proposed by influential Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, whose party opposes close ties between the US and Israel. The party won a majority of seats in the Iraqi parliament in the October 2021 elections. 275 out of 329 MPs voted in favor of the new law. According to footage posted on social media, Shiite lawmakers welcomed the passage of the law.

The said law has already been condemned by US and Israeli officials. In particular, a statement by Spokesperson for the US Department of State Ned Price highlights not only “US concerns about the Iraqi parliament’s passage of a law criminalizing the normalization of relations with Israel.” It also points out that the law allegedly “stands in stark contrast to progress Iraq’s neighbors have made by building bridges and normalizing relations with Israel, creating new opportunities for people throughout the region.”

It is worth noting that the said law was passed by the Iraqi parliament on the eve of the celebration of Jerusalem Day on May 28, marking 55 years since Israel, during the Six-Day War, recaptured areas of Jerusalem held at the time by Jordan.

Vladimir Odintsov, political observer, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”.