The dawn of the new year is rising on a world that would have been unrecognisable 12 months ago. The scourge of Covid, the fall of Trump, the resolution of Brexit; all have carved history in unpredictable ways. But nowhere has seen greater changes than the Middle East, where, for the first time, people are daring to believe that the Arab-Israeli conflict is over.
In January 2020, Israel was as isolated as ever in the region. Its ‘cold peace’ agreements with Egypt and Jordan, which were not matched by affection on the street, were as good as it got. The Arab League’s notorious threefold rejectionism — no to peace, no to recognition, no to negotiation — seemed unmovable.
Trump’s peace plan was dismissed out of hand by the Palestinians in February, and things hit a new low in May. When a new Knesset considered annexing parts of the West Bank, an impotent Palestinian Authority suspended all security co-operation. Then, with unprecedented masochism, it refused to accept more than half a billion pounds of Israeli tax revenues. Overnight, the Palestinian Authority deprived itself of 60 per cent of its budget, setting it on a course for self-imposed bankruptcy and impoverishing tens of thousands of its own citizens.
The act of self-harm brought to mind Mohamed Bouazizi, the despairing Tunisian street vendor who burned himself to death on the streets of Sidi Bouzid as a desperate act of protest. But the Palestinian Authority’s immolation did not trigger an Arab Spring. Instead, a different kind of regional revolution was already underway, one that would put the Palestinians and Israel in closer proximity to reconciliation than they had been for a quarter-century.
For years, Benjamin Netanyahu — that caricatured bogeyman of the western left — had been quietly pursuing an ‘outside in’ strategy for peace.