Sustainable Regional Harmony and Prosperity In West Asia

The ongoing war in Gaza demonstrated that without solving the Palestinian problem it is highly difficult and even impossible to achieve regional peace and prosperity in West Asia. Since ۱۹۴۸ Nekba day the Middle East and North Africa has remained instable for decades. The situation in Gaza and Palestine had not improved at all for decades however with normalizations and rapprochement among Saudi Arabia Qatar Iraq Iran UAE Egypt and Turkey a new trend had begun that could lead to more stability in the region. West Asian countries gradually reached to a general consensus on two important issues: First necessity of Long term sustainable peace and development and Second inclusivity and connectivity as the main keys to achieve that. The ongoing conflict in Palestine may exacerbate and revive all long term factors and reasons that had destabilized the region.
16 June 2024
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Nabi Sonboli

The ongoing war in Gaza demonstrated that without solving the Palestinian problem, it is highly difficult and even impossible to achieve regional peace and prosperity in West Asia. Since 1948 Nekba day the Middle East and North Africa has remained instable for decades.  The situation in Gaza and Palestine had not improved at all for decades, however, with normalizations and rapprochement among Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Iraq, Iran, UAE, Egypt and Turkey, a new trend had begun that could lead to more stability in the region. West Asian countries gradually reached to a general consensus on   two important issues: First, necessity of   Long term sustainable peace and development; and Second, inclusivity and connectivity as the main keys to achieve that. The ongoing conflict in Palestine may exacerbate and revive all long term factors and reasons that had destabilized the region.

It’s about two years that Europe and Russia are facing Ukraine conflict and it has imposed many costs on the people, economies and political systems in the region. Compare it with more than 75 years of occupation and conflict in Palestine that has gradually securitized everything, from economic activities to environmental issues, education, economic relations, and even population growth in West Asia and North Africa. Long term conflicts and instabilities have pushed many systems and societies toward more conservative forces. Ongoing war in Palestine may deteriorate regional security again.

The conflict is the consequence of long-term demonization and dehumanization of Palestinian forces and their supporters for decades. Islamophobia, Iran-phobia, Arab-Phobia… have expanded; Ultra-right groups in Israel turn to religion to justify crimes and destructions. In a region that is home to many religions, sects and ethnicities, this approach is highly destabilizing.

EU and the US decision makers, influenced by self-constructed narratives, have repeatedly turned into sanctions against the regional forces who oppose occupations and invasions.  Economic sanctions have undermined middle class as the main pillar for peace and democracy; prevented investment on roads and railroads that are key to regional connectivity; pushed businesses and entrepreneurs toward Asian Economies; undermined EU and the US influence in the region; increased regional economic development gap; and has prevented regionalism and regional interdependence as the basis for long term sustainable peace and prosperity.  For the same reasons that it is impossible to imagine EU long-term security and stability without economic cooperation, having regional stability without economic cooperation in the Persian Gulf and West Asia is also not imaginable.

Regionalism among Persian Gulf and West Asian countries, in comparison to other parts of the world has not grown. Persistent conflicts have polarized the region and prevented development of regionalist tendencies at political, economic, intellectual and social levels. While most of environmental, economic and social problems, extremism, drug trafficking, maritime security, … are interconnected and need regional solutions, a regional way of thinking is missing.

No Inclusive institution exist in the region and all existing groupings like GCC, ECO, and Arab league are exclusive. New initiatives like IMEC and Development Road are dividing the region again.

Bilateralism in Security Affairs have led to more instabilities.  While regional security is indivisible, regional countries mostly have looked for bilateral agreements especially with global powers to defend them against their imagined regional “threats”. This approach divided the region between the US and USSR during the cold war and is dividing the region between New East and the old West again.

Unending conflict in Palestine may intensify global competition in the region again. Increasing foreign presence in the region will not be stabilizing. The regional countries are strong enough and they do not need security guarantees from others. Increasing the US presence may increase the US rival’s presence in the region, too and its consequences are clear.

Lack of regional leadership is another problem. For historical, religious, cultural, political and economic reasons, none of the countries in the region are able to play a leading role, while many compete to lead the region. The only viable option is promoting a common leadership and bringing regional powers together in an inclusive regional mechanism.

Securitization has led to exclusive and inefficient political and economic systems that has contributed to domestic instabilities. Because of mosaic social context of the region, domestic instabilities drag regional and global players into internal conflicts. In this context, everyone blames others for his problem. In Persian we say: “keep your asset secure and do not blame your neighbors” or “close the hole and do not blame the mouse.”

US and EU imbalanced approach have contributed to destabilize the region more. Manifested in their arms sales and economic relations with different countries in the region, EU and the US have tried to divide the region into secure and insecure, developed and underdeveloped sections. 

EU and the US have defined Israel as the only compass for everything: Almost all actions, interventions, occupations, sanctions, military sales, economic and military supports … have been done by EU and the US, are based on its costs and benefits for Israel. The rest are important only if they serve Israeli interests and security.  This compass has not worked properly and does not show right direction. 

EU and the US need a more balanced approach toward the region and engage with the region as a whole without any ideological or strategic preference.  The reasons behind Chines success in West Asia and around the world are:  being less biased, more pragmatic, more balanced, more economic oriented, less interventionist, and less manipulated by others.

 At present we are facing with three scenarios: First; revival of a regional cold war: Expanding and increasing division among global powers (China, Russia, EU and the US) extend to the Persian Gulf and West Asia and divide the region into North and South locked into cold war mentalities.  This scenario only serves military and industrial complexes.

Second; a regional hot war: The Gaza conflict may expand to regional level, supported by global powers, securitize everything, strengthen conservative and extremist forces and turn the region into hell. Mass migration and expansion of extremism to other regions and continents are least consequences of this scenario.

Third; inclusive and cooperative regional order: General consensus on peace and development and emergence of a regional common leadership may prevent the first two scenarios from happening. Establishing regional confidence and consensus building mechanisms will contribute to long term harmony and prosperity. In such an order every country can play an important role. Inclusive regionalism in West Asia should not be against the West or East. Middle East is in the middle and need to stay there and play an independent role. It is in everyone’s benefit.

Nabi Sanboli, a senior expert at the Institute for Political and International Studies

 (The opinions expressed are those of the authors and do not purport to reflect the opinions or views of the IPIS) 

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