Recap: Israeli Ambassador Oded Eran on Arab-Israeli Peace

In the first of this year’s series of lectures hosted by the UCLA Center for Middle Eastern Development (CMED), Ambassador Oded Eran presented an Israeli perspective on the survivability of his country’s peace treaties with Jordan and Egypt. He draws on many years of experience in the Israeli government, including serving as ambassador to Jordan (1997-2000) and chief negotiator with the Palestinians (1999-2000). He is currently a senior research fellow at the Institute for National Security Studies (INSS). 

Israeli Ambassador Oded Eran (L) and Professor Steven Spiegel (R), director of UCLA CMED

Israeli Ambassador Oded Eran (L) and Professor Steven Spiegel (R), director of UCLA CMED

Ambassador Eran laid out his projection for Israel’s diplomatic future in the Middle East, beginning with the case for the 1979 peace treaty with Egypt. The Muslim Brotherhood’s increasing ties to Hamas and President Morsi’s vocal support for the Palestinian cause don’t bode well for a warm relationship between Egypt and Israel, but they don’t negate the peace treaty either. Amb. Eran noted that it was only an annoyance that President Morsi has not once mentioned Israel publicly since being elected.

Aside from the Palestinian question, Egyptian officials voiced a desire to renegotiate one portion of the agreement allowing them to place more military forces in the Sinai. Some Israelis fear this will lead to a full renegotiation of the treaty, but Amb. Eran advocated that the Israeli government should accept their request as a show of good will since an agreed new text will amount to a reaffirmation of the treaty by the new Egyptian government. His confidence stems from two guarantees for keeping the peace: Mr. Morsi’s promise to honor all standing agreements and American economic aid. In the absence of high-level talks between Egypt and Israel, the latter becomes very important.  With the Egyptian economy in desperate shape, the United States’ power of the purse ensures that the treaty will most likely survive. The major test will be if and when Israel comes into conflict with one of its (many) adversaries in the region.  

Jordan poses a different problem because it faces both domestic and regional instability. The sustainability of the peace treaty, and indeed the country’s moderate stance toward Israel and the West, is highly dependent on the current political system. Now opposition groups openly question the legitimacy of King Abdullah II, implicating the legitimacy of the agreement itself – a development without precedent in Jordan, according to Amb. Eran. Some are even calling for a transition to a constitutional monarchy, and Islamist groups may seek to further undermine the monarchy by boycotting the upcoming elections altogether. This matter is further complicated by the massive influx of Syrian refugees fleeing the civil war, on top of previous waves of Iraqi and Palestinian refugees. The new refugees are not yet citizens and cannot vote, of course, but they have the potential to alter the political landscape of Jordan. However, at present, he argued that the benefits of sustaining a good relationship with Israel outweigh the reasons to abrogate, such as trade and invaluable access to Israel’s water resources, regardless of who’s in power.

Lastly, he touched on the Oslo accords with the Palestinians. Neither side has fully implemented it, but it is the only framework for peace in place at the moment. Amb. Eran adamantly argued that the Oslo framework is still important, and that threats from both sides to abandon the agreement would prove detrimental. While he acknowledged that the issue of borders is highly contentious, he also warned that the two-state solution is in danger of disappearing the longer the stalemate drags on.

The Q&A brought up several other issues. What will happen in Syria? Assad will most probably fall, and then the country will experience a complete breakdown of the civil order created by the Sykes-Picot agreement in 1916; but at least Hezbollah will have difficulty re-arming. Could there be two Palestinian states like in the case of Bangladesh and Pakistan? Only if the goal is to stage an anti-Israel competition. Your thoughts on coordinated unilateral disengagement in the occupied territories? Israel could do it, but it's not a healthy solution. The ambassador asked in return, "if you can coordinate it, why can't you agree on it?" Perhaps that's a question for his next lecture -- for now, at least, he concludes that the Israeli agreements with Jordan and Egypt will survive to keep the peace a little while longer.

See photos of the event in our media section.