The Return of Diplomacy?
Ensuring Stability and Peace in the Middle East

Three intertwined fundamental problems can be considered the source of instability in the Middle East. These are the Palestine issue, the ambitions of non-regional actors in the region, and the activities of terrorist groups and non-state actors.

The Palestine issue essentially arose from the failure to establish the independent and sovereign Jewish and Arab states envisaged in the United Nations General Assembly resolution of 1947. Currently, a large part of the lands designated for the Arab state in the UN decision are under Israeli occupation. Approximately five million Palestinians from these lands live as refugees in the surrounding countries. Numerous peace plans developed since 1967 have failed.

After the First World War, Britain and France established mandate regimes in the former Ottoman lands, and their interest in the region never diminished even after they withdrew their militaries from this region during the interwar period and after the Second World War. After the defeat of the Axis powers, the USA and the USSR began to have a strong presence in the Middle East due to the geopolitical importance of the region. 

Controlling the Suez Canal and the Strait of Hormuz, which are among the most important trade routes in the world, is necessary for global leadership. Likewise, controlling the rich hydrocarbon reserves in the region is another goal. After the Cold War, on the one hand, the presence of the USA in the region increased, and on the other hand, during the Syrian civil war, Russia settled in this country militarily. The emerging powers of the 21st century, China and India, are also increasing their visibility in the region by establishing warm political and economic relations with countries there, especially Iran and Saudi Arabia.

Terrorist organisations and non-state actors aiming to establish separate states are also among the important sources of instability in the region. It is seen that these are used in various ways by both regional and non-regional actors who want to control the Middle East’s dynamics.

It is not possible to achieve permanent peace and stability in the Middle East without solving these three problems. It is also extremely difficult to troubleshoot these problems. In a global environment where the United Nations cannot work in accordance with its founding purposes and principles, the Palestine Issue cannot be resolved, so extra-regional actors cannot be removed from the region, nor can an effective fight against terrorist organisations be carried out.

It is the primary duty of the United Nations to ensure international peace and security. For this to happen, the reform of the United Nations Security Council is essential. The Security Council structure established after the Second World War, under the conditions of that day, is not compatible with today's global realities. First of all, the number of permanent members of the Security Council must be increased, in accordance with the fair representation principle. Secondly, the "veto" privilege given to permanent members should be ended. Finally, decisions should be taken by qualified majority vote.

The Middle East and Security Crisis in Europe
Amal Abou Zeid
Every crisis carries with it an opportunity for a solution. This current US crisis in managing the world we live in today, with the chaos it has generated in Europe and the Middle East, has presented a clear opportunity. This opportunity has manifested in the distancing of all the main forces from US dominance and the emergence of a new trend to reshape their regional system in a more independent and balanced way.

Another problem is the lack of a deterrent sanction mechanism for the implementation of United Nations Security Council resolutions. Many decisions taken by the Security Council regarding the Middle East have not been implemented to date due to this deficiency.

Undoubtedly, the five permanent members of the UN Security Council will not want to give up the privileges granted to them. This increases the risk of not being able to eliminate instabilities both in the Middle East and in many other parts of the world.
In the current situation, one of the factors behind the lack of stability in the Middle East is the failure of the five global powers to reach an agreement on their plans for the region.

This dispute has led to continued conflict and tension in the region. Once an agreement is reached between the USA, Russia and China, and to some extend with the EU and India regarding the future of the region, it can be assumed that the UK and France will approve it. 

In the final analysis, the calculations of the great powers in the Middle East are a derivative of the multilateral and multifaceted global struggle among themselves. In this respect, it cannot be evaluated independently of power struggles in other critical regions of the world.

The following steps can be taken to ease the way for solution of the three basic problems listed at the beginning.

A two-state solution is essential for the Palestine Issue. The independent state of Palestine, with its 1967 borders and East Jerusalem as its capital, should be recognised internationally. The realisation of this depends on Israel's approval. This can only be possible if the USA convinces Israel. It is unrealistic to expect this kind of pressure to come in the near future. Moreover, in order to achieve a two-state solution, first of all, huge problems such as the destiny of Jewish settlers in the occupied lands, whether Palestinian refugees will return, and the status of Jerusalem must be resolved. The process that started with the Oslo Accords is currently frozen. In a climate where the human tragedy in Gaza continues, it is not possible for the parties to come together for a two-state solution. The highest-priority objective that can be achieved regarding Palestine right now is ensuring a ceasefire in Gaza and that humanitarian aid reaches the region.
It is also extremely difficult for non-regional actors to withdraw. The USA has military bases in countries such as Saudi Arabia, Iraq, the UAE, Qatar and Bahrain. The US and Russia both have a military presence in Syria. British bases in Southern Cyprus are also used by the USA. It is not meaningful to expect these military installations and facilities to be closed in the near term and all foreign military elements to leave the region. A US-led coalition navy is now present in the Red Sea, the Strait of Hormuz and off the Horn of Africa to ensure the navigational safety of merchant ships.

Many states point to instabilities in the Middle East region and the activities of terrorist organisations, as well as the activities of extra-regional military elements when justifying their own military presence in the Middle East. The stabilisation of the Middle East and ensuring regional security through mechanisms that countries of the region can establish will eliminate this existing justification for non-Middle Eastern actors. However, this is a vicious circle. Because having a say in the dynamics of the Middle East, which is an extremely strategic region in the global balance of power, requires a military presence.
If the current non-Middle Eastern actors withdraw, there is a possibility that other international actors will bring their military presence to the region. In summary, complete stabilisation of the region is not a situation preferred by non-regional actors who want to have a say in the Middle East.

Finally, the activities of terrorist groups and other non-state actors supported by a segment of regional or extra-regional actors endanger the peace of the Middle East. An effective fight is required against all terrorist organizations, especially ISIS, PKK, and PYD-YPG. These terrorist organizations threaten the security of all countries in the region. The PKK terrorist organization has been responsible for the deaths of tens of thousands of Turkish citizens since 1984. PYD-YPG, the Syrian branch of the PKK, controls one third of Syria and continues to divide the country. ISIS is a terrorist group that targets governments in Syria, Iraq and other Arab countries and must be eliminated completely.

Within the framework of the decisions to be taken by the UN Security Council for the effective fight against terrorist organizations in the region, it is essential to cut the financing of terrorism, to eliminate the propaganda and representation opportunities of these organizations in other countries, and finally to take and implement effective multilateral military measures. However, some countries in the region are not keen on effectively fighting against these organisations, which have become useful tools for their own short-term interests. Likewise, some extra-regional actors also support the activities of terrorist groups on the grounds that it helps them in the fight against ISIS. In this case, regional and extra-regional actors may adopt an extremely useless attitude: “my terrorist is good, yours is bad”.

Considering all the Middle East’s problems, it is a bitter truth that progress towards a solution cannot be achieved without respecting four basic principles. These principles include full compliance with UN decisions regarding the region; mutual respect for the borders and territorial integrity of the countries; non-interference in internal affairs and full compliance with international regulations regarding armaments.

But beyond all this, all states are expected to comply with the two principles that form the basis of international law. These are the principles of “pacta sunt servanda” (the agreements must be kept) and “bona fide” (good faith). The way to ensure not only the stability longed for in the Middle East, but also peace and tranquillity all over the world, is through all UN members strictly adhering to these two principles.
Gaza. Yemen. Epicentres of Pain. Feelings, Myths, and Memories in the Middle East
Vitaly Naumkin, Vasily Kuznetsov
Many developments that significantly impacted the destinies of the regional players, non-regional actors, and many people around the world have unfolded during the year that followed the publication of our paper titled “The Middle East and the Future of a Polycentric World” (February 2023).
Views expressed are of individual Members and Contributors, rather than the Club's, unless explicitly stated otherwise.