IN a world hampered by a deep geopolitical recession, fleeting periods of peace tend to be acclaimed as substantial achievements. As recently as last fall, optimism abounded in several quarters as the Abraham Accords were coming on their third anniversary, promising a phase of détente in the Middle East on the back of normalization of relations between Israel and four Arab states. This was echoed by a number of leading international figures, including, most notably, U.S. National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan, who enthusiastically proclaimed that the region had reached its calmest state in two decades.

THESE hopes were shattered on October 7th, 2023, when Hamas unleashed a barbaric attack on Israel, resulting in the death of 1,200 civilians and hundreds of citizens abducted by the terrorist organization. Israel’s brutal response brought about an outright humanitarian catastrophe in Gaza. This has caused global dismay, severely damaging Israel’s international reputation, as well as that of its principal ally, the United States. For the millions of suffering and displaced Palestinians, glimmers of hope lie in the renewed international calls for a two-state solution based on the 1967 borders.

THE menacing ripples of this conflict reach far beyond the Holy Land. Regional cooperation is drastically hindered, with yesteryear’s prime candidates for normalization of relations with Israel, like Saudi Arabia, reverting to its traditional positions. Iran’s increasing involvement in the conflict, highlighted by its unprecedented attack on Israel’s territory, heightens fears of greater escalation that may for the first time involve a nuclear dimension.

THE latest round of Middle Eastern tumults presents serious challenges for external actors as well. Washington is desperate to avoid another substantial military entanglement in the region—especially while rattled by domestic tensions in the midst of an election year. For Beijing, a newcomer to the mediation quicksands of the Middle East, the escalation brought on a bitter taste of reversal of diplomatic fortunes, following a recent success in brokering a Saudi-Iranian deal.

AMIDST renewed turmoil, Middle Eastern nations might well opt out of relying on outsiders. As part of an unfolding trend, the region’s own stakeholders are taking an increasingly active role in mediation themselves. Some authors in this issue of Horizons candidly point out that the region’s emphasis on informal diplomacy and consensus-building, especially in a cultural space “where honor and reputation carry significant weight,” indeed holds greater promise than the highly structured norms-based approach of the outsiders. Letting the region at long last decide its own fate could be the path to reducing its historical propensity for conflict, especially in an emerging polycentric world.

IN such a fragmented system, as some authors suggest, peaceful cooperation might reside within frameworks like the “World Majority”. That too, however, could come at the cost of prolonged disputes that humanity seems destined to endure.

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