Saturday, April 25, 2009

Opportunity for Israel-Kuwait Peace Aborted

A Kuwaiti journalist, Salah Bahman, running for a seat in that country's parliament has suggested that Kuwait should have full and beneficial bilateral relations with Israel. The reason for this, he says, is that: "Israel is a reality and has international influence... Kuwait would benefit from Israel's influence if we establish relations" and that relations with the west would be improved by such a normalization. He also said, tellingly perhaps, that he did not fear for his life after making such statements--even talking about peace with Israel could get him killed, it seems.

This could be a positive development. Kuwait shares no borders with Israel and while it has no diplomatic relations and a state of war (likely) exists, peaceful relations between the two countries would probably not do much to benefit either. It is not as though either Israel or Kuwait are in a situation where their armies are fighting one another. What could result, from the Israeli perspective is a new market from which to purchase oil. Kuwait could also be a test-case for other Arab countries. If Kuwait were to receive real benefits from peace with Israel (perhaps an even more enhanced relationship with the US or Europe) maybe other Arab states in the region would see the advantages reaped by Kuwaitis and follow suit. Israeli-Kuwaiti peace would be a potentially significant gesture, however, with few (at least immediate) benefits to either country.

It's also noteworthy that Mr. Bahman is not interested in peace because he thinks that Israel has a right to exist, or because Jews have a right to sovereignty in their ancestral homeland. Rather it's about the benefit to Kuwait. Naturally, as a Kuwaiti, this should be his prime interest, but these other factors to not even enter into his reasons for recognition of Israel, not even as a tertiary justification.

All this became moot, however, because the day after Mr. Bahman suggested that relations would be of value, he withdrew his candidacy. In a radio broadcast in Kuwait Mr. Bahman simply backtracked on his statements and then withdrew from the race. The real reasons for this about face are unclear and may never be known, but if anyone out there has more knowledge of Kuwaiti politics or other information, it would be very interesting to hear. One hypothesis may be that public response to the suggestion was too overwhelmingly negative. Apparently, just prior to the dissolution of parliament a bill was proposed banning any dealing with Israel and imposing penalties on violators. Also, the Kuwaiti government has repeatedly stated that it will be the last to make peace with Israel, which may be tough because they'll have to jostle for last place with Lebanon.

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