Recent developments in the Middle East -- President Donald Trump's visit, Arab nations cutting ties with Qatar, Gaza's escalating electricity crisis, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson's claim the Palestinian Authority will stop paying families of convicted terrorists -- have left both Israel and the international community wondering what's next in the region.
Israeli journalist Avi Issacharoff offered his analysis of recent events and the future of Middle East leadership to over 40 Jewish community and organization leaders during JUF's Jewish Community Relations Council meeting on June 14. Issacharoff is the Middle East analyst for Walla and The Times of Israel , as well as the co-author of popular Israel TV drama "Fauda." Issacharoff previously worked as the Palestinian and Arab affairs correspondent for Haaretz and covered the Second Intifada for Israel Radio.
"Every time I think I know so much about the Middle East and every time I expect something to happen, immediately after that, something completely unexpected happens," Issacharoff said. "But there are reasons to be optimistic about what's happening around us. Arab states, Hezbollah, ISIS -- they're focusing less on us and more on each other. They have less energy and will to go to war with Israel."
Escalating conflict between Shia and Sunni Muslims has come to define Middle East conflict, rather than the Israeli-Arab conflict, according to Issacharoff.
"Today, the existential threat against Israel has been removed for now," he said. "60 years ago, 50 years ago -- we were dealing with all kinds of existential threats. Today, we have peace with Egypt -- they are our partner in fighting jihad; we have a peace agreement and security coordination with Jordan -- the best ever; Syria is completely occupied in fighting against ISIS and Al-Qaeda-affiliated groups.
"Meanwhile, Iran is sponsoring every Shia group, but the good news is the nuclear threat has been delayed. It hasn't been removed. The nuclear deal is a very bad agreement, but it could've been worse, and for the next 10 to 15 years, the threat has been delayed."
In addition to diminishing regional threats, Issacharoff said the Palestinian Authority has created more stability in the West Bank.
"The situation in the West Bank is much better today than when I was working there as a journalist between 2000 and 2006," he said. "It was chaos. People wandered around with AK-47s doing whatever they felt like -- shooting in the air, shooting each other, shooting Israelis. Since Hamas came to power, Fatah has created more law and order in the West Bank. There aren't militants wandering around anymore."
While he doesn't consider the Palestinian Authority or Hamas to be capable of creating an existential threat against the Jewish state, Issacharoff fears the electricity crisis and ongoing poverty in Gaza will provoke Hamas. Forty-one percent of Palestinians in Gaza are unemployed, and two-thirds live below the poverty line.
"My feeling is that we are at the eve of another war with Gaza," Issacharoff said. "Hamas might try to launch a war just to get out of this economic dead-end situation. This is what they did in 2014, so they could do it again in the next couple of weeks.
"Hamas has the ability to pay right now for Gaza's electricity -- they collect 100 million shekels a month in taxes from their people a month. They won't pay the electricity, because they spend 130 million dollars a year on their military wing."
Despite increasing tensions, Issacharoff remains optimistic that the peace process can be renewed.
"The security coordination between Israel and the Palestinian Authority is the best today that it ever has been, and current Palestinian president [Mahmoud Abbas] is our best partner for peace," Issacharoff said. "Time is running against us. The other alternative is much worse for Israel. If there's no peace process, no negotiations -- then what? There is an urgency for the Israelis to reach a peace agreement."