Journal Article - Brookings Institution

Tunisia Abandons Two-State Solution; Courts Iran, China, and Russia

| June 05, 2024

Last week, Tunisia’s president, Kais Saied, made his first trip to China and signed a strategic partnership with President Xi Jinping. The week prior, Saied made headlines for becoming the first Tunisian president to visit Iran since the Islamic Revolution. And before that, rumors swirled about Russian planes landing in Djerba. It is too early to tell whether any of these events mark a major, strategic realignment of Tunisia away from its traditional allies in the West. More likely, Saied is playing global and regional powers against one other to secure the best deal, an art form perfected by other leaders in the region. But Saied has made one major shift to Tunisia’s foreign policy that in turn might help explain his recent outreach to Iran, China, and Russia. Over the past year, Saied has overseen a sea change in Tunisia’s position on the two-state solution for Israelis and the Palestinians. While Tunisia had historically been an outlier in the region for being one of the first to accept a two-state solution, today it is increasingly becoming an outlier for rejecting it. While popular at home, this shift has strained Tunisia’s relations with both the West and the Arab Gulf states. It is in this context of greater isolation internationally that Saied now dangles the threat of relations with Iran, China, and Russia.

Tunisia’s founding father, Habib Bourguiba (r. 1956-1987), was one of the first Arab leaders to advocate, albeit cautiously, for negotiations with Israel. While other states in the region were gearing up for war, President Bourguiba in 1965 gave a major speech in Jericho urging Palestinians and Arabs to give up their “all or nothing” strategy, and then told Le Monde that they should accept the United Nations partition plan.At the United States’ request, Tunisia would later host the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO), and despite being bombed by Israel in 1985, Bourguiba remained supportive of dialogue until his last days in office. His successor, Zine El Abidine Ben Ali (r. 1987-2011), continued his policies, facilitating talks between the PLO and Israeli officials in Tunis that would then evolve into the Oslo peace process. Although those talks faltered and the second intifada erupted, Ben Ali would sign on to the Arab Peace Initiative (API), advocating a two-state solution. Tunisia’s support for that proposition would survive the 2011 revolution, with Tunisia hosting an Arab League summit in March 2019 that renewed the region’s commitment to the API. For almost 60 years, Tunisia at least paid lip service to the notion of a two-state solution.

 

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For Academic Citation: Grewal, Sharan. Tunisia Abandons Two-State Solution; Courts Iran, China, and Russia.” , (June 5, 2024) .