Until this week, it seemed like Israel had no diplomatic plan for the day after the war in Gaza. While some doubt such a plan exists, there is one idea that surfaced a few time over the past month from a number of Israel’s left-leaning politicians and ministers: A regional peace summit.
In fact, this idea might be something Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is actually considering — if we allow ourselves to speculate over some of his vague comments from a recent interview with Channel 10.
Much has been written about Israel’s standing since Israel and Hamas agreed to a ceasefire over a week ago, with the public debate in Israel focused on the identity of the winner – Israel or Hamas? In addition, the press reported heavily that the international community has zoomed in on the question of rebuilding Gaza.
But very little seemed to be written about a crucial question for all of us who love and care about Israel: Does Israel have any diplomatic moves planned for the near future? While far from certain, there are a few reasons to think a regional peace summit could be viable – and that some Israeli politicians might actually want it.
Such a summit would involve not only Israel, the Palestinian Authority and the usual players (like Jordan or Egypt) – but would welcome some new guests to the negotiation table. Minister Ya’akov Peri, a former head of the Shin Bet, wrote last month that an event of this sort would also include Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states.
In his August 9 Facebook post (Hebrew), Peri said his plan includes two stages. The first would include gathering the relevant countries together in order to discuss ways to develop and reconstruct Gaza. Next, he explained, the forum would go on to discuss ways of bringing peace to the entire region, based on the Arab peace initiative presented by the Saudis in 2002.
Two days later, Finance Minister Yair Lapid publicly endorsed the first phase of Peri’s plan, calling on all those interested in the rebuilding of Gaza to join forces and work together. According to some reports, he went so far as to present this idea to the government.
However these comments by Peri and Lapid took place over three weeks ago, and, amidst the fighting in Gaza, seem to have been sidelined in both the government and the public debate.
On Tuesday Lahav Harkov, a Jerusalem Post reporter, Tweeted that MK Nitzan Horowitz would soon be hosting a press conference with two think tanks on “possibility of regional peace” following Operation Protective Edge.
Justice Minister Tzipi Livni, Israel’s chief negotiator with the Palestinians, has also voiced her support for joining forces with Saudi Arabia and Gulf states to advance common interests.
In other words, the idea mentioned by Peri and Lapid while the guns were firing, is now being reintroduced by the left-wing opposition and endorsed by another coalition member. And maybe, only maybe, it’s an idea being entertained by Netnayhu himself.
Days ago Netanyahu told Israel’s Channel 10 the post-war reality “allows us to act according to our security interests on one hand and [on the other], start a new, responsible diplomatic initiative,” did he mean a more comprehensive, regional approach?
During the fighting in Gaza, Zvi Bar’el wrote in Ha’aretz that “Israel now finds itself in the same trench, in terms of opposition to Hamas, with Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states. But this fragile alliance might crumble as soon as the fighting in Gaza ends. Israel should take advantage of it for as long as it lasts.”
But there are three reasons, besides opposing Hamas, that unite this group of not-so-obvious allies. (1) Many suggest the role of the US unclear and questioned by its allies in the Middle East, forcing them to look to each other for help; (2) the threat of radical Islamist forces on the rise is threatening all the countries in the neighborhood; and (3) the fear of an Iranian nuclear bomb still present in the background.
All three of these things are well known to Netnayahu. Is it remotely possible that — with the support of three top ministers from two parties, and the likely backing from a dovish opposition, — Netanyahu will attempt a new and creative diplomatic path for Israel?