In light of the Abraham Accords–the peace deal between Israel on the one hand, and Bahrain & the United Arab Emirates on the other–it is safe to say the Middle East is entering the new decade with a new era. Gone are the days of the “3 no’s”from Sudan, a country that itself is now considering normalization with Israel. The 2002 Arab Peace Initiative is dead in the water. The old ways of peacemaking, promoted by the American and Israeli left-wing, as well as the European Union and the United Nations, has been proven ineffective and outdated. The “Palestinian cause,” and the Arab solidarity inspired by it, is over.
The Palestinian cause is only promoted by non-Arab powers, such as Turkey and Iran; their proxies, such as Qatar and Hezbollah; and weak or irrelevant Arab countries, such as Algeria, Kuwait, and Jordan. For far too long, the Palestinians have been divided upon themselves and brought great suffering to their people. The Palestinian Authority has succeeded only in leeching off of the international community’s wealth to enrich their own leadership, doing little to make peace with the Israelis, make democratic reforms encouraged by the West, or help their own people as the Arabs have long demanded. Hamas has only brought war to the Gazans, which has destroyed the Strip while inviting in sinister actors such as Doha, Ankara, and Tehran. Neither of these rival governing Palestinian powers have the ability to “end the occupation” or the willpower to make concessions, seek peace, form a unity government, hold elections, or create a democratic and functioning state. Due to this decades-long process, the sensible and powerful Arab countries have given up on them at last.
Israel should be proud of its achievements. It has tried the old way of peacemaking, but only received a “cold peace” from Egypt, Jordan, and the PA–if it received peace at all. It left some settlements in the West Bank, evacuated Gaza, and withdrew from southern Lebanon in the hopes of peace, and received only violence and incitement instead. Now, it has a warm peace with 2 of the Arab World’s wealthiest, strongest, and most influential countries. The economy and image of the country will continue to strengthen regionally and globally, while Ramallah, Doha, Ankara and Tehran will be left behind in the past. However, when it comes to making peace with other countries, Israel can and should do more.
Jerusalem needs to only “make progress” on the Palestinian front to achieve ties with states like Sudan, Morocco, and Saudi Arabia, according to statements from their leaders for the past 5 years. The conflict doesn’t need to be solved yet, but there must be some movement. It is in light of this that Israel can engage in a give-and-take sort of negotiation with countries it is discussing holding normalization with. Israel can end its security control of Area B in the West Bank, where there are no Jewish settlements. This would enlarge Area A–the place under full PA control–and reduce the millions of dollars and hours spent by the Israel Defense Forces in policing the area.
Israel can better focus on its enemies in Gaza and to the north; reduce friction with Palestinians; and give the PA a reason to return to the negotiating table. If they refuse, they’ll continue to be exposed as the ones refusing peace talks, and further pay the price of isolation. They will have no excuse to continue terror, as they’ll have more freedom of movement, land, and a better economy. There will be less violence due to less encounters between Jews and Palestinians. Israeli soldiers won’t be hurt or killed patrolling an area without our civilians in it. If terror emanates after such an evacuation, the army can redeploy and eliminate the threat–as it already does in Area A–with international legitimacy. Most importantly, Israel still won’t be giving anything up, but will be demonstrating that it is leaving open the option of peace and two-states. Doing so would likely please the United States–whether or not Trump remains in office–as well as the Arab World. The EU and UN would see that the two-state solution they so much covet is still on the table. Along with the Arab World, which has been calling for such progress, they will be better placed to put pressure on Ramallah to negotiate and make concessions.
In return, Israel can ask the Arab states with which it has ties for a more important concession–the naturalization of Palestinian refugees in these countries. Egypt, Bahrain, and the UAE have negligible numbers, and so giving these refugees citizenship shouldn’t be too problematic or controversial from a demographic viewpoint. Jordan is a different story entirely. It is an apartheid state, with a minority Bedouin clan of Saudi origin ruling in Amman over a Palestinian majority that lacks equal rights. Yet Jordan can likely be enticed to naturalize its Palestinian refugee community with the right commitments.
Surely Amman would be relieved that Israel would withdraw from Area B and diffuse tensions with the Palestinians. Doing so would also deviate from the notion that Jordan is being prepared to become a Palestinian state. Arab and Western donors could offer to bail out the defunct Jordanian economy, which is leading thousands into the streets in protest against their government. Then there is the fact that many of the Palestinians within the Hashemite Kingdom either already consider themselves Jordanian or even have passports and citizenship. It wouldn’t be so hard to integrate most of these refugees into the national fold in Amman, Manama, Abu Dhabi, or Cairo. Doing so would protect Israel’s demographic Jewish majority, erode the “right of return,” and open a Pandora’s Box for the rest of the Arab region to naturalize their own Palestinian population. This would eliminate fantastical dreams from the leadership in both Gaza City and Ramallah, force them to accept reality, and save them from the security & economic catastrophe that absorbing millions of semi-foreign people into their new prospective state would result in.
It is much more risky for Morocco, Sudan, and Saudi Arabia to normalize relations with Israel, despite the years-long ties under-the-table and the willingness of many of their leaders to do so. Rabat, Riyadh and Khartoum require some sort of concession by the Jewish state in order to make more room for them to establish formal relations. Yet Jerusalem would be foolish to evacuate more settlements after its past experiences, or to demand nothing at all in return from these prospective regional partners. It shouldn’t be passive in negotiations or return to the old, Ramallah-dominated way of making peace. Slow-yet-steady steps that preserve Israeli security, enrich ordinary Palestinians, and give Arab governments reason to trust Israel, are the best way of moving forward with the regional peace process and establishing ties with Saudi Arabia, Morocco and Sudan–among others, hopefully, in the future.