There are two key informal coalitions operating in the Middle East; one is the Iran-Syria-Hezbollah axis, which also includes Islamic Jihad, Hamas and parts of Iraq. Due to its policy vis a vis the Assad regime in Syria, Hamas was somewhat excluded from this coalition in recent years, but renewed contacts between Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal and Hezbollah’s Hassan Nasrallah, on the one hand, and between Mashaal and the Iranian leadership on the other have renewed vocal support for Hamas by both Hezbollah and Iran.
A counter-coalition is led by the US and consists of an informal group of moderates in the Middle East: Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Jordan, Israel, the Gulf States except for Qatar, and the Palestinian Authority. These all share common interests in Syria, Egypt, vis a vis Iran and radical Islam, and all want to see Hamas weakened, if not gone. In fact, due to these shared interests, the Saudi foreign minister has reportedly just announced readiness to negotiate a peace treaty with Israel. Other influential figures in Saudi Arabia have noted recently that the conflict in the Middle East is not between the Arab world and Israel, but between Israel and Iran.
If Israel wants to isolate and weaken Hamas and the Iran-led coalition in the Middle East that poses a serious threat to the security of the Jewish state, and to prevent new rounds of military conflict with Hamas, it is imperative for Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu to declare that he accepts the Arab Peace Initiative, with reservations.
Netanyahu can not accept the plan as is. His coalition will fall apart if he does, as not only Bayit Yehudi but also many Likud Knesset members are against concessions demanded by the API. However, as a group of leading political science and international relations professors in Israel wrote to Netanyahu few days ago, the prime minister should declare that he accepts the plan with reservations with regard to the issues of 1) Palestinian refugees, 2) Jerusalem, 3) Land swaps and 4) disarmament of any Palestinian state, with the understanding that these issues will be negotiated in a peace summit to be held in Egypt, with the Arab League, the Saudis, representatives of the Palestinian Authority, Gulf States and of course, Israel and Egypt.
A declaration on the acceptance of the Saudi-initiated plan, with such reservations, could change the momentum in the region, and weaken Hamas and the Iranian coalition. Such a breakthrough is likely to encourage moderate Arab states, led by the Saudis and the Arab League itself, to agree to negotiate these terms. Successful negotiations could hopefully lead, down the road, to normalization of diplomatic and economic relations with Arab states and to a huge peace dividend for Israel and the region.
This is not a dream. The Saudis have declared repeatedly their readiness to cut a deal. This is the right move for Israel at the right time. But the prime minister needs to be willing to take this bold step. I believe he should.
The author is director of the Institute for Policy and Strategy of the IDC-Herzliya.