US President Donald Trump, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and numerous US officials have warned of the coming storm: The concessions required from both sides as part of the “deal of the century” will be painful.
To cushion the pain and reduce resistance, US officials, such as Jared Kushner and Jason Greenblatt, offer Israel the bait of peace with Arab states as the reward for painful concessions on the Palestinian issue. The theme finds numerous supporters among Israeli politicians, think tanks and academic experts, who invoke the Arab Peace Initiative of 2002 as the basis for such a solution.
However, accepting the linkage between the two issues would be a grave strategic mistake for Israel. Simply put, the rewards of making peace beyond the two Arab states with which Israel has a peace treaty already – Egypt and Jordan – are too paltry compared to the complexity and importance of the Palestinian issue.
This holds true whether one considers the prospect of a binational state to be a mortal danger – the position that defines much of the Center and Center-Left – or sees annexation of major parts of Judea and Samaria as the best option, the position that represents most of the Right.
Why the bait of making peace with the other Arab states is insignificant stems mainly from the radical decline in power and influence of those states over the past 40 years – a process that seems in recent years to be accelerating rather than being reversed.
Behind the logic of a regional solution that lies at the basis of Trump’s thinking is the idea that the Arab states would have the influence over the Palestinians to ensure that any deal they would accept would not be characterized by future irredentist drives, for example, directed toward Israel’s Arab citizens, in the quest of further dividing the Land of Israel in the Palestinians’ favor.
There are too many examples from the past running into the present that demolish this argument. Perhaps the best example is the Arab Peace Initiative itself. The plan, drawn up by the Saudis, undoubtedly the Arab state with the most financial clout, was publicized over 16 years ago. Yet since then it has had no influence whatsoever on Israeli-Palestinian or Israeli-Arab relations.
The plan was irrelevant to the continuation of the Second Intifada, where only military assertiveness defeated it in Judea and Samaria, and the lack of such assertiveness in Gaza yielded three major bouts of confrontation between Israel and Hamas.
Nor did the will behind the plan prevent the inter-Palestinian partition between a Hamas-dominated Gaza and Abbas’s Palestinian Authority in the West Bank, which has rendered peacemaking so complicated, if not impossible.
Certainly, the Arab states had no influence over the other war waged between Israel and an Arab adversary – Hezbollah, a proxy of Iran. Though some of these states intimated that they were with the Israelis, their intimations had no influence in either intensifying the war (which states such as Saudi Arabia may have wished, in the hope of decisively defeating an Iranian proxy) or bringing the bout to an end.
NOT ONLY do Arab states have little collective clout to ensure that Israeli concessions will prevent Palestinian efforts to bring about Israel’s demise in stages, but precious little leads one to believe – after over 73 years of their trying to act collectively since the emergence of the Arab League in 1945 – that Arab states will succeed in unifying over Israeli-Palestinian peacemaking.
After all, the only example of near unity, in 1973, revolved around making war with Israel, rather than making peace, as the temporary isolation of Egypt after it signed a peace agreement in 1979 amply proves. Unity also prevails in the verbal belligerency these states express in the United Nations and other international fora.
In fact, there is every reason to believe that their disunity will continue to feed both Israeli-Palestinian and inter-Palestinian tensions. Three Arab states are obvious candidates to play the role of spoilers – Syria, as Iran’s proxy, Lebanon, forever on the verge of becoming one, and Iraq, where the United States is still trying to compete with Iran to avert Iraq’s slide into the Iranian orbit. Iran and its proxies will have a strong vested interest in undermining a peace agreement.
Close at their heels are Qatar and Turkey (albeit not an Arab state, but a political actor with clout in the Arab world).
Even relations between the more friendly Arab states can be the basis for exacerbating tensions in the Israeli-Palestinian relationship, as they have in the past. There is no assurance that Egypt, Jordan and Saudi Arabia will necessarily see eye to eye on many aspects of the Israeli-Palestinian peace.
All these tensions will all too readily be absorbed in a local setting characterized by the hard-and-fast division between a Hamas and Muslim Brotherhood-dominated Gaza and a nationalist PA.
Rest assured that immediately after the signing of an agreement on the White House lawn, Hamas would launch rockets, incendiary balloons and thousands of demonstrators and terrorists against the fence to assert its claim to all of Palestine, just as Hamas, along with Islamic Jihad, sent its terrorists after the signing of the Declaration of Principles over 25 years ago.
Even such a comparison proves how weak is the bait of Arab regional support. The spoilers pulled off their destructive feats at the height of US hegemony soon after the demise of the Soviet Union and the military triumph of defeating Iraq – a blitzkrieg easily compared to Germany’s onslaught on Poland and Israel’s victory in the Six Day War.
Today, Trump is signaling, like his predecessor, Obama, a pullback from the Middle East. How much more so, then, will the local spoilers – supported by their regional sponsor, Iran – be willing to play the same role they did over a quarter of a century ago.
As my colleague, Prof. Benny Miller, observed, cold war or cold peace is made with the help of international powers. Warm peace or hot war is made exclusively by the locals.
Peace is not made on the White House lawn but in Ramallah, in Jerusalem, on the Temple Mount and in Gaza. The rest is wishful thinking.The author is a Professor at the Departments of Political Studies and Middle Eastern Studies, Bar-Ilan University.
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