Historic, tectonic shifts are underway in the Middle East. Many Americans and Europeans are convinced President Donald Trump’s long-awaited and highly controversial peace plan has no chance of success. But they are utterly missing the point. Yes, the Palestinians are hardening their position against peace with Israel, but the Gulf Arab states are steadily warming toward peace with the Jewish state.
Consider the latest developments.
On June 25 and 26, Trump’s advisers will host a conference to roll out the first section of their peace plan. Specifically, they will unveil their proposals to vastly improve the Palestinian economy and the living conditions of every Arab – Muslim and Christian – in the West Bank and Gaza.
No foreign ministers are invited, only finance ministers. This session isn’t about boundaries, capitals, flags and anthems. It’s about creating more jobs, rising wages, good schools, better roads, more trade, clean water and uninterrupted electricity.
Sadly, Palestinian leaders are saying “no” to attending. Actually, they’re saying, “hell, no!”
Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh said, “Any solution to the conflict in Palestine must be political... and based on ending the occupation. The current financial crisis is a result of a financial war waged against us and we will not succumb to blackmailing and extortion and will not trade our national rights for money.”
Nabil Shaath, an adviser to PA President Mahmoud Abbas, said, “We will inform Bahrain that we will not take part in such a conference. We will not sell our conference based on an economic project.”
PA Social Development Minister Ahmed Majdalani said, “There will be no Palestinian participation in the Manama workshop... Any Palestinian who would take part would be nothing but a collaborator for the Americans and Israel.”
Hamas official Fawzi Barhoum said, “We reject any economic and political steps that implement the deal of the century or normalize ties with the Israeli enemy.”
Historically, the rest of the Arab world would follow the Palestinians’ led. Yet moderate, thoughtful people throughout the Arab world are no longer buying such self-defeating anger.
The editors of The Jordan Times, the leading English-language newspaper in the Hashemite Kingdom whose editorials are widely believed to reflect the official government position, offered this week rare but wise criticism of Palestinian leaders.
“This premature negativism is unwarranted and has become a familiar pattern in the Palestinian thought that made things worse for the Palestinian people,” noted an unsigned editorial.
“For starters, no one, including the Palestinians, knows for sure what this suspicious ‘Deal of the Century’ really looks like. Without having an inkling of what the US proposal for peace between the Palestinians and Israelis would look like, the Palestinians have rushed to reject it in toto.
“Besides, a meeting to promote the economy of the Palestinian territories by inviting investments from the US, Europe and Asia could be as benign as it sounds,” the editors observed. “The Palestinians may welcome this initiative after all without endorsing the wider political implications. The Palestinian side would be better advised not to rush into taking positions that may hurt them, especially when the projected Manama conference as such is only a forum for considering improving the Palestinian economies in the West Bank and Gaza.”
In conclusion, the editors wrote: “Welcoming the conference, or at least not impeding it, would provide the Palestinians with an opportunity to test the full implications of the initiative. Breathing life into the lifeless Palestinian economy cannot in itself be so bad after all. The Palestinian leadership cannot go on saying ‘no’ to everything offered to them before examining the full implications.”
Even more noteworthy, three Gulf Arab states – Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia – are saying “yes,” they would be happy to attend the American conference. Indeed, the leaders of Bahrain are actually making the bold move of hosting the conference.
Israel has also said, “yes,” – Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon is very much looking forward to participating, his spokesman said.
Such developments are a very big deal for several reasons.
First, while the suffering of the Palestinian people rightly merits sympathy within the Arab world, it is becoming clear that more and more Arab leaders, journalists and opinion makers are losing patience with the perennial rejectionism of the Palestinian leadership to any peace deal or economic improvement plan of almost any kind.
Second, this conference on how to create “economic growth for peace” in the Middle East comes on the heels of a US-organized conference on how to create lasting security in the Middle East, which was held in Warsaw in February. Foreign ministers from 60 countries – including the Saudis, Emiratis, Bahrainis, the Yemenis and Israelis – participated, yet the Palestinians also refused to attend.
What’s more, they urged their fellow Arabs not to attend either. Yet they were notably unsuccessful.
Third, while Bahrain, the UAE and the Saudis do not currently have any formal diplomatic relationship with the State of Israel, they are once again publicly stepping forward to meet with senior officials from the Jewish state. And this time it won’t be in Warsaw or at Camp David but in the heart of the Arab world.
All this underscores a point I have been making for several months, though I find few who (yet) share my view: those who say the “Deal of the Century” is “dead on arrival” are misreading the entire situation.
Yes, the Palestinian leadership will almost undoubtedly reject the Trump peace plan. But rather than kill the peace process, such rejectionism could actually jump start it. How? By convincing Gulf Arab leaders and their citizens that while it would be wonderful if Abu Mazen was ready to negotiate in good faith, they need not wait forever.
Egyptian president Anwar Sadat didn’t wait for the Palestinians to sign a final peace treaty with Israel before deciding it was in Egypt’s national interest to do so. Thus, he signed his own treaty with Israel in 1979 and granted his people 40 years of peace.
Likewise, Jordan’s King Hussein didn’t wait for the Palestinians to complete a final treaty with Israel before he concluded it was in Jordan’s national interest to do so. He, too, moved forward on his own in 1994 and granted his people 25 years of peace.
The Gulf states would benefit enormously by making peace with Israel now, rather than waiting. They could start buying and investing in Israeli technology and hiring Israeli scientists and engineers. They could open the floodgates of religious tourism in both directions. They could also build a far-stronger and more durable economic and security alliance with Israel and the US against the rising threats of Iran, the Muslim Brotherhood and other violent extremists.
Such historic breakthroughs for peace and prosperity are possible, and may very well be closer to coming to pass than any of the cynics realize.
The writer is a US-Israeli dual citizen who lives in Jerusalem, and a New York Times best-selling novelist with nearly 5 million copies of his books in print. His latest thriller, The Persian Gamble, was released in March. Follow him on Twitter @joelcrosenberg
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