Analysis: Widening the lens

The emerging approach to Mideast peace has a decidedly regional bent.

mubarak netanyahu sharm 248 88 (photo credit: AP)
mubarak netanyahu sharm 248 88
(photo credit: AP)
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu has yet to unveil the results of his in-depth "policy review," and the US administration is still working on its overall Middle East plan. But one thing already emerging is that in the upcoming months and years there will be a much greater emphasis on a regional, comprehensive peace, rather than on just a "narrow" Israeli-Palestinian one. And the reason is clear - an Israeli-Palestinian peace, in the current thinking, can only blossom within the context of a greater peace between Israel and the Muslim world. Since the Oslo process, with its almost exclusive focus on the Palestinian issue, usurped the more regionally and multilateral-focused Madrid process in 1993, the default mode in regional diplomatic efforts has been to first crack the Israeli-Palestinian nut, and then deal with the larger Israeli-Arab conflict. Former US president George W. Bush tried to get the Arab world more involved by inviting them to the Annapolis conference in 2007, but that involvement - for all intents and purposes - stopped there and at subsequent donors conferences for the Palestinians. Even the much-touted Arab peace plan follows the same sequence. Israel, under this plan, withdraws completely to the pre-1967 lines, and then there will be a normalizing of ties with the Arab world. First withdraw; then normalize. The thinking that is now emerging is that the two processes need to go hand in hand: If Israel is to ever to make further concessions, then it must begin tasting the fruits of regional integration. Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu alluded to this comprehensive approach during his comments in Sharm e-Sheikh on Monday after meeting with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak. Netanyahu said that the Jewish people "want harmonious relations with the Muslim world." Israel, he said, "yearns to reach peace with its Palestinian neighbors, and with all the Arab nations; we all live in this region, and we are all the sons of Abraham." No more is the talk merely of peace for Israeli and Palestinian children, but rather of harmony between the Jewish people and the entire Muslim world. Netanyahu's comments dovetailed well with the emphasis Jordan's King Abdullah II placed on the regional component during an interview published on Monday in the Times of London. "We are sick and tired of the process," Abdullah said. "We are talking about direct negotiations. That is a major point. We are approaching this in a regional context. You could say through the Arab peace proposal. The Americans see this as we do and I think the Europeans." According to the Jordanian monarch, "What we are talking about is not Israelis and Palestinians sitting at the table, but Israelis sitting with Palestinians, Israelis sitting with Syrians, Israelis sitting with Lebanese. And with the Arabs and the Muslim world lined up to open direct negotiations with Israelis at the same time. "So it's the work that needs to be done over the next couple of months that has a regional answer to this - that is not a two-state solution, it is a 57-state solution. "That is the tipping point that shakes up Israeli politicians and the Israeli public," Abdullah said, explaining the new logic. "The future is not the Jordan River or the Golan Heights or Sinai, the future is Morocco in the Atlantic to Indonesia in the Pacific. I think that's the prize." US Congressman Robert Wexler, who is a close Obama political ally well attuned to the administration's thinking, reflected this same thinking in an interview with The Jerusalem Post on Sunday. "The Saudis have had a bit of a free ride in Washington of late," Wexler said. "They get to argue that they proposed the Arab peace initiative. "I think that most Israelis have issues, exceptions, to the Arab peace initiative, and so do I, and we, in America. But it is time to test them." He said it was time to say to Saudi King Abdullah, "You have provided an outline to normalization and how we get there. Israel has put forth some idea in terms of what they can do. "What are you willing to do, King Abdullah?" Wexler continued. "We are not going to only hear from you only at the end of the process, that is not how you build trust on the Israel and American sides. What, King Abdullah, are you willing to do next week?" Which all reflects the new approach: Since the process that has centered almost exclusively on the Israeli-Palestinian track has not worked over the past 15 years, the time has come to widen the lens. It is no coincidence that Israeli, Jordanian and US officials are all making the same allusions. They are all marking the same goal line. What is left is figuring out how exactly to get there.