Bold steps needed to revitalize Israeli-Palestinian peacemaking - opinion

Here are steps Biden's team can take to boost their likelihood of success.

Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (R) greets Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in the Monroe Room of the State Department in Washington September 2, 2010. (photo credit: REUTERS/JASON REED)
Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (R) greets Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in the Monroe Room of the State Department in Washington September 2, 2010.
(photo credit: REUTERS/JASON REED)
Understandably preoccupied with major domestic and global affairs, and contrary to common wisdom, the incoming Biden administration can achieve significant goals in Israeli-Palestinian peacemaking. To do so, its policies should decrease regional tensions and build an inclusive Israeli-Palestinian process that includes potent stakeholders, even ones traditionally hostile to a two-state paradigm.
A new, nuanced, balanced, focused and assertive policy is needed. Parts of the intractability of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict are grounded in regional rifts. Thus, US policies that reduce these regional tensions will enhance the likelihood of success on the Israeli-Palestinian front.
Despite the recent agreement between Qatar and its neighbors that curbed some intra-Gulf tensions, regional rifts between, on the one side, Saudi Arabia (KSA) and the United Arab Emirates (UAE), and, on the other, Turkey, Qatar, and the Muslim Brotherhood, project heavily on intra-Palestinian tensions. By intensifying the rivalry between the Islamist Hamas and Nationalist Fatah, regional rifts prevent the emergence of a Palestinian leadership that can speak on behalf of, and exercise rule over, both the West Bank and Gaza.
Accordingly, forming an axis of regional moderate countries that straddles the intra-Sunni regional divide – including Turkey, KSA, Qatar, Egypt and Jordan – can reduce internal Palestinian tensions and contribute to Israeli-Palestinian stabilization, as well as eventually provide a far-reaching religious-theological framework for accepting a two-state reality on the ground. Otherwise, progress will be opposed by one of two potent Sunni regional camps (state-run authorities or the Muslim Brotherhood) simply because it is associated with its adversary.
More directly on the Israeli-Palestinian front, the new American administration will need to build a new process mindful of both sides’ interests and values. Given the gaps between the sides on both immediate, interim, and core issues, this is a complex process that requires special – albeit not presidential-level – efforts.
The Biden team will likely act decisively to restore ties with the Palestinians and allay their concerns about historic US bias toward Israel. Some steps are self-evident, such as nominating officials that are informed and open-minded; reversing some of Trump’s most destructive policies, including re-establishing ties with the PLO and resuming aid to the Palestinian Authority and UNRWA; and restoring security and civilian coordination between the sides.
However, there are three further steps Biden’s team could take that would greatly enhance their likelihood of success:
First, remove international barriers to Palestinian reconciliation, which would end the rift between the PLO and Hamas and provide Israel, and the world, with a unified Palestinian leadership that can deliver on whatever commitments it undertakes.
This could be done through a framework for Palestinian reconciliation that includes intra-Palestinian power sharing (possibly through the recently agreed roadmap to elections), Hamas agreement for binding PLO-Israel negotiations, and integration of Hamas’s military wing into the PA security mechanism. Such developments will allow sequencing the implementation of the three Quartet conditions such that they would act as milestones for progress and be more likely to achieve the desired results of sustained nonviolence, acceptance of past agreements and, ultimately, recognition of Israel – all while enhancing Palestinian unity. Such a move would also provide, down the road, broad Palestinian support for agreements with Israel.
Second, leverage the Abraham Accords toward propelling the Israeli-Palestinian process forward. Old and new normalizers can prevent destructive moves (such as unilateral Israeli annexation of West Bank territories) and materially contribute to economic and security stabilization on the ground, both in the short-term as well as later on, when a young Palestinian state is born. Symbolically, normalized ties with Arab countries can rehumanize Jews and Arabs in the eyes of each other, and ultimately provide legitimacy to a two-state agreement.
Third, engage constituencies that have been excluded from the process in the past and address their values and interests. These include powerful national-religious constituencies on both sides: religious Zionists and Muslim Brotherhood-inspired groups. Given the depreciating power of secular constituencies who have led the peace process, including ascendant religious actors could mitigate their opposition and help remove identity, religious, social and psychological barriers that have made it difficult to reach agreements. And although such an inclusive process may not yield a conflict-ending agreement on all core issues – Jerusalem’s holy sites, the plight of refugees and settlers, and final borders – more modest goals may prove to be within reach, and enjoy greater legitimacy.
Such policies – aimed to reduce regional tensions and enhance legitimacy inside Israeli and Palestinian societies – can be powerful propellers of sustainable Israeli-Palestinian peace.
Naif Abo Sharkeia is an Ar’ara-based mediator of national-religious conflicts, and a senior adviser to the Herbert Kelman Institute for Conflict Transformation. Dan Rothem is a Tel Aviv-based analyst of the peace process and a senior policy adviser to the Kelman Institute.