Israel’s New Peace Treaties Reveal How Much the Experts Misunderstood the Middle East

In December of 2016, the outgoing secretary of state John Kerry expressed the conventional wisdom in policymaking circles when he said that Israel and those who wish it well must accept the “hard reality” that “there will be no advanced and separate peace with the Arab world without the Palestinian process and Palestinian peace.” The recent agreements Jerusalem concluded with Dubai and Manama show just how wrong Kerry was. Yet as Lewis Libby and Hillel Fradkin point out, there has long been a minority of observers, Benjamin Netanyahu among them, who have never uncritically accepted that conventional assessment:

[This] minority viewed European and American indulgence of Palestinian intransigence as contributing to the failures [of the peace process] by feeding Palestinian leaders’ hopes that, despite their intrinsically weak position, Palestinian suffering would leverage world opinion into forcing upon Israel ever greater concessions. The minority decried Palestinian leaders’ declared aim: forcing Israeli acceptance of millions of so-called “Palestinian refugees” within its borders, a result which would have meant, and was intended to mean, the end of Israel as an independent state.

Through these years, Palestinians’ supporters contended that failure to support their expansive claims would ruin not just Israeli, but American relations with angry, oil-rich Arab nations and the broader Islamic world. Israel’s leaders, in particular Netanyahu, eventually undertook to test that premise. Israel could win peace with some Arab states, Netanyahu argued, through a policy, of “peace for peace.” This was the policy Kerry ridiculed in his final days in office, but Netanyahu proved right and Kerry wrong.

Rather than admit their mistakes, some defenders of the old order have insisted that the recent advances in peacemaking are not all that significant, or as the editors of the New York Times put it, “good but not that good.” One former Clinton-era diplomat, more willing than others to own up to his mistakes, simply noted that the Trump administration, like its precursors, failed to solve the Israel-Palestinian conflict. Libby and Fradkin respond:

[N]ot quite. Oslo’s failures persisted over 25 years. The current American plan successfully enhanced peaceful relations between Israel and moderate Arab states as both an end in itself and as a possible precursor to progress with Palestinians. Peace between Israel and its neighbors is the more important regional concern, not just for American interests but for these Arab states as well. And by undermining Arab support for Palestinian leaders’ excessive claims, the recent deals add pressure for a reasonable compromise leading to a solution.

Read more at National Review

More about: Bahrain, Israel diplomacy, John Kerry, Peace Process, United Arab Emirates


When It Comes to Peace with Israel, Many Saudis Have Religious Concerns

Sept. 22 2023

While roughly a third of Saudis are willing to cooperate with the Jewish state in matters of technology and commerce, far fewer are willing to allow Israeli teams to compete within the kingdom—let alone support diplomatic normalization. These are just a few results of a recent, detailed, and professional opinion survey—a rarity in Saudi Arabia—that has much bearing on current negotiations involving Washington, Jerusalem, and Riyadh. David Pollock notes some others:

When asked about possible factors “in considering whether or not Saudi Arabia should establish official relations with Israel,” the Saudi public opts first for an Islamic—rather than a specifically Saudi—agenda: almost half (46 percent) say it would be “important” to obtain “new Israeli guarantees of Muslim rights at al-Aqsa Mosque and al-Haram al-Sharif [i.e., the Temple Mount] in Jerusalem.” Prioritizing this issue is significantly more popular than any other option offered. . . .

This popular focus on religion is in line with responses to other controversial questions in the survey. Exactly the same percentage, for example, feel “strongly” that “our country should cut off all relations with any other country where anybody hurts the Quran.”

By comparison, Palestinian aspirations come in second place in Saudi popular perceptions of a deal with Israel. Thirty-six percent of the Saudi public say it would be “important” to obtain “new steps toward political rights and better economic opportunities for the Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza.” Far behind these drivers in popular attitudes, surprisingly, are hypothetical American contributions to a Saudi-Israel deal—even though these have reportedly been under heavy discussion at the official level in recent months.

Therefore, based on this analysis of these new survey findings, all three governments involved in a possible trilateral U.S.-Saudi-Israel deal would be well advised to pay at least as much attention to its religious dimension as to its political, security, and economic ones.

Read more at Washington Institute for Near East Policy

More about: Islam, Israel-Arab relations, Saudi Arabia, Temple Mount