The Middle East Is Ripe for Peacemaking Efforts—but Not for Repeating the Mistakes of the Past

November 18, 2020 | Jonathan Schanzer
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Following Washington’s success this summer in facilitating normalization between Israel on the one hand and Bahrain, United Arab Emirates, and Sudan on the other, new diplomatic opportunities are now open to the incoming president. Jonathan Schanzer explains:

The Abraham Accords was the first in a wave of peace agreements not likely to end with the Trump presidency. . . . Other Arab countries are now openly mulling similar shifts [regarding Israel]. They include Oman, Morocco, Saudi Arabia, and perhaps even a few others.

With an opportunity to notch additional diplomatic achievements that only a few years ago seemed impossible, the incoming administration should see clearly that diplomacy with countries peripheral to the Israel-Palestinian conflict has a greater chance of success than does direct engagement with the Palestinians themselves. That said, the more countries that de-emphasize historical Palestinian claims and narratives on the path to normalizing with Israel, the more the Palestinians will feel the pressure to negotiate and compromise. This creates an opportunity to pursue both tracks simultaneously.

But a word of warning: returning to the orthodoxy of two-state-solution diplomacy is ill-advised. Blindly yielding back leverage to the intransigent Palestinian leadership is not likely to encourage successful diplomacy. If anything, history has shown the opposite to be true.

With than in mind, the incoming administration should enlist the Arab states that normalized ties with Israel to play an intermediary role. In the past, many Arab leaders served as enablers of Palestinian intransigence. One gets a sense that fewer are inclined to serve that role today. Helpful allies can convey the friendly, yet tough, messages to the sclerotic Palestinian leadership that those leaders need to hear.

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