(February 15, 2019 / JNS) A scene that would have seemed impossible just a few years ago took place this past week in Warsaw at the U.S.-led peace and security summit with 60 countries in attendance, including the United States, Israel and 10 Arab states, all sitting at the same table. While the 1991 Middle East Peace Conference in Madrid did see Arab states sit in the same room as Israel, the Arab tone was mostly hostile. This time, that tone has changed. One after another, the foreign ministers and delegates from Arab countries expressed their agreement with Israel that fighting Iran is a top priority, and the Palestinian issue is not.
However, the soon-to-be-released U.S. peace plan, led by Jason Greenblatt and Jared Kushner, could complicate things for the Arabs.
According to Yoel Guzansky, a senior researcher at the Institute for National Security Studies, when the United States presents its plan, the Gulf states are going to find themselves faced with “a dilemma,” he told JNS. They are going to have to voice support for the plan, but will also have to be perceived as standing by the Palestinians.
While he didn’t reveal any details, Kushner said at the conference that both Israel and the Palestinians will have to compromise in the administration’s peace plan, which will be presented to the parties after the upcoming Israeli elections in April.
He also said that it will not be based on the 2002 Saudi initiative. “I think it was a great initiative, in 2002 when it was done, but it hasn’t produced peace, so if that was the framework under which something would be accomplished then I think that would have been accomplished a long time ago, and then I wouldn’t be doing the duty I’m doing right now to try to bring the people together,” he reportedly said.
Netanyahu said he is awaiting details of the plan. “I will look at it once it is presented,” he said. “I have to say that I know the Trump administration seeks to insure the security of Israel for generations.”
Palestinian officials dubbed the summit, which took place from Feb. 13-15, “a conspiracy aimed at eliminating the Palestinian cause.”
Netanyahu hailed the summit as a major achievement for Israel, saying it has been “a historic turning point. In a room of some 60 foreign ministers and representatives of dozen of governments, an Israeli prime minister and the foreign ministers of leading Arab countries stood together and spoke with unusual force, clarity and unity against the common threat of the Iranian regime.”
Guzansky was less than impressed. “So what if Netanyahu sat in the same room as Arab foreign ministers?” he asked incredulously. “Was this anything more than cosmetic? Something meaningful? No, there isn’t. He might go to Bahrain and Morocco. That would be a breakthrough … that would be significant. The elephant in the room is the Palestinian issue.”
‘The formal position of the Arab League’
Dr. Abdullah Swalha, director of the Center for Israel studies in Amman, told JNS that Saudi Arabia will not support any American plan if it does not include a Palestinian state.
Two weeks ago, six Arab foreign ministers met and discussed a number of issues, including the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the American plan. The outcome of the meeting was that the Arab League will not negotiate on behalf of the Palestinians and will not accept less than the Palestinians could accept.
“The Arab leaders made this clear to [Palestinian Authority leader] Mahmoud Abbas a few days ago,” said Swalha. “This is the formal position of the Arab League.”
“But what we can see from all of the events now, especially the Warsaw conference, the warm relations between the Gulf States and Israel, the meeting between Netanyahu and Yemen and Oman, there are no formal relations between the Gulf states and Israel if there is no deal between Israel and the Palestinians,” he added.
Swalha emphasized however, that at this point, Israel can still have everything short of formal relations. This includes business relations, coordination on Iran including security and intelligence, in addition to other areas.
According to Swalha, the Arab League also told the Palestinians, “We understand your position. You will reject this plan. But we want to go to the Americans with an alternative. Prepare your own plan, and let us go to the Americans with an alternative plan and we will try to convince them to try and adopt it.”
The problem, said Swalha, is that the Palestinians don’t have any proposals. “They just refuse the plan,” he lamented.
Guzansky surmised that it is a possibility, and the chances are low that if the Palestinians reject the Trump proposal and it is realistic, the Saudis can have an alibi and say to the Palestinians, ‘Listen, what do you want?’
Swalha agreed with Guzansky. “This places the Arab leaders in a very critical position when they meet their American counterparts and when they try to help the Palestinians find a solution to this conflict.”