Reports suggest that President Donald Trump’s team is looking at a regional approach to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, which leverages the common threats faced by Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Israel to make progress on the Palestinian track. The President may even raise this idea with Israeli Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu when they meet on Wednesday. There is plenty to recommend this strategy, but in the current environment a major new initiative is unlikely to succeed. Instead the Trump team should look for early small steps to preserve the possibility of the two-state solution while setting the table for a broader regional approach once the political situation inside Israel changes.
In recent years, ties between Israel and its Arab neighbors have quietly improved. Saudi Arabia and most of its smaller Gulf partners share a common threat perception with Israel as all see Iran as the primary threat in the region. Meanwhile, in light of the threats posed by the Syrian civil war and an Islamic State affiliate in the Sinai, cooperation between Israel, Jordan, and Egypt has also deepened. The Arab states recognize they have much to learn from Israel’s successful tech economy while the Israelis are eager to gain access to previously inaccessible markets so close to home.
But despite these common interests, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict creates political limitations for Arab leaders, forcing most Arab-Israeli engagement into the shadows and significantly limiting what is possible. This is not because of the deep love and importance Arab leaders attribute to the Palestinians. They are frustrated with Palestinian President Abbas and the feckless and corrupt leadership around him. During the last round of serious Israeli-Palestinians negotiations in 2013-14 (negotiations I helped staff), Secretary Kerry tried to convince the Gulf States to provide more economic aid to the Palestinian Authority. All he was able to squeeze out with significant effort was $150 million. During that same time Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, and Kuwait infused $23 billion into the Egyptian economy after General Sisi overthrew the Muslim Brotherhood. It is quite clear where their priority lies.
Read the full article at Foreign Policy.