Marc Schneier’s Arab Normalization Perspective

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Israel cannot hope or expect to advance with the Abraham Accords with other Arab countries unless it curbs the current aggressive policies towards the Palestinians 

 

Israel’s new government is sparking unease about the future of the Abraham Accords, given its inclusion of ministers who have exhibited a history of hard-line nationalist positions and little inclination to soften their views. But all is not lost: There is ample time to reignite momentum around normalization, if the government understands that regional rapprochement will not be possible at the expense of the Palestinians.

There have been some early missteps. Days after the Israeli government’s inauguration, National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir’s visit to the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound in Jerusalem prompted immediate fears about possible changes in the fragile status quo of the city’s sacred sites.

The rocket fire from Gaza into Israel was unjustified but predictable, while the broader international concern has been palpable. The UN Security Council convened an emergency session and even the US voiced concerns about an exacerbation of the situation. Perhaps most concerning to the Israeli government, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s planned visit to the UAE, which would be his first official visit, was postponed.

It is often said there is opportunity in a crisis, however, and this may be one such case. The sensitivities of key allies such as the US, as well as countries which Israel hopes to woo, are driving some important policy statements.
Netanyahu has reiterated his commitment to maintaining the status of these holy sites, in which Jordan’s Waqf Islamic affairs council administers the site known as Al-Haram Al-Sharif to Muslims and the Temple Mount to Jews.
And there have been other valuable messages, including Netanyahu’s expression of hope that greater engagement with Saudi Arabia could advance an enduring solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and his desire for a strengthened US-Saudi alliance to benefit the whole region.

After the most violent year between Israelis and Palestinians in more than a decade, including violence among citizens of Israel, we can take some solace from his rhetorical declaration in an Al Arabiya interview last month that he wants “every young Arab boy or Arab girl in Israel to have the same opportunities” as Jews.

These are significant declarations. They do not replace action, but they are starting points by which the entire region — and prospective normalization countries — can assess the Israeli government’s efforts, or lack thereof, to breathe new life into the moribund peace process with the Palestinians. Far more must be undertaken, and acted upon, to show the Palestinians there is a viable path toward a fair and just resolution to this conflict.
As we have seen with the UAE’s recent trip postponement, as well as the public insistence of non-Abraham Accords countries like Saudi Arabia that any normalization be predicated upon a deal with the Palestinians, there is no regional end-run out there for the Israeli government to circumnavigate the Palestinian issue.

 

The Israeli government should strive to advance peace with its Arab neighbors and peace with the Palestinians at the same time.

Unfortunately, there seems to be a disconnect with some in Israel who think that regional diplomacy can be a path to isolate the Palestinians. And even potentially achieve new diplomatic successes at the Palestinians’ expense.
It is not going to work that way.

The reality is that the agreements made with the UAE, Bahrain and Morocco demonstrated the willingness of many in the Arab world to turn the page in their relationships with Israel. But they acted precisely to accelerate peace with the Palestinians.

 

“The Israeli government should strive to advance peace with its Arab neighbors and peace with the Palestinians at the same time”.

 

And Saudi Arabia, the potential normalization partner that Netanyahu has placed above all others in importance, has made a two-state agreement the sine qua non for normalization. If the Saudis see the UAE and Bahrain’s efforts do nothing for the Palestinians, or even assess the chances of peace receding, they will be little motivated to join the accords.

The lesson should be clear: The Israeli government should strive to advance peace with its Arab neighbors and peace with the Palestinians at the same time. These processes naturally support one another. And greater flexibility with the Palestinians would show Israel’s bona fides as a potential peace partner in the immediate conflict, as well as with the broader region.

Netanyahu is right to prioritize greater Arab outreach, as there is certainly a growing appetite for a new relationship with Israel based on security, economic cooperation, technology and investment, and the promise of a normalized relationship.

But this vision only will come to fruition if there is a simultaneous shift in Israeli-Palestinian dynamics, away from conflict, violence and stagnation.

In the Gulf, one often hears that everything has a price. The price is a viable Palestinian state. That may not be possible overnight, given how difficult a negotiation such a result would prove, but there must be a window cracked open to create the opportunity for peace.

Opening that window will likely force Israel to take many of the initial steps. Overtures in this conflict are always hard to make. But the bonus is bigger this time and clearer than ever. Doing so can help unlock a new relationship with the Muslim world and the realization of the full promise of the Abraham Accords.

 

Rabbi Marc Schneier is president of the Foundation for Ethnic Understanding and a noted adviser to many Gulf states. This article originally appeared in ArabNews


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