Opinion |

Without Solution to Palestinian Issue, No Arab State Will Seek Relations With Israel

If Netanyahu is really serious, let him pull the Arab initiative out of the trash bin where he unceremoniously tossed it, and give it a closer look.

A photo of Dr. Zvi Bar'el.
Zvi Bar'el
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Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the UN General Assembly, September 22, 2016.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the UN General Assembly, September 22, 2016.Credit: Richard Drew/AP
A photo of Dr. Zvi Bar'el.
Zvi Bar'el

“I believe the partnership between us can also help facilitate peace between Israel and the Palestinians. Many have long assumed that an Israeli-Palestinian peace can help facilitate a broader rapprochement between Israel and the Arab World. But these days I think it may work the other way around: Namely that a broader rapprochement between Israel and the Arab world may help facilitate an Israeli-Palestinian peace. And therefore, to achieve that peace, we must look not only to Jerusalem and Ramallah, but also to Cairo, to Amman, Abu Dhabi, Riyadh and elsewhere.”

Wow, what a vision, what a jaw-dropping, breathtaking plan of action. Oops, that was precisely Benjamin Netanyahu’s “vision of the dry bones” that he delivered from the podium of the United Nations General Assembly – not last week, but two years ago. You don’t remember? Not to worry, the show will surely come around again before too long, at the next General Assembly (or the one after). The empty cellophane wrapping that mesmerizes even his political rivals isn’t about to disappear.

The excitement that grips the “nation” whenever an Israeli official meets with an Arab official from “a state that does not have diplomatic ties with Israel” is hard to understand. There are plenty of Arabs in Israel and Palestine, Egypt and Jordan, Arabs who are ready to talk peace, to hold negotiations, to mediate, to propose solutions. But like imported cheeses, Arabs from more “far-flung locales” are much more enticing. They have a different, exotic, “moderate” flavor.

Oh, if only the Saudi king would come to visit Yad Vashem, or at the very least, a drip-irrigation factory. Peace would break out instantly. Netanyahu would send the bulldozers to Amona, divide Jerusalem and lift the blockade on Gaza. You just have to have faith, and it will happen.

Netanyahu is right. Something has changed in the Middle East, and he isn’t the first to notice. But that darn Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah al-Sissi, Jordan’s King Abdullah and King Salman of Saudi Arabia keep insisting the path to peace must pass through the booby-trapped channel between Jerusalem and Ramallah. The military cooperation that Israel has with Jordan and Egypt does not mean those countries will forgo a solution to the Palestinian problem. Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates are not exactly encouraging Israel to keep on building settlements, shoot Palestinians or raze houses and villages. No bypass road to get around the Palestinian Authority is being paved between Jerusalem and Riyadh or Amman.

It’s been two years since that hollow speech at the UN, and none of those leaders has shown an interest in visiting Jerusalem, speaking at the Knesset or inviting Netanyahu for a visit. Even Ariel Sharon and Hosni Mubarak got along better than Netanyahu does with Sissi. Mubarak, by the way, was the first to note that “after Sharon, it will be very hard to achieve peace between Israel and the Palestinians.” Sissi is also well acquainted with Israeli politics, and has so far not come out with any special praise for the Israeli prime minister.

The crudest lie is not that there are Arab states prepared to establish relations with Israel without a solution to the Palestinian issue. Worse than that is selling the idea that Israel would be willing to withdraw from territory in return for such peace. Does anyone believe a Netanyahu government would draw the country’s new borders in return for peace with Tunisia? With Kuwait? Or even with Saudi Arabia?

And let’s say that a miracle happens, and leaders of those countries announce they are ready to forge an everlasting peace with Israel. What are the chances that Netanyahu will suffice with their recognition of the State of Israel and not lay the minefield of recognition of “the Jewish state”?

If Netanyahu is really serious, let him pull the Arab initiative out of the trash bin where he unceremoniously tossed it, and give it a closer look. It contains everything he seeks. It makes the impossible possible. But it calls for an Israeli withdrawal. Is anybody ready to sign? Netanyahu? Naftali Bennett? Avigdor Lieberman? Anybody?

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