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20 July 2022

How to achieve peace in the Middle East in eight easy steps

By: Dr. Gershon Baskin
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Israel is clearly disappointed at the conditional rejection of Saudi Arabia to join the Abraham Accords and to move forward on the road to speedy normalization. The agreement of the Saudis to allow flights from Israel to the East is nothing that new, as flights going to Dubai from Tel Aviv have already been doing this.Though the new Saudi agreement will save Israelis flying to the East about two hours in each direction and a few hundred shekels on their Asian holidays, this cannot be described as normalization. The ongoing security-related normalization between Israel and the Saudis is under the radar and has existed for quite some time in the common struggle against Iran.
The Saudis have stuck to their well-known position that before peace and normalization comes the resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The Arab Peace Initiative (API) from March 2002 was initially the Saudi initiative and they are sticking to it. The API stated:

a. Full Israeli withdrawal from all the territories occupied since 1967, including the Syrian Golan Heights to the lines of June 4, 1967, as well as the remaining occupied Lebanese territories in the south of Lebanon.
b. Achievement of a just solution to the Palestinian refugee problem to be agreed upon in accordance with United Nations General Assembly Resolution 194.
c. The acceptance of the establishment of a sovereign Independent Palestinian state on the Palestinian territories occupied since June 4, 1967, in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, with east Jerusalem as its capital.
3. Consequently, the Arab countries affirm the following:
a. Consider the Arab-Israeli conflict ended, enter into a peace agreement with Israel and provide security for all the states of the region.
b. Establish normal relations with Israel in the context of this comprehensive peace.
The API is based on the morbid two-state solution, which seems next to impossible to fulfill. In the chance that it may still be salvaged, instead of President Biden stating that the US supports the two-state solution based on the 1967 lines, he should finally come out and recognize the second of the two states. I do not understand all of these Western countries that shout out the mantra of two states but only recognize one of them.

I have serious doubts that there remains a viable two states solution, but if it does, probably the best way of putting it back on the table is for the countries of Europe, the United States, Australia, Canada and more, to recognize the State of Palestine. The two states sitting together will have to resolve the border issue and all other issues concerning how to make this solution work.

Saudi Arabia's part to play
SAUDI ARABIA has usually been a passive player regarding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. They were once the largest financial supporter of the Palestinian national movement but that ended many years ago. Saudi engagement when it happened was significant, such as the Arab Peace Initiative of 2002 and the crown prince Fahd initiative of August 1981, which somewhat similar to the API 21 years later stated:
1. Israel to withdraw from all Arab territory occupied in 1967, including Arab Jerusalem.
2. Israeli settlements built on Arab land after 1967 to be dismantled, including those in Arab Jerusalem.
3. A guarantee of freedom of worship for all religions in the holy places.
4. An affirmation of the right of the Palestinian Arab people to return to their homes and compensation for those who do not wish to return.
5. The West Bank and the Gaza Strip to have a transitional period under the auspices of the United Nations for a period not exceeding several months.
6. An independent Palestinian state should be set up with Jerusalem as its capital.
7. All states in the region should be able to live in peace in the region.
8. The United Nations or member states of the United Nations to guarantee the carrying out of these provisions.

The API made revisions from the Fahd plan coming much closer to Israel’s positions and interests. Perhaps the current Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman could play a much more positive role. The Saudis could convene a meeting of the Arab League or even the Gulf Cooperation Council countries together with those additional countries that have peace with Israel – Egypt, Jordan and Morocco – and call on the EU countries and the US to recognize the State of Palestine.These countries could apply pressure on the US using the leverage that everyone knows that they have (oil and oil prices) and finally get the Americans to be proactive in making the two state solution possible. Instead of the US applying pressure on the Arabs (especially on the Palestinians) the Arabs could finally apply pressure on the US.

Furthermore, the Saudis could lead a peace process in which they invite the Israelis and the Palestinians to Riyadh for a summit meeting to get the process restarted and to mediate the negotiations, instead of the Americans who have failed every time they have tried to mediate between Israel and Palestine. The Saudis clearly hold significant incentives that they can add to the process. As opposed to the US which gives all of the incentives to Israel for free, without any political pressure, the Saudi incentives come with a price tag. Israel might be willing to pay quite a lot for those incentives.

For this to work, the Palestinians need to get their house in order. They need to conduct new national elections in the West Bank, east Jerusalem and Gaza Strip. They don’t need to request permission from Israel for the elections or for the participation of Palestinians in east Jerusalem (more than 350,000 people who make up nearly 40% of the city).

East Jerusalemites can vote inside the foreign consulates in Jerusalem, on the other side of the wall or even electronically. A great deal of effort should be placed by Palestinian leaders and political parties who would support this new Saudi initiative to ensure that they win the elections, and not leaders and parties opposed to peace.

I believe that an effective campaign in support of the Saudi initiative would win a large victory. The Saudis could even propose that they would send a team of observers to Palestine, including east Jerusalem, to oversee the elections. (Kind of ironic given that there are no such elections in the Kingdom, but nonetheless it would be the first real step on the road to normalization).

How likely is this scenario? Not very likely. But we have a desperate need for new out-of-the-box ideas and proposals. We are stuck in political limbo, which means the situation will only get worse and more people will pay with their lives. So even wild ideas like the ones presented here should be presented. Who knows, maybe someone somewhere is actually listening.

* A political and social entrepreneur who has dedicated his life to peace between Israel and her neighbors. He is now directing The Holy Land Bond. - gershonbaskin@gmail.com

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