Because of their good relations with both the US and Israel, certain Arab states, notably Saudi Arabia, Egypt and the UAE, are well placed to play an important role in Israeli–Palestinian peacemaking. Whether they choose to do so – and, if so, what precisely they decide to do – will depend on a number of factors. One of the most significant is the priority they attach to supporting the Palestinian cause. For many Arab regimes, the issue is slipping steadily down their agenda, although they continue to pay it lip service. However, they have to bear in mind the feelings of their citizens, who are often strongly pro-Palestinian – and concomitantly anti-Israel. The regimes also have to consider the stability of the region, something that cannot be achieved, at least in the long term, without a resolution of the Israeli–Palestinian conflict.
Some Arab states feel threatened by Iran or extremist groups (or both). They see the military and intelligence capabilities of the US and Israel (including the hardware both can supply) as offering protection against these perceived threats. They therefore seek good relations with both countries – albeit, in respect of Israel, generally discreet ones. In these circumstances, the posture of key Arab states on Israeli–Palestinian peacemaking will be determined by the priority they accord to these alliances vis-à-vis the need to show their citizens that they are not abandoning the Palestinians. Another consideration may be a desire to manage expectations and avoid giving the impression that the Arab regimes could contribute significantly to Israeli–Palestinian peace (assuming they believe they could not).
In these circumstances, the easiest course for Arab leaders would be to maintain the present balance between these competing agendas – whether or not a Trump plan ever emerges. This would not, however, lead to a resolution of the Israeli–Palestinian conflict, which would continue to contribute to instability in the region.
Much depends on the nature of any eventual Trump plan. If the plan goes some way towards meeting Palestinian demands, Arab regimes might play a very positive role. They could, for example, offer public moral support for the Palestinians as the latter confronted the need to make concessions in negotiations. Such support could be especially helpful regarding Jerusalem, which is an issue of great sensitivity for many Arabs (and Muslims more widely). Here, a Saudi ‘seal of approval’ could be decisive.
For many Arab regimes, the issue is slipping steadily down their agenda, although they continue to pay it lip service. However, they have to bear in mind the feelings of their citizens, who are often strongly pro-Palestinian – and concomitantly anti-Israel
In another scenario, Arab regimes might feel compelled to support a Trump plan even if it were wholly unacceptable to the Palestinians. They might press the Palestinian leadership to accept such a plan (or at least go through the motions of pressing the Palestinians to accept it), in order to maintain their (i.e. the Arab regimes’) relationships with the US. While the regimes in question might gain credit with the US administration for their efforts, the Palestinians would still almost certainly reject the plan.
In a fourth scenario, one in which the region descends even further into chaos, the Arab states (and the rest of the international community too) are completely preoccupied by conflicts other than that between the Israelis and Palestinians. With their cause forgotten, the Palestinians might turn to violence, including terrorism.
Of the four scenarios considered in this briefing, the only one that delivers a positive outcome is the one in which Arab leaders engage with the US administration to help it formulate a plan that both Israelis and Palestinians can accept as a framework for the resumption of serious negotiations. The positive outcome of this scenario is also the result of vigorous support for the plan, once it has been made public, on the part of key Arab states (and acquiescence on the part of others). In other words, success may depend on the degree to which the Arab states are prepared to be proactive in contributing to a resolution of the Israeli–Palestinian conflict.