This briefing forms part of the Chatham House project, ‘Israel–Palestine: Beyond the Stalemate’. It pursues one of the main themes of our previous briefing, published in July 2018 (Israeli–Palestinian Peacemaking: What Can We Learn From Previous Efforts?), namely the potential importance of the role of the Arab states, or at least some of them.
The objective of this briefing is to stimulate discussion with policymakers and opinion-formers in the Middle East and in capitals outside the region.
Like its predecessor, this briefing is intended for those already engaged in consideration of policy towards the conflict. It therefore assumes an existing knowledge of the subject.
The briefing offers four scenarios concerning the role of the Arab states in Israeli–Palestinian peacemaking, namely:
- More of the same, in which there is neither a breakthrough in terms of peace between Israel and the Palestinians nor a sustained escalation of violence. In this scenario, the Arab states act only to protect their own immediate interests.
- An ‘outside-in’ peace initiative, in which key Arab states (especially Saudi Arabia, Egypt, the UAE and Jordan) engage with Israel, the Palestinians and the US administration to help restart peace negotiations within the framework of a Donald Trump-led peace plan which the parties find acceptable.
- Imposition of a Trump peace plan strongly skewed in Israel’s favour. In this scenario, the Arab states – despite serious misgivings about the plan – assist the US in seeking to coerce the Palestinians into accepting it.
- ‘Things fall apart’. In this scenario, worsening conflicts in other parts of the region divert the attention of the international community away from the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians, with the Palestinians turning to violence to draw attention back to their cause.
Only one of these scenarios – the second – has a positive outcome. In order to reach that outcome, the Arab states (and especially Saudi Arabia, Egypt, the UAE and Jordan) would need to be proactive and assertive in discussing with the US administration what shape a Trump peace plan ought to have. Their aim in doing so would be to ensure that the plan is sufficiently balanced to serve as a basis for Israeli–Palestinian negotiations. In discussions with Israel, these key Arab states and others would need to make clear the full extent of the offer to Israel: namely, a complete end to the dispute with the Arab world and full normalization of relations with all the Arab states. Arab leaders would need to make clear to Israel that these benefits would only be available in the context of a conflict-ending Israeli–Palestinian peace agreement.
Once negotiations on the basis of a Trump peace plan were under way, the Arab states would have to provide moral and diplomatic support to the Palestinian leadership. (Some difficult compromises would be required from the Palestinians, as well as the Israelis, for negotiations to reach a successful conclusion.) Such support would be particularly important in respect of Jerusalem, over which the Palestinians would be vulnerable to criticism from the wider Arab and Muslim worlds, as well as from their own people.