Can Regional Peace Bring the Palestinians to Negotiations? It Should
Many predicted that Israel’s August 2020 breakthrough with the UAE would likely have a cascading effect. Since then, Israel has seen positive developments with Oman, Malawi, Chad, Moroc
Some lament that peace with Arab countries reduces the pressure on Israel to pursue peace with the Palestinians. But by demonstrating that Israel will not be compelled into concessions, regional peace provides the best hope yet for Israeli-Palestinian peace.
Israel’s accords with Egypt and Jordan provided peace without free movement of goods and people. The Abraham Accords between the UAE, Bahrain, and Israel, is the first Arab-Israeli “warm” peace. It was achieved without stipulations regarding settlements or a two-state solution, showing that Israel’s legitimacy and diplomatic progress will not be held hostage to indefinite Palestinian intransigence. European support and rare US bipartisan enthusiasm for these accords, reinforces this conclusion.
A sign at the anti-Netanyahu “Balfour Protests” in Jerusalem read in Hebrew, “Bibi, make peace with Mars next.” The protestor argued that peace with countries not at war with Israel is less important than peace with the Palestinians. One could be forgiven for not viewing the lack of peace with the Palestinians as a personal failure of the current prime minister. None of Israel’s leaders have achieved it — because the Palestinian leadership’s ideology does not allow productive negotiations. The “moderate” Palestinian Authority (PA), is unwilling to officially relinquish territorial demands in the event of a peace treaty, while obliterating Israel is a core tenet in Hamas’ charter.
The oft-repeated maxim “one makes peace with one’s enemies, not friends,” is misleading. One cannot make peace if the opposing side does not seek peace. Therefore, Israel acted rationally when it tabled futile attempts to make peace with entities ideologically opposed to a pragmatic negotiated agreement.
The only way to compel a non-state militant organization to abandon an absolutist ideology central to their raison d’etre is by credibly threatening them with decisive defeat. Despite possessing the firepower, Israel is too constrained to credibly threaten the Palestinians with military defeat. Since Israel cannot achieve peace through military victory or negotiation, its sole remaining realistic strategy has been management of the conflict. Israel has been pursuing this strategy with increasing success since the Oslo peace process collapsed in a bloody intifada.
Israel manages conflict with the PA through a robust military presence, and security cooperation with an entity that benefits from quiet in terms of power and wealth — and relies on the Israeli military to keep Hamas from overthrowing it as Hamas did in Gaza. Israel manages conflict with Hamas with effective denial strategies including: active defense, physical barriers, intelligence, and controlled violence.
Regional peace between Israel and its neighbors holds the possibility of changing this dynamic. It provides a pathway to socializing the Palestinian leadership to pursue pragmatism by threatening them with decisive political defeat in the form of rendering them irrelevant should they continue their intransigence.
Fear of irrelevance has driven Hamas, Hezbollah, and the PA to engage in rare direct talks to figure out how to contend with Israel’s flourishing regional relations. Meanwhile, Israel actively seeks peace with neighbors whose ideology does not supersede shared interests. Hence, we see cascading peace between Israel and Arab countries that seek to be part of a prosperous and secure alliance with Israel and the United States, and also fear Iranian aggression over Israel’s non-existent threat to them.
Israel’s successful peace with its neighbors threatens to leave the Palestinian movements without a rationale. It is a sign of impotence that Palestinian factions have responded to the threat posed by peace, with “days of rage.” The Palestinian leadership spoke of betrayal, livid that the Arab League failed to support them in opposition to the peace deals.
On the day that the accords were signed on the White House lawn, both Hamas and Fatah issued bellicose statements slamming the peace deals, as terrorists fired rockets from Gaza. A senior Fatah official threatened, “peace begins in Palestine and war begins in Palestine.” This has been proven false. The longstanding truism that regional peace begins with an Israeli-Palestinian peace treaty is collapsing.
The new alignment in the Middle East will likely be durable. The UAE’s minister for foreign affairs promised to foster relations with Israel irrespective of a change in US leadership. With Israel’s acceptance in the region likely to be permanent, the Palestinians will face a choice — be left without a state, without attention, and without the ability to secure one through pressure or violence, or abandon their absolutist agenda in order to negotiate productively.
Although Israel agreed to forestall applying sovereignty in the disputed territories for at least four years, creating a Palestinian state requires direct negotiations. Palestinian rejectionism would likely ensure that in four years’ time, whether Israel decides to annex or not, facts on the ground will make a Palestinian state increasingly unlikely.
The longer the Palestinian leadership hesitates, the less likely they are to gain. There is the possibility that the Palestinian people will overthrow their leadership for failing to act in their interests. However, predicting uprisings is not easy. Perhaps when Abbas retires, his replacement might bring to power a PA leadership that puts pragmatism above ideology. This would require that person to be the first Palestinian leader not to view a territorial final status agreement as an act of treason.
There is no guarantee that the Palestinians will succeed in putting pragmatism over ideology, despite this being necessary for breaking the paradigm of status quo management which favors Israel, obtaining sovereignty, and achieving peace. However, by unmistakably demonstrating that continued intransigence threatens to leave them by the wayside without harming Israel, peace between Israel and its neighbors poses the best chance for socializing the Palestinians into an entity capable of making peace.
Jeremiah Rozman is a publishing Adjunct at the MirYam Institute. He earned his PhD in International Relations from the University of Virginia and is the National Security Analyst at the Association of the US Army.
The MirYam Institute is the leading international forum for Israel focused discussion, dialogue, and debate, focused on campus presentations, engagement with international legislators, and gold-standard trips to the State of Israel. Follow their work at www.MirYamInstitute.org.