"The Pragmatic Arab states can persuade Israeli public opinion to accept Trump’s plan"
Koby Huberman, co-founder and co-leader of the “Israeli Regional Initiative”
What do the pragmatic Arab countries assume they stand to gain from Trump's peace plan?
First, we need to define which countries belong to this group. The first circle of countries includes Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, and the United Arab Emirates; and in the second circle we have Bahrain, Kuwait, Morocco, and perhaps several others like Oman. Qatar's status in this picture is unclear, due to its conflict with the rest of the countries, as well as its tendency to take Turkey's side in the issues of support for Hamas, the Muslim Brotherhood, and "Political Islam".
Though the details have not been revealed just yet, we can say that the peace plan will include a regional component, in which the Arab countries support the deal, offer Israel various benefits, and are rewarded accordingly. There are four main ways in which these countries can benefit:
First and foremost, ending the Israeli-Palestinian conflict will also end these countries’ political and military dispute with Israel. This will allow them to establish formal diplomatic relations with a very significant actor in the Middle East, and to forge political, financial, technological, and security-related collaborations with it.
Second, if they contribute to the process of ending the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the governments of these countries will score valuable public opinion points, which will contribute to the stability of their regimes. Hence, the plan’s parameters must cross a certain threshold, in order for these countries to be able to sell it to their domestic public opinion.
Third, research conducted by the “Israeli Regional Initiative” organization has found that leading countries would be happy to invest in the Middle East, should the Israeli-Palestinian conflict be resolved. Pragmatic Arab countries would also benefit from this development, as some of these investments would reach them from countries such as the United States, Russia, EU member states, as well as other entities.
Finally, collaborations with Israel, positive public opinion, and foreign investment will allow pragmatic Arab countries to devote much more attention and resources to solving their own domestic problems – thwarting the threat posed by Iran and terrorist organizations, revitalizing their ailing local economies (especially in Egypt and Jordan), and maintaining social stability.
Photo: Courtest of the author
What do they fear they might lose?
A peace plan that Arab public opinion views as grossly favoring Israel over the Palestinians, or one that threatens Palestinian or Islamic rights, may entail substantial risks for governments that support it. They will be exposed to severe domestic criticism, and in extreme scenarios’ face real threats. For example, in Jordan – a country with a Palestinian majority – widespread protests might even lead to the overthrow of the royal family. Egypt and Saudi Arabia are sure to experience significant riots, and most likely so will some of the Gulf countries (although to a lesser degree). Therefore, this is the true test of Trump's plan.
How can pragmatic Arab countries contribute to the plan’s chances of success?
There are several areas in which pragmatic Arab countries can contribute to the success of the plan. In the Palestinian arena, first and foremost, they can express their united support for the Palestinian leadership, and publicly back it considering the difficult decisions it will have to make. They can also offer compensations and aid in exchange for concessions the Palestinian leadership will probably have to agree to. This is also true regarding the ability of these countries – mainly Egypt – to stabilize the Gaza strip and promote an agreement between the rival leaderships in Ramallah and Gaza.
They can also unite and work together to stop those who wish to disrupt the peace plan – state actors (such as Iran, and perhaps even Turkey and Qatar) and non-state actors (such as Hamas, Hezbollah and other terrorist organizations) - by throwing in their full weight to advance this process.
Finally, the pragmatic Arab countries can play a substantial part in convincing Israeli public opinion to accept the plan. At the Israeli Regional Initiative, we found that the Israeli public is more highly impressed by positive statements made by leaders of Arab countries, than by similar statements made by Palestinian leaders, whom they do not trust.
Which obstacles are they liable to mount, and how can they sabotage the process?
In the Palestinian arena, there are two ways in which the pragmatic Arab countries could disrupt the plan and make it more difficult to implement it. If they remain passive and refrain from active engagement with the plan, thereby allowing the Palestinians to veto any potential progress, they will become hostages of the Palestinian public and its leadership. On the other hand, they could, hypothetically, also encourage the Palestinians to adopt extremist and uncompromising positions – an extreme scenario, which will only materialize if these countries perceive the plan to be very negative for them.
In addition, Arab countries can challenge the central and leading role of the United States in formulating and promoting the plan by insisting that European, Russian, Chinese or other factions become involved in the process. They can also act, during negotiations, against Israel in international institutions. However, I do not expect them to actively cooperate with Hamas or Iran.
Koby Huberman is a high-tech businessman, strategic consultant, and social entrepreneur. He founded and leads the “Israeli Regional Initiative” group, which was established in 2010 and published the "Israeli Peace Initiative" as a response to the Arab peace initiative. The group promotes a "regional package deal" to solve the Israeli-Arab conflict, by encouraging cooperation and dialogue between leading entities in Israel, the Middle East, and the international arena.