A generation has passed since the signing of the Oslo Accords between Israel and the Palestinians. The Oslo Accords were guided by the concept that the two-state solution would finally resolve the conflict—but two decades later, Israelis and Palestinians remain caught in a sad, frustrating and vicious cycle that must be broken. Dramatic events in the Middle East offer unprecedented conditions for such a breakthrough, because today, for the first time, Israel and major Arab states share long-term strategic interests: blocking Iran’s expansion; fostering stability; and diminishing militant Islamic momentum.
A constructive breakthrough requires an outside-the-box approach based upon three major premises. First, it is time to cast aside the concept of an Israeli-Palestinian agreement in favor of an Israeli-Arab agreement as the only way to end the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Jordan, Egypt and the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) must be partners to the agreement. Second, the two-state solution is the end objective, but achieving this goal is unrealistic in the near future. Third, the only realistic goal at this juncture is to create interim arrangements to set the ground for a final agreement.
In order to implement this solution, the first phase must make arrangements regarding the Gaza Strip. Negotiations should result in several specific outcomes within a given timeframe. PNA must first restore its control over the Gaza Strip. GCC military forces should deploy in the Gaza Strip together with PNA forces, and Hamas’ military force should be merged within the formal PNA force. All rockets must be disposed of and tunnel digging shall cease. A port shall be created in the Gaza Strip and the Rafah crossing shall be opened.
Once stability is obtained in the Gaza Strip, negotiations regarding the final Israeli-Arab agreement should begin. The negotiations should address all relevant issues (borders, refugees, Jerusalem, settlements, land and natural resources use, etc.) This plan is likely to succeed because ending the conflict is a strategic interest of the GCC, Egypt and Jordan—and they have the keys needed to succeed. The plan echoes core ideas of the Saudi peace initiative, yet also reflects the dramatic changes that took place in the Middle East since (Hamas’ takeover of the Gaza Strip, the outbreak of events in the Arab world, the war in Syria, the emergence of ISIS, the widening and intensifying Iran-Arab power struggle, the Vienna agreement). The plan also addresses the core challenges that perpetuate the vicious cycle of violence and conflict that confront Israelis and Palestinians.
The most important issue for Israel
Security is the most important issue to Israel. Due to the increasing threat to Israeli civilians posed by Hamas and other militant Islamist Palestinian groups, Israelis do not trust Palestinians and are thus unwilling to make any concessions that will further compromise Israel’s security. The involvement of Arab states as reliable counterparts will strengthen Israeli willingness to compromise if they have reason to believe that a stable and enduring agreement is achievable.
On the Palestinian side, a lack of internal consensus remains challenging—especially the ideological and political gaps between the two major Palestinian camps, Hamas and Fatah. As a result, Palestinians are unable to make inevitable compromises.
Hamas’ extreme ideology holds all sides hostage. Ironically, its extremism also holds Hamas itself hostage. Hamas desperately needs a ladder that enables it to adopt a more pragmatic approach that will allow it to compromise its control in Gaza without formally compromising its ideology. The involvement of proactive Arab states will provide that crucial ladder.
Put aside the concept of an Israeli-Palestinian agreement
Arab involvement will also enable Palestinians to exit the Cul-de-Sac by broadening the consensus base; Palestinians can digest compromises on issues that are at the core of a Palestinian narrative (primarily the Palestinian narrative known as the right of return, that is totally unacceptable to Israel) if this is done within a larger Arab consensus framework.
Hopelessness and endless conflict can be replaced by a peaceful future, but only if we act differently. We must put aside the concept of an Israeli-Palestinian agreement in favor of an Israeli-Arab agreement as the only realistic means to end the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Such agreement is achievable today more than ever before.
Mr. Melamed is the fellow of Intelligence and Middle East Affairs at the Eisenhower Institute at Gettysburg College. is also the author of ”Inside the Middle East: Making Sense of the Most Dangerous and Complicated Region on Earth.” (available on Amazon)