November 28, 2017
Why the Palestinians Hate the Growing Israel-Saudi Détente—and
Why They Shouldn't
Dear Friend of FLAME:
As you know, there's lots seething in the Middle East that affects Israel.
Let's focus today on events dealing with Mahmoud Abbas and his misbegotten
Palestinian Authority, then we'll turn to Iran's ominous march toward
regional hegemony in our next issue.
It was indeed a bad week for the Palestinians.
An Israeli court ruled that the Palestinian Authority (PA) must pay $17 million in damages for a deadly 2001 terror attack against
an Israeli family, killing the father, mother and brother (two infants,
covered by their mother's bullet-riddled body, escaped the shooting). The
PA provided the money and weapons used in the attack. Since much
Palestinian tax money flows through the Israeli government, the families of
the victims should be able to collect.
Then the Trump administration told the Palestinians it would close their
office in Washington, DC if the PA didn't cease actions against Israel in
the International Criminal Court (ICC). A 2015 U.S. law requires shutting down the Palestinian mission if the Arabs initiate or
support an ICC investigation of Israeli nationals for alleged crimes
against Palestinians—which the PA has done. While the Palestinians
protested vehemently, they backed down. (One puzzles why President
Obama didn't threaten the same thing.)
But the Palestinian drama with the Trump White House didn't end there. Even
as Trump prepares announcement of his team's Israel-Palestinian peace plan,
prominent PA officials have already condemned the plan and
its U.S. (Jewish) negotiators—Kushner, Greenberg and Friedman—for being
Finally, the media report every day on increasing contacts between Israel
and Saudi Arabia, plus Saudi Arabia's condemnation of Iran and Hizbollah—Israel's most
rabid and dangerous antagonists. What's more, Saudi Arabia is said to have
been instrumental in pressuring Mahmoud Abbas to cease complaints against
Israel in the ICC.
While it would be an exaggeration to say that Israel and Saudi Arabia are
friends, they're at least slowly becoming "frenemies." Which can't make the
Palestinians happy. And which also brings us to this week's FLAME Hotline
featured article—on why in fact the Palestinians should harness the Israel-Saudi détente to their advantage in forging
a peace with Israel.
Of course, the Palestinians being the people who never miss an opportunity
to miss an opportunity, you and I will be excused for our skepticism that
this is possible. Above all, it's hard to find evidence that the
Palestinians even want peace with Israel. Nonetheless, I think
you'll profit from the perspective of Arab writer Hussein Ibish, who
encourages the Palestinians to seize this opportunity as a last-gasp effort
just to stay relevant.
I hope you'll also quickly review the P.S. immediately below, which
describes FLAME's long-running hasbarah
campaign to stop the U.S. Congress from funding Palestinian
terrorism. If you haven't yet, please email and call your U.S. Senators
to encourage their vote for the Taylor Force Act, which could come up
for a vote any day. Go right now to the
U.S. Senate directory
and choose your state: Your Senators, as well as their email address
and phone numbers will appear. Please use both—it's one thing you can do to support Israel today.
President, Facts and Logic About the Middle East (FLAME)
Did you know: By subsidizing the corrupt Palestinian Authority (P.A.)
with aid of some $450 million taxpayer dollars a year, the U.S. is also
funding the P.A.'s program of paying salaries to Palestinian terrorists who
have killed innocent Americans and Israelis? In order to make
Americans—especially college and university students—aware of this
Palestinian practice of rewarding jihadi assailants and murderers with U.S.
funds, FLAME has recently been publishing a new position paper: "U.S. Funds Palestinian Terrorism." This paid editorial has appeared in magazines and newspapers, including
college newspapers, with a combined readership of some 10 million people.
In addition, it is being sent to every member of the U.S. Congress and
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How a Saudi-Israeli Alliance Could Benefit the Palestinians
There is far more opportunity than danger in the two countries'
Hussein Ibish, Atlantic, November, 18, 2017
The flirtation between Israel and Saudi Arabia, which has been gaining
both publicly and privately in recent years, seems to be picking up even
more steam now, especially on the Israeli side. Israel's Military Chief of
Staff General Gadi Eizenkot gave a wide-ranging interview to a major Saudi
website offering greater intelligence cooperation, among other overtures.
Israel is co-sponsoring a draft Saudi UN resolution on Syria. And Israel's
communications minister praised comments by the Saudi Grand Mufti that were
highly critical of Hamas, and invited him to visit Israel. Reciprocal Saudi
moves have been more subtle and often unofficial, yet signs of an
increasing recognition of the potential value of working more closely with
Israel to counter Iran are readily discernible in Gulf Arab discourse.
Most attention on this issue has focused on Iran, because countering
Tehran's growing regional power—particularly as the war in Syria winds
down, and with Iran and its allies gaining control of key strategic areas
along the Syrian-Iraqi border-is uppermost in the minds of Saudis and
Israelis alike. Both also feel keenly menaced by Iran's most effective Arab
proxy, Hezbollah, which has emerged from the Syrian war much more powerful
than before, and has engaged in conflicts around the region. But,
especially if something more significant develops from these overtures,
what might all this mean for the Palestinians?
The instinctive Palestinian, and arguably more broadly Arab, reaction would
be negative. The traditional assumption has been that the Palestinian cause
benefits from a zero-sum attitude toward Israel by the Arab states that, at
a minimum, demands a complete end to the occupation that began in 1967,
before significant diplomatic progress with Arab states can be purposefully
initiated. There's still a strong sense of betrayal about Egypt's separate
peace with Israel in 1979; there's somewhat more understanding about why
Jordan undertook a similar treaty with Israel following the
Israeli-Palestinian Oslo Accords.
Many Palestinians and their supporters are likely to instantly conclude
that any meaningful efforts at building a new strategic relationship
between Israel and Gulf countries like Saudi Arabia will be at their
expense. This is certainly understandable, but it's by no means necessarily
correct. In fact, there is every reason for Palestinians to see far more
opportunity than danger in these potential developments.
A new opening between Saudi Arabia and Israel wouldn't deprive Palestinians
of anything they currently possess that has either real or potential value.
It certainly wouldn't make the occupation worse or do anything that's
likely to prolong it. To the contrary, given the political constraints the
Gulf Arab countries face domestically and regionally—as well as their
genuinely held (if sometimes, though unfairly, doubted by both Palestinians
and Westerners) sympathy with the Palestinian cause-there are major
limitations to how far Saudi Arabia and others could or would publicly go
in developing closer ties to Israel.
The Arab Peace Initiative, launched by Riyadh in 2002 and subsequently
endorsed by both the Arab League and the Organization of Islamic
Cooperation, initially held out full diplomatic and trade normalization for
Israel with virtually the entire Arab and Muslim worlds as a major
additional benefit to be acquired upon the conclusion of a peace agreement
with the Palestinians. The Arab, and especially Saudi, position appears to
have evolved lately to accept the virtue of "concurrence," whereby limited
Israeli peace moves and concessions toward the Palestinians, such as
restricting settlements in the occupied territories, would be matched by
concomitant limited Gulf Arab gestures toward Israel, such as civil
aviation cooperation or even some limited official meetings. The idea is
that a virtuous circle could be created in which new paths to an eventual
peace between Israel and the Palestinians, and then the full normalization
with the Arab and Muslim worlds for Israel, can be accomplished.
Naturally this isn't what Palestinians would ideally want,
either as a process or, possibly, as an outcome. However, it may be the
best they can hope for under the circumstances, and certainly seems to be
the only game in town. Palestinians would be wise to remember how isolated
and forlorn they were during most of the second Obama administration, with
their issue essentially consigned to John Kerry's wish list and nothing
more. They virtually disappeared from the international, and even the Arab,
stage, and became an afterthought even though their cause continued to be
exploited by a wide range of terrorist groups. But the potential for a new
strategic relationship between Israel and Gulf Arab countries was one of
the main reasons why the incoming Trump administration, to the astonishment
of many, resurrected the Israeli-Palestinian issue and made it a central
feature of the White House's agenda. Palestinians, particularly those
associated with the Palestinian Authority and Palestine Liberation
Organization, were utterly delighted to have been resurrected politically
and diplomatically by this unexpected development.
Now the Trump team says that, after studying the issue for 10 months, it is
on the brink of coming up with its new plan for Israeli-Palestinian peace,
which seems to be some version of the traditional two-state solution but
almost certainly involves the "outside-in" approach of seeking momentum
between the two parties by introducing a new Saudi and Gulf Arab role in
outreach to Israel. Almost lost in the swirl of drama surrounding the mass
arrest of prominent citizens in Saudi Arabia, the Houthi missile fired at
Riyadh International Airport from Yemen, and the resignation of Lebanese
Prime Minister Saad Hariri, was the telling fact that Palestinian President
Mahmoud Abbas was summoned to Riyadh for a meeting with Crown Prince
Mohammed bin Salman in the midst of all that chaos. The meeting may have
focused on the next steps in squeezing Hamas to give up more of its control
over Gaza. But there was also speculation, particularly in the Israeli
media, that the Palestinian leader was being told to prepare to cooperate
with a forthcoming American peace effort if he values Saudi friendship.
No doubt this all feels somewhat coercive to Palestinians, who, like
are often at the mercy of more powerful players. However, there isn't any
other obvious path forward for Palestinians. Though they may have to adjust
their expectations, they definitely stand to be net beneficiaries of a
greater openness between Israel and Arab countries that, politically, would
have to insist on movement on Palestinian issues in order to develop a new
strategic relationship with the Jewish state. At least to some extent and
at times, others might be negotiating on Palestinians' behalf, which is
plainly sub-optimal. But there doesn't seem to be any other way of
generating momentum on Palestinian concerns, and without this component,
it's likely that the Trump administration will, like its immediate
predecessor, quickly become fed up and walk away, leaving Israel relatively
secure and prosperous and the Palestinians in a profoundly unenviable
It's unlikely that many Palestinians share the degree of alarm that
Israelis and Saudis feel about the growth of Iranian power in the Middle
East, and particularly the emergence of an Iranian-controlled "land bridge"
between Tehran and Lebanon and its Mediterranean coast. Yet this is a
strategic game changer that, if consolidated, would greatly strengthen the
regional clout of the most cynical exploiter of their issue in recent
decades: Iran. Palestinians would be well advised to view the potential
dialogue between Israel and Arab countries like Saudi Arabia as an
opportunity to prevent their issues from being once again egregiously
exploited or discarded.
In the longer term, a wider opening between Israel and the Gulf Arab
that are now largely driving the broader Arab agenda, especially when they
collaborate with Egypt and Jordan, is currently the only viable path toward
the resurrection of a process that can bring about, eventually, an end to
the occupation and the realization of Palestinian independence. In the
meanwhile, if it flourishes, such a new regional reality is bound to
involve some benefits to Palestinians, and to keep their cause central to
the strategic thinking of Washington and its key Middle Eastern allies.
Therefore, it would be wise for Palestinians to look for ways of maximizing
how this dynamic can work for them rather than indulging in knee-jerk
denunciations and recriminations that will gain them nothing.
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