Arab countries are developing a plan to end the war between Israel and Hamas and establish a Palestinian state

Arab countries are working on an initiative to secure a ceasefire and the release of hostages in Gaza as part of a broader plan that could offer Israel normalization of relations if it agrees to “irreversible” steps toward creating a Palestinian state.

A senior Arab official said they hoped to present the plan – which could include a prize for Saudi Arabia to formalize relations with Israel – within a few weeks in an attempt to end the war between Israel and Hamas and prevent a wider conflict in the Middle East.

Arab officials discussed the plan with the American and European governments. This would include Western countries agreeing to formally recognize a Palestinian state, or support Palestinians obtaining full membership in the United Nations.

“The real issue is that you need hope for the Palestinians, and it cannot just be economic benefits or removing symbols of occupation,” the senior official said.

The initiative comes as Israel faces increasing international pressure to end its assault on besieged Gaza, with the United States intensifying its diplomatic efforts to prevent a broader conflagration and pressing for a long-term solution to the protracted Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Wednesday described the war in Gaza as “painful,” adding that what is needed is a Palestinian state that “gives the people what they want and works with Israel to be effective.”

Demonstrators in Israel demand the release of hostages still being held in Gaza © Tyrone Siu/Reuters

When Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan was asked on Tuesday whether Riyadh would recognize Israel as part of a broader political agreement, he said, “Absolutely.”

See also  China sentences a 78-year-old US citizen to life in prison for espionage

He told a panel at the World Economic Forum in Davos: “We agree that regional peace includes peace for Israel, but that can only happen through peace for the Palestinians through a Palestinian state.”

Later on Tuesday, US National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan said Washington remained focused on securing an agreement that led to Saudi Arabia normalizing relations with Israel as part of its plans for the post-war period.

“Our approach is focused and will continue to be focused on moving toward greater integration and stability in the region,” Sullivan said in Davos.

But there are multiple challenges to reaching an agreement with Israel.

After the October 7 Hamas attack that killed at least 1,200 people, Israeli officials warned that the war in Gaza would continue for months, while Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu ruled out working with the Western-backed Palestinian Authority and rejects a two-state solution. .

In December, Netanyahu said he was “proud” to have prevented the creation of a Palestinian state, saying, “Everyone understands what would have happened if we had surrendered to international pressure and been able to establish such a state.”

The prime minister heads the most far-right government in Israel's history, which includes religious Zionist settlers who publicly call for the annexation of the West Bank.

“Given the Israeli body politic today, perhaps normalization is what can save the Israelis from the abyss,” the senior Arab official said.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, left, with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in Saudi Arabia earlier this month
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, left, with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in Saudi Arabia earlier this month © Evelyn Hochstein/AFP

Saudi Arabia was close to establishing diplomatic relations with Israel before the Hamas attack on October 7, in exchange for the United States agreeing to a security agreement with Riyadh and supporting the development of the kingdom’s nuclear ambitions.

See also  Sky News Australia has pulled out of TikTok citing security risks posed by the Chinese-owned app

US and Saudi officials are also discussing the Palestinian component of the deal, which includes freezing the expansion of Israeli settlements in the West Bank, enhancing support for the Palestinian Authority, which administers limited parts of the occupied territories, and establishing a path toward a two-state solution. Solution.

Before the war broke out, Blinken was scheduled to visit Riyadh in mid-October to discuss plans for the Palestinians. The Hamas attack and Israel's reaction in Gaza hindered this process.

But Saudi Arabia made it clear that although the process was halted, the Kingdom did not remove the option from the table. There was also a realization that Riyadh would have to secure greater concessions from Israel to the Palestinians, including in Gaza, with more concrete steps toward creating a Palestinian state.

“We have already gotten the broad outlines from the Palestinian Authority,” a person familiar with the talks said. “Now this element must be strengthened so that it is politically viable at any time in the future.”

Since October 7, the Biden administration — Israel's strongest backer — has repeatedly spoken of the need for a two-state solution as the only option to provide the security the Jewish state ultimately wants.

Saudi Arabia's willingness to consider normalizing relations likely provides an important bargaining chip with Israel, which has viewed diplomatic relations with the kingdom as the greatest prize in its efforts to develop relations with Arab countries. The oil-rich kingdom is emerging as the leader of the Sunni Muslim world and custodian of the two holiest sites in Islam.

See also  European Union leaders failed to agree on a $55 billion aid package for Ukraine

Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the country's day-to-day leader, has been keen to normalize relations with Israel while leading an ambitious program to develop the conservative kingdom into a financial, commercial and tourism hub. Now, like other Arab countries, Riyadh is concerned about the risk that the war between Israel and Hamas sparks a regional conflagration that spills over the border, as well as the risk that the devastation in Gaza will radicalize a new generation of young Arabs.

The Saudi leadership expressed its anger at the Israeli attack on Gaza, which claimed the lives of more than 24,000 people, according to Palestinian health officials, led to an increased risk of famine in the Strip, and turned swaths of the Strip into barren wastelands filled with rubble. It repeatedly joined calls for an immediate ceasefire in Gaza.

Blinken said on Wednesday that it was up to Israel “to seize the opportunity that we believe exists,” saying the crisis was an “inflection point” for the Middle East that requires difficult decisions.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *