Add it all up and you can see why the four most recent Israeli elections ignored the existential threat posed to the Jewish state by its continued West Bank occupation. For most it was: out of sight, out of mind. And no wonder the U.S. withdrew from active involvement in the area — until President Donald Trump gave his son-in-law, Jared Kushner, a free hand to push his own plan.
It’s a long story, but the short version is that both Netanyahu and the Palestinians rejected Kushner’s proposal for a two-state solution. Yet rather than allow the whole thing to collapse, the leader of the United Arab Emirates, Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed, inspired by his ambassador to the U.S., Yousef al-Otaiba, proposed full peace, trade and tourism with Israel if Israel agreed not to unilaterally annex territory in the West Bank allotted to Israel in the Trump plan. And thus was born the 2020 Abraham Accords, in which the U.A.E., Bahrain, Morocco and Sudan opened diplomatic relations with Israel.
The U.A.E. did something hugely important catalyzing this deal. The more the Middle East resembles the European Union, and the less it resembles the Syrian civil war, is a very good thing.
But the U.A.E. and its Abraham Accord colleagues have been largely reluctant to involve themselves in Israeli-Palestinian issues. They don’t think highly of the Palestinian leadership, and they don’t want to be embroiled in the whole mess; they want to do trade and investment deals with Israel’s high-tech economy to strengthen themselves. When they got Israel to agree to not annex the West Bank, they thought they had given at the office — done.
Which brings me to the Saudis. For Israel, peace with Saudi Arabia is the big prize. It opens the door to peace with the whole Sunni Muslim world and access to an immense pool of investment capital.
But senior Saudi officials have told me that their support will not come cheap. The ailing Saudi monarch, King Salman, has always had a deep emotional attachment to the Palestinian cause. And his son and the de facto ruler, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (a.k.a. M.B.S.), knows that if Saudi Arabia forges a peace with Israel on the cheap, Saudi Arabia’s archenemy, Iran, will use it to launch a propaganda jihad against Saudi Arabia across the Muslim world. It would be ugly.