On Wednesday 15 February, at a joint press conference, President Donald Trump and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu discussed the future of regional stability in the Middle East, mainly focusing on the Arab-Israeli and Israeli-Palestinian conflicts. Israel has been working with Arab countries such as Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Bahrain and Qatar to fight terrorism despite not having official diplomatic ties.
President Trump made a controversial move by turning away from a policy the US has held for over a decade. At the conference, in response to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, he stated he was “looking at two-state and one-state” solutions, “and I like the one that both parties like.” We, of course, know that the two sides have not been able to come to an agreement for over forty years.
Donald Trump also spoke about a “much bigger deal” which could “take in many countries and would cover a much larger territory”, implying his desire to implant the idea of a one-state solution across the Middle East.
There are limited objections about a hypothetical single state where Israelis and Palestinians share equal rights and can participate in the democratic process. Any Palestinian disgruntled by the alleged incompetence and corruption of their leaders, may be considerably open to this idea. However, with split ideas in Israel, it would be difficult to achieve a definitive decision. For some, this has raised concerns that, between the Mediterranean Sea and the Jordan River, the Palestinian population would outnumber Jews by 2020. This is the de facto situation which has caused Israel’s legitimacy to crumble; combined with the claims of “Israeli Occupation” can be seen as a ticking time bomb, prepared to explode at any time.
The Judea and Samaria Settlement Regulation Law was passed on February 6 by the Knesset, this legalised all previously illegal construction of settlements in the West Bank, a move which Netanyahu has been pushing for. Although the probability that the Supreme Court of Israel will strike it down is almost certain, its ability to have even been passed by the Knesset will have echoed an everlasting effect on the future for settlements.
However, a regional peace plan, the Arab Peace Initiative, has been laying on the table since 2002. This plan would officially end the Arab-Israeli war in exchange for Israel’s withdrawal from “occupied Arab territories” and the recognition of “an independent and sovereign Palestinian state”.
The longer the conflict between one state and two state solutions goes on, the longer Israel remains a de facto one state with first and second class citizens. This has caused Israel’s international opinion to slowly decline, calls for boycotts on Israeli products, and a new era of extremism. This is, of course, not a “really a great peace deal” as President Trump calls it.
The Palestinian conflict is of declining importance for the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), and as progress develops towards a peaceful resolution between Israel and the Arab states, the GCC’s reason for the support of Palestine has switched to become more strategic. Saudi Arabia has reduced its use of Palestine as a bargaining chip against Israel, instead it has been able to abuse the recent breakdown of a Hamas-Iran alliance to promote its position in Syria. The Saudis have even gone to lengths such as indirectly communicating with Fatah to offset the friendly relationship that Palestine’s President Mahmoud Abbas has with Iranian opposition forces. These examples prove that the Saudi government has prioritised the containment of Iran over the independence of Palestine.
The GCC’s shift to a nonchalance attitude regarding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict closely links with the escalating cooperation between Israel and member states in terms of security and economic prosperity. As well as this, both Jerusalem and Riyadh share anti-Iranian sentiments, with the desire to undermine the expansion of Iranian influence. Whilst we may not see the Gulf states recognising the sovereignty of Israel soon, their informal cooperation will continue to develop. With tensions rising between Iran and the United States, Washington needs to be careful of the newly found Israeli-Saudi collusion.