A Saudi “day after” plan for Gaza

by Brian on June 17, 2024

in In the News,Politics,War in Gaza,War with Hezbollah

Israel is losing the war with Hamas in Gaza. That’s the only conclusion to be drawn eight months after the Oct. 7 pogrom, with Hamas battalions still standing, our hostages (despite last weekend’s dramatic rescue) still held in inhumane conditions underground, and the terror group still able to fire barrages of missiles as far as Tel Aviv.

Saudi Arabia

It’s also what a majority of Israelis now believe. 

A poll conducted by the Israel Democracy Institute before the June 8 operation in Nuseirat revealed that only 34% of respondents are optimistic about the future of national security. The Jewish People Policy Institute (JPPI) found that, in May, just 38% of Israelis expressed “high confidence” that victory is achievable. A larger number – some 41% – said they have “low confidence” that Israel will win. 

A large part of that is a lack of trust in Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his coalition partners’ refusal to engage in discussing a “day after” plan for Gaza. Per the JPPI, only 28% of the Jewish public attests to a high or fairly high level of trust in the government. 

If we can’t win – or if the public has lost faith – how can we switch up the reality? It requires out-of-the-box thinking. Fortunately, the box is on the table if only our government has the guts to open it.

The answer lies to the east – in Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. 

I was never a supporter of the original 2002 Arab Peace Initiative. But Saudi Arabia has changed – or is trying to. Yes, it’s still a repressive regime, but the Saudis have been on a years-long quest to tamp down the radical Salafism and Wahhabism strains in their kingdom.

Saudi Arabia wants to make nice to the West now and that includes transforming the country into something more like the United Arab Emirates, which is remarkable in its being both Arab and moderate and with an educational curriculum that doesn’t demonize Jews. 

Now, reports the nonprofit IMPACT-se, Saudi textbooks no longer teach that Zionism is a “racist” European movement and no longer deny the historical Jewish presence in the region. While the name “Israel” still does not appear on maps in their textbooks, neither does “Palestine.”

Saudi Arabia is broadly indicating it wants normalization with Israel, as evidenced by U.S. President Joe Biden’s presentation of Israel’s three-stage ceasefire and hostage release proposal.

Netanyahu doesn’t want the Palestinian Authority – revamped or otherwise – to gain a foothold in Gaza. But the Saudis and the Emiratis could do the job instead. The dream from immediately after 2005’s Disengagement from Gush Katif – that the Gaza Strip could become the “Singapore of the Middle East” – could be revived. It didn’t work then – Gazans destroyed the greenhouses Israel left behind and Hamas staged its violent coup two years later – but the Abraham Accords point the way to a different possible outcome.

Saudi Arabia has some big asks of Israel, including a credible pathway to a Palestinian state, that many Israelis (and the current government) vehemently oppose. Nor can we count on Hamas to agree to the proposed plan. But if we can’t win the war against Hamas, perhaps it’s time to take a chance with a different approach.

Critics will remind me about the 1993 Oslo Accords. We all know how that worked out. So, why would allowing the Saudis and the Emiratis into Gaza end any differently? 

But what other credible options do we have? Eternal military control of Gaza? The army has said that would increase mandatory army service from three to four years and cost billions of shekels. Defense Minister Yoav Galant has essentially said, “Over my dead body would I allow that to come to pass.”

Now, there’s no guarantee that the Saudis and the Emiratis would be interested in rebuilding and potentially governing the Gaza Strip. Saudi Arabia accusing Israel of “continuous genocidal massacres” isn’t a good look. There would have to be something financially lucrative in it for them.

Biden is staying optimistic. 

There is a clear path for a transition where the Arab states would provide security and reconstruction in Gaza in return for a longer-term commitment to a transition to a two-state solution,” the president said.

If Netanyahu were to embrace normalization with Saudi Arabia, it would change the entire region. It would secure Israel’s place in the middle of the Sunni Arab alliance against Iran and its proxies. 

Moreover, it might rehabilitate the prime minister’s tarnished image. Yes, his coalition would likely collapse, but he could finally retire, comfortable in the knowledge that he had cut previously unimaginable deals with former Arab adversaries.

A Saudi deal and the end of the war in Gaza could mitigate the attacks by the International Court of Justice (ICJ) and the International Criminal Court (ICC) on Israel and its leaders. It might lead the Israeli judges hearing Netanyahu’s trial on corruption and bribery charges to cut a more favorable plea deal. Without taking such a step, the prime minister could wind up in jail in Israel – or abroad if he deigns to step foot in one of the 120 countries that have pledged to detain him if the ICC decides to issue those arrest warrants.

An Israel perceived as working with the Arab world, that stopped the war (not out of defeat but because we have a better option), might stave off the pariah status we’re so clearly on the verge of entering. A new government that doesn’t platform right-wing extremists like Bezalel Smotrich and Itamar Ben-Gvir could return us to good governance. 

It’s not a slam dunk that Israel embracing steps towards regional integration would prompt anti-Israel protesters to start singing a tolerant tune. 

“It won’t be a total victory, as one simply does not exist,” writes Ben-Dror Yemini at Ynet

But it could help us heal our own fractured society while providing a path to hope for the Gazans who desperately need the kind of financial backing and re-education towards moderation that only the Saudis and the UAE can provide.

I first proposed a Saudi exit strategy in The Jerusalem Post.

Image by ekrem osmanoglu on Unsplash

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