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Shai Baitel

Shai Baitel

Posted: August 9, 2010 08:28 PM

A Middle Eastern Quid Pro Quo

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There is movement in the Middle East. Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu engages in shuttle diplomacy from Egypt and to Jordan, President Shimon Peres travels to Cairo as well and the Arab League endorses the need for direct talks between Israel and the Palestinians. The reason for this flurry of activity might lie in the encounter of President Barack Obama with Netanyahu in Washington in early July.

When the two leaders spoke to the press in the Oval Office after their one-on-one meeting both were all smiles. While both summarized their discussions we will not know for sure what both agreed to do until both write their autobiographies. At the heart of their meeting were a nuclear Iran and the stalled Israeli-Palestinian negotiations. Their political futures are inextricably linked to these issues and solving them will be mutually beneficial. But what might a possible deal they look like?

The key variable in the equation is the Arab countries. The Arab world is united against a nuclear Iran. They fear Iranian regional, Shiite hegemony bent on exporting the Revolution. Arab regimes struggle for survival also internally through the challenge by radical groups seeking to overthrow the political order.

At the same time the Arab world would be as united against Israel and up in arms -- literally and figuratively -- should Israel be pressed to preemptively strike Iran. Even though Shiite, it is a Muslim state and Muslim solidarity still counts in the Arab street. Additionally, Tehran has been doing a good job nurturing Hamas and Hezbollah to terrorize and intimidate their enemy Israel.

Convinced that the Iranian nuclear program needs to be stopped and resigned to the fact that the recently enacted sanctions will not be effective, Obama and Netanyahu will have decided on a bold and mutually beneficial equation. The Arabs need to acquiesce to an Israeli strike on Iran and this will be achieved through a fast-tracked Israeli-Palestinian peace accord.

At a recent event Netanyahu responded to the question that if direct negotiations with the Palestinians took place there would be a peace agreement within a year with a "Yes, I do. Yes, I do ... If it's up to me, we'll have an agreement."

This will come as a surprise to many observers who have doubted Netanyahu's sincerity and saw him struggle to utter the words 'two-state solution'. But it is smart politics, it makes sense. A rapid Israeli-Palestinian agreement, brokered by Obama and of historic significance, will obviously benefit both parties. The true achievement of an accord, however, is the cascade of events it will set off.

Obama, having secured a -- possibly the -- crucial foreign policy achievement will have forgotten that until this point he had seen his political fortunes dwindle after his high-profile outreach to the Muslim world at the start of his presidency lost steam. Netanyahu will have delivered him this achievement despite high political risk. Thus, Netanyahu will not blindside the White House but obtain a green light from Obama.

The Arab world will no longer be able to look at Israel as the enemy. Though astonished, they will understand the need to support the Palestinians who will have chosen to make peace with Israel.

Although risky, the benefits are clear and obvious. The U.S. will have been able to leave it to Israel to do the dirty job in Iran. Obama will have joined the exclusive club of Middle East peace makers by having brokered an Israeli-Palestinian accord. The Arabs will have regained confidence in Obama.

For Israel the Iranian threat will have been stalled or removed. Whatever the peace accord with the Palestinians might look like it will be a huge step forward for both, with the Jewish state next to a Palestinian state. Arabs will normalize relations with Israel.

The Palestinians will have fulfilled the dream of a state, supported by the international community and the Arab world. Hamas will be weakened with its patron in Tehran in dire straits after an Israeli strike.

The Arabs will have seen the dreaded threat of a nuclear Iran aspiring to regional hegemony removed and normalization with Israel with benefits in many spheres. This scenario, a fast-tracked Israeli-Palestinian accord neutralizes the Arab world in case of a preemptive Israeli strike to prevent a nuclear Iran, is what Obama and Netanyahu will have or at least should have decided on before they addressed the press in the Oval Office with knowing smiles.