Israel as a Jewish Democracy Can Only Be Saved by Saudi Arabia and Israeli Arabs
President Biden’s trip to the Middle East is fantastic. The United States has long been a key player in pushing the peace process there.
But as someone who has watched this region for years, I can tell you that I’m now noticing something new, something hilarious and unexpected: America is not the country that can save Israel as a Jewish democracy today; it’s Saudi Arabia and the Israeli Arabs.
They can have a democratic state in Israel and the West Bank, but over time, with high Arab birthrates, it may not be Jewish. This is because, for many reasons, Israeli Arab voters and Saudi Arabia have more leverage than ever to force Israelis to choose.
In Israel and the West Bank, they can have a Jewish state, but it won’t be democratic. Alternately, they could establish a democratic, Jewish state, but it couldn’t occupy the West Bank indefinitely.
Since Israel’s military conquest of the West Bank and East Jerusalem in 1967, it has had to make those grave decisions. However, Israel has become increasingly unwilling to make a decision.
As a result, during Israel’s most recent four elections in the space of two years, both the right and left major parties completely disregarded the entire “Palestinian dilemma.” That worried me.
It doesn’t have to be the case when Israel returns to the polls on November 1 for the seventh vote in less than four years.
Saudi Arabia and Israeli Arabs can now take the lead in that position, and I hope they will, despite the fact that America has grown weary of the acrimonious and frustrating process of cajoling Israelis and Palestinians into a two-state solution. It might determine if Israel continues to be a democratic and Jewish state.
What makes sense? Start with the information that is most obvious. If Israel continues to permanently occupy the West Bank, which is home to over 2.7 million Palestinians, it will not be a viable democracy.
While Palestinians are governed by a different military code and have significantly fewer rights and chances to own land, create houses and businesses, communicate, travel, and organize politically, Jews living in the West Bank are subject to Israeli law.
Although this occupation is not the same as apartheid in South Africa, it is an ugly cousin and morally damaging to Israel as a Jewish democracy. The younger generations of American Jews and Israel’s liberal allies are becoming so alienated by it that Joe Biden might end up being the last pro-Israel Democratic president if it continues.
Of course, Israel is not the sole cause of this impasse, and the progressives and Palestinian propagandists who spread that lie on university campuses are lying. The credibility of the Israeli peace camp was severely damaged by the second Palestinian uprising in 2000.
]After Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak and US President Bill Clinton made peace overtures to Yasir Arafat to form a demilitarized Palestinian state in much of the West Bank and East Jerusalem, which Arafat refused, that rebellion set off a wave of suicide bombings against Israeli Jews. Israeli insecurity was only made worse by the ongoing rocket assaults from Gaza launched by Hamas.
But a disproportionate number of American proponents of Israel were silent during Benjamin Netanyahu’s 12 years in office. While working to prevent the establishment of a two-state solution by establishing Jewish settlers deep inside the West Bank, beyond the Israeli barrier wall, in regions necessary for any future Palestinian state, Netanyahu did everything in his power to undermine the Palestinian Authority as a potential peace partner. He never gave it credit for its crucial efforts to stop Palestinian violence against Israelis.
The Palestinians, on the other hand, shot themselves in the foot by severing ties with the most successful, trustworthy, and respected Palestinian Authority prime minister in history, Salam Fayyad, who led the organization from 2007 to 2013. Hamas, an Islamic fundamentalist organization, now controls Gaza.
When you add it all together, it becomes clear why the four most recent Israeli elections disregarded the existential danger that the Jewish state continues to face from its occupation of the West Bank. Out of sight, out of mind, was the general consensus.
And it’s understandable why the United States stopped being actively involved in the region until President Donald Trump granted his son-in-law, Jared Kushner, carte blanche to advance his own agenda.
The short version of the long narrative is that Kushner’s two-state solution proposal was rejected by both Netanyahu and the Palestinians. Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed, the leader of the United Arab Emirates, suggested full peace, trade, and tourism with Israel in exchange for Israel agreeing not to unilaterally annexe territory in the West Bank that was allotted to Israel in the Trump plan, acting on the advice of his ambassador to the United States, Yousef al-Otaiba.
Thus, the 2020 Abraham Accords were established, under which the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Morocco, and Sudan established diplomatic ties with Israel.
The U.A.E. played a crucial role in accelerating this arrangement. It is very beneficial for the Middle East to resemble the European Union more than the Syrian Civil War.
But the United Arab Emirates and its other Abraham Accord signatories have mainly refrained from getting involved in Israeli-Palestinian problems.
They don’t have great regard for the Palestinian leadership and don’t want to get involved in the whole mess; instead, they seek to strengthen their position by engaging in trade and investment agreements with Israel’s high-tech industry. They believed their work was done when they persuaded Israel to refrain from annexing the West Bank.
And that gets me to Saudi Arabia. The big reward for Israel is peace with Saudi Arabia. It provides access to a vast pool of investment funds and opens the door to peace with the entire Sunni Muslim world.
Senior Saudi officials, though, have warned me that their assistance won’t be free. King Salman of Saudi Arabia, who is unwell, has always had a strong emotional connection to the Palestinian struggle. And the de facto ruler and his son, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (also known as M.B.S. ), are aware that if Saudi Arabia makes a hasty peace with Israel, Iran would exploit the situation to wage a global propaganda war against Saudi Arabia. It would look awful.
Israel and Saudi Arabia have been quietly discussing parameters for restoring relations despite these possible risks. I believe the Saudis will like such a moment to occur in two stages.
For instance, the Saudis may propose to establish a commercial trade office in Tel Aviv, which would benefit Saudi economic interests and “make a significant psychological gesture toward Israel,” according to Dennis Ross, a former U.S. Middle East envoy.
The Saudis could demand a significant concession in exchange, such as that Israel stop all settlement construction in the West Bank to the east of the Israeli security barrier and accept that negotiations with the Palestinians will be based on the Saudi-Arab peace plan for a two-state solution.
Since 80% of Israeli settlers now reside west of the barrier, such a pledge from Israel would prevent further settlement growth “on 92 percent of the West Bank, maintaining the option of two nations,” according to Ross.
The Saudis could promise to open an embassy to Israel in Tel Aviv and an embassy to the Palestinians in Ramallah, in the West Bank — or an embassy to Israel in West Jerusalem and an embassy to the Palestinians in Arab East Jerusalem — upon the end of the Israeli occupation and the signing of a peace agreement with the Palestinians.
Israel would have the option, but both countries would need to have embassies. Israel would also have to pledge to maintain the current situation on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem, which is revered by all Muslims.
Riyadh is anticipated to announce unrestricted privileges for Israeli airlines to fly over Saudi territory and direct charter flights from Israel for Muslims taking part in the annual hajj pilgrimage in Mecca in order to help President Biden demonstrate something for his trip to Saudi Arabia, which begins Friday. Reuters published the anticipated new flight privileges on Thursday.
I don’t anticipate Israel embracing any of these ideas, especially under the current caretaker administration. But I can absolutely assure you that if the Saudis made them known, they would be a major factor in Israel’s election on November 1 and contribute to the discussions and ingenuity required to keep Israel a democratic state.
Israeli Arabs can play a role in this because they could use the jolt from Saudi Arabia in the elections to their advantage.
Here is some basic math for the Israeli elections: Both the Israeli right-wing religious nationalist coalition and the Israeli center-left coalition no longer have enough support to form a stable governing majority on their own.
As a result, Israel keeps holding elections. As a result, Israel’s Orthodox Jewish religious parties have been supplanted by Israeli Arabs, who account for 21% of the country’s population and typically win roughly 12 seats in the Knesset.
Naftali Bennett, the last prime minister of Israel, was only able to form a small government with the support of the Israeli Arab religious group Raam.
I once again guarantee that the Israeli occupation of the West Bank—the biggest existential problem facing Israel—would be front and center in the upcoming elections if every Israeli Arab party made the declaration that it would only join a Jewish-led government if it agreed to negotiate with the Palestinians on the basis of the Saudi overtures.
And that’s how and why I contend that the only countries that can keep Israel a Jewish democracy are Saudi Arabia and the Israeli Arabs.