Israeli soldiers on a house in the West Bank, February 10 2021. Picture: REUTERS/MOHAMAD TOROKMAN
Israeli soldiers on a house in the West Bank, February 10 2021. Picture: REUTERS/MOHAMAD TOROKMAN

The news that the US intends restoring ties with the Palestinian Authority suggests a return to a more traditional approach to peacemaking in the Middle East — one that rejects the Trump administration’s view that US-Palestinian relations hardly matter. This shift makes sense, but it would have a better chance of succeeding if it were combined with parts of former president Donald Trump’s approach to the wider region.

Trump helped bring about warmer relations between Israel and several Arab states — a genuine achievement. Moves by the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Bahrain, Sudan and Morocco to officially normalise relations with Israel will make it easier for others to do the same. The deals have strengthened ties between moderate, pro-American leaders in the region and will encourage trade, travel and technological co-operation. It should also help unify efforts to contain Iran.

What they won’t do is directly advance the cause of peace with the Palestinians. Granted, the UAE conditioned its embrace on an Israeli promise to refrain from unilaterally annexing 30% of the West Bank, which would have dimmed any prospect for peace. But the other Arab countries ignored the Palestinian issue altogether. Indeed, in convincing the Trump administration to accept its disputed claims to the Western Sahara, Morocco made a legally dubious land grab of its own.

Arab states shouldn’t have to wait for the issue of Palestine to be resolved before improving their relations with Israel. They have their own strategic interests to defend and shouldn’t be obstructed by a sclerotic and divided Palestinian leadership. Yet, making peace one by one with Arab nations won’t resolve Israel’s fundamental dilemma — the fact that it can’t preserve its democratic and Jewish character without reaching a stable two-state settlement with the Palestinians.

The US helping ensure movement on one front leads to progress on the other. As Israel grows more comfortable with its neighbours it should find settling with the Palestinians more feasible. As a friend, the US can help it to keep that goal in sight. /New York, February 2

Bloomberg

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