In the face of Iranian aggression and the possible signing of a nuclear agreement, Israel must pave the way toward another new agreement that will change the face of the entire region: Abraham Accords 2.0. The tripartite interest is clear, but so is the difficulty for each of the leaders. They need courage now to act in a way that will ensure the future of Israel. Amos Yadlin offers a vision for this Passover.
During Passover two years ago, Israel was about to annex large territories in Judea and Samaria — a step that was quite controversial among its people and threatened to divide Israel and the international and Arab communities. Visionary political leaders from the United Arab Emirates, the United States and Israel proposed a different way to promote peace and the status of Israel in the region and the world — a normalization of relations over several months that culminated with the signing of the Abraham Accords on the White House lawn.
This Passover, can we look squarely into the future and form a more farsighted vision, the Abraham Accords 2.0? This kind of agreement would expand the circle of peace to another important Arab state, improve our ability to deal with Iran, and return Israel to the correct path, a path that would ensure its existence as a Jewish and democratic state, securely and ethically. Apparently, the timing is not right given recent terrorism in Israeli cities, an Israeli government without a majority in the Knesset and global attention focused on the war in eastern Europe. That said, even during difficult days, it is important to look to a strategic horizon and test taking action based on two findings and breakthroughs.
The Missing Component at the Negev Summit
The current crisis that Russia initiated in Ukraine again reminds us of the horrors of war. The war is undermining economic security, energy prices are soaring and food is becoming more expensive. There is a problematic nuclear agreement with Iran that is nearly complete and that threatens to strengthen those who want to undermine regional stability; countries in the region are asking themselves if the United States is a dependable ally. However, there is, in fact, an opportunity within reach among these challenges to raise the level of security and peace in the Middle East.
Almost a month before Passover, an unprecedented summit took place following the strengthening and deepening of normalized relationships between Israel and Arab states. The summit was held at Sde Boker, a kibbutz in the heart of the Negev desert, where David Ben-Gurion, Israel’s founding father, settled. It was there that Ben-Gurion formulated the principles of security for Israel, something that served as a pioneering model, and a personal and government example. Foreign ministers from Israel, Egypt, the United Arab Emirates, Morocco, Bahrain and the United States attended the conference. The participants included the first Arab country to sign a peace agreement with Israel and the other signatories of the Abraham Accords. Jordan was conspicuously absent.
However, it is worthwhile to exploit the potential of this special conference with the absence of one important Arab state: Saudi Arabia. It is difficult to bring Saudi Arabia to the conference because of its unstable relationship with the United States, along with its demands regarding the Palestinian issue. The current wave of terrorism demonstrates how difficult it is to move forward. The Palestinian leadership is divided having entrenched itself in conditioning the widening of Israel-Arab relations on a political breakthrough with regard to its issues. The leadership is being silenced during the final days of the Abu-Mazen government and a difference in positions regarding the recent wave of terrorism. We must wait on that leadership and accept its veto on designing the future.
For the United States, Saudi Arabia and Israel, there is a historic opportunity to change the face of the Middle East through an Abraham Accords 2.0, which would be a “win-win-win” for all sides. Just as the Abraham Accords provided all sides an opportunity to advance their critical interests, Abraham Accords 2.0 must be based on the same logic: Each of the sides — the United States, Saudi Arabia and Israel — must make a significant contribution to advancing the important key issues for the other sides and, therefore, to advancing its own long-range interests.
The Interests of the Leaders
Leadership is tested by its ability to make difficult decisions. Today’s leaders must rise above traditional narratives, the preferences of their “base” and half the street and offer daring and breakthrough initiatives for advancing issues of strategic preference with long-range implications.
President Joe Biden has a rare opportunity to prove to his allies that the United States is a reliable partner and to advance America’s important interests: regional peace, stability and security, improved positions for dealing with Russia, reduced energy prices and competition with China in the Middle East and beyond. Washington must act to correct its relations with the Gulf states, which are disappointed with America’s passive stand against Iranian aggression, strengthen its defensive capabilities and promote a regional air defense architecture against missiles, unmanned aerial vehicles and terrorist threats by Iran. The United States must provide security guarantees that will prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons by any means despite the sunset clauses in the agreement and ensure that the agreement with Iran with respect to nuclear weapons will not prevent it from dealing with Tehran’s regional aggression.
For Prime Minister Naftali Bennett and Foreign Minister Yair Lapid, whose government is currently facing a test for survival, there is an opportunity to reach peace with a large Arab state such as Saudi Arabia and, accordingly, solidify Israel’s position in the region. This type of agreement would strengthen the U.S. commitment to deal more actively with Iran, its nuclear program and its regional aggression, and ensure the future of Israel as a Jewish and democratic state.
Israel must contribute its technological and operational capabilities to an air defense alliance in the Middle East, which, together with the United States, would defend the entire region from Iranian aggression. Its contribution would likely include intelligence, cybersecurity, overhead imaging, training and advanced intercept systems for its Arab neighbors. The alliance is not a Middle Eastern NATO with an “article 5” that would require Israeli soldiers to defend other countries or vice versa. However, it would have a defensive structure that is legitimate and necessary for the moment when Iranian missiles and UAVs attack Arab countries, Israel and U.S. forces in the Middle East.
In order to make it easier for Saudi Arabia to join Abraham Accords 2.0, Israel must take confidence-building steps toward the Palestinian Authority. Even the Saudis understand that two states for two peoples is unrealistic. Palestinians do not want and are not capable of such a necessary historic compromise, and the extremists led by Hamas completely reject this. The Americans and Saudis know that Israel will not compromise its security, which requires an uncompromising war against terrorism and keeps the Jordan River as its security border. In addition, Israel can take steps to improve the economic status of the Palestinians, reduce the motivation for terrorism and maintain an option for future agreements.
It is important that Israel encourage support and financing for accelerated economic projects in Judea and Samaria — a “Marshall Plan” — to include infrastructure initiatives, establishment of new Palestinian cities, and investment in energy, water, communications, the Palestinian hi-tech sector and the international sector to bring an end to the attacks against Israel at the Hague and other international institutions.
Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman can improve relations with the United States, promote positive steps toward a two-state solution, improve Saudi Arabia’s capability to defend itself against Iranian attacks and secure American guarantees that Iran will never acquire nuclear weapons. He has already indicated that he sees Israel as a potential partner, but in order to gain Saudi participation in any official political and security alliance that includes Israel, there must be significant progress on the Palestinian issue.
If Israel would take the steps mentioned above, Saudi Arabia would join the Abraham Accords 2.0. In the interest of the United States, Saudi Arabia would increase its oil production in order to lighten the global energy crisis. Its financial strength following the rise of oil prices will allow it to contribute to the development and deployment of a next-generation air defense system in the region and to support a Marshall Plan in the West Bank. Biden could invite King Salman and the Crown Prince to the White House for the signing of a peace accord with Israel and, with that, rehabilitate relations between Saudi Arabia and the United States.
Of course, it would be difficult for Biden to invite bin Salman, who is an outcast in Washington. It would also be difficult for Bennett, particularly in light of the wave of terrorism and other recent political developments, to make any significant gestures to the Palestinians; it is also difficult for the Saudis to join a peace accord before a full solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is achieved. Each of the leaders — the president, prime minister and crown prince — will each contribute to significant achievements: expanding the circle of peace, strengthening the status of the United States, establishing a reliable and effective alliance against Iran’s nuclearization and aggression, promoting conditions for a future political solution between Israel and the Palestinians, Palestinian economic development, lightening the global energy crisis, and most importantly, strengthening trust among leaders and between the Arab, American and Israeli peoples in a bold and far-reaching vision.