Gaza ceasefire and beyond: Arab states plan broader initiative with Israel incentive

Haitham Nouri , Thursday 18 Jan 2024

Arab nations are actively developing an initiative aimed at securing a ceasefire and the release of captives in Gaza.

Israeli army vehicles
A picture taken from southern Israel on the border with the Gaza Strip shows Israeli army vehicles driving on a road in Gaza on January 18, 2024, amid the ongoing Israeli war on the Strip. AFP

 

This forms part of a comprehensive plan that could potentially lead to Israel normalizing relations. The condition for this normalization involves Israel committing to "irreversible" steps in creating a Palestinian state, as reported by The Financial Times.

A senior Arab official disclosed to the FT that there are hopes to present this plan, which includes the prospect of Saudi Arabia formalizing ties with Israel, within a few weeks to bring an end to the Israeli war on Gaza.

According to the unnamed senior Arab official who spoke to the FT, discussions about the plan have taken place with the US and European governments. The plan encompasses Western nations formally recognizing a Palestinian state or supporting full UN membership for the Palestinians.

On Wednesday, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken characterized the Israeli war on Gaza as "gut-wrenching." He emphasized the need for a Palestinian state that collaborates effectively with Israel to meet the desires of its people.

Blinken proposed a deal to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, envisioning Saudi Arabia normalizing relations with Israel in exchange for Israel facilitating a pathway for Palestinian statehood. In response, Netanyahu expressed his unwillingness to make a deal allowing for a Palestinian state, as reported by NBC News.

Blinken conveyed that Hamas could not be removed through military means alone and warned that failure by Israeli leaders to recognize this reality could lead to a repetition of history, according to The Times of Israel.

Further discussions unfolded between Blinken and Netanyahu after commitments were secured from Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and four other Arab leaders to aid Gaza's reconstruction and support the return of a reformed Palestinian Authority to the Strip, as stated by NBC News.

Bin Salman informed Blinken of his readiness to normalize relations with Israel as part of the Gaza Strip's rebuilding, contingent on Israeli steps toward Palestinian sovereignty, according to two US officials cited by The Times of Israel.

The requests Netanyahu reportedly agreed to included refraining from launching a major attack against Hezbollah in Lebanon and permitting a team of UN officials into Gaza to assess conditions for the return of Palestinians to their homes in the northern Strip.

When asked on Tuesday about Riyadh's potential recognition of Israel as part of a broader political agreement, Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan asserted, "Certainly." He emphasized that regional peace for Israel could only materialize through peace for the Palestinians via a Palestinian state, as reported by FT.

Princess Reema bint Bandar al-Saud, Saudi Arabia's ambassador to the United States, stated in Davos, Switzerland, that the Kingdom cannot engage in talks about recognizing Israel until there is a ceasefire in Gaza. She highlighted that the kingdom prioritizes peace and prosperity over normalization, emphasizing the need to address ongoing violence before contemplating the future.

In an interview with Fox News in September, the Saudi Crown Prince remarked that "every day we get closer" to a deal, while underscoring the significance of the Palestinian issue for Riyadh. However, a source familiar with the normalization talks informed AFP one week after October 7 that Saudi Arabia had temporarily paused the process.

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