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Wednesday, May 17, 2017

This Wall Street Journal story is a bombshell that was drowned out by the many other bombshells that come out of Washington these days.
Arab Gulf states have offered to take concrete steps to establish better relations with Israel if Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will make a significant overture aimed at restarting the Middle East peace process, according to people briefed on the discussions.

The offer to the U.S. and Israel comes ahead of President Donald Trump’s trip to the Middle East. The potential steps include establishing direct telecommunications links with Israel, allowing overflight rights to Israeli aircraft, and lifting restrictions on some trade, said these people.

The Gulf countries, in turn, would require Mr. Netanyahu to make what they would consider to be a peace overture to the Palestinians. Such steps could include stopping construction of settlements in certain areas of the West Bank and allowing freer trade into the Gaza Strip.

The Arab states’ position, outlined in an unreleased discussion paper shared among several Gulf countries, is aimed in part at aligning them with Mr. Trump, who has stressed his desire to work with the Arab states to forge a Middle East peace agreement, the people said. Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates have informed the U.S. and Israel of their willingness to take such steps.
 The Gulf states’ initiative, according to the people briefed on it, underscores the vastly improved relations between Israel and the Gulf states in recent years, driven by their shared concerns about Iran and Islamic State.

We no longer see Israel as an enemy, but a potential opportunity,” said a senior Arab official involved in the discussions.

The article goes on to list many under-the-table examples of cooperation between Israel an the Arab world happening now.

The Gulf states have dropped their longstanding demand to wait for a "peace agreement" before establishing relations with Israel. They just want Israel to make some essentially moves to provide cover for the closer cooperation they want with Israel anyway.

In fact, they are no longer even demanding a full settlement freeze. 

The Arab nations are more pro-Likud than Obama!

Stopping settlement activity in "certain areas" of the West Bank? Israel already severely limits new construction almost everywhere outside existing blocs. Check.

Allowing freer trade into Gaza? Israel's already doing that too. Check.

Israel just has to provide yet another peace plan - one that everyone knows the Palestinians will refuse. But it will be enough for the Arab states to have diplomatic and public-relations cover to do what they want to do anyway.

The Arab states are slowly but surely signalling that they are more aligned with Israel's interests than with those of the Palestinians. The Palestinian issue is being crowded out. And the Palestinians see this very clearly. The only quote from a Palestinian official in the entire article was a very muted reaction:
“We don’t mind a good relationship between Israel and the Arab world,” said Husam Zomlot, the Palestine Liberation Organization’s representative in Washington. “[But] is this the entry to peace? Or is it the blocker?”
For all the the mixed messages coming from the White House about the Middle East, many of them troubling,  a lot of this is because of Trump's acceptance of Netanyahu's vision of a broader coalition of Sunni Arab states and Israel. For better or worse, Trump's shakeup of the US foreign policy is prompting moderate Arab allies to want to be on his good side. In this case, it could pay off, "big league."




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