Will Israel move toward 2030, or stay stuck in 1967?

Will Israel move toward 2030, or stay stuck in 1967?

US President Joe Biden said it was time for the Gaza war to end and laid out the details of a three-phase peace plan (File/AFP)
US President Joe Biden said it was time for the Gaza war to end and laid out the details of a three-phase peace plan (File/AFP)
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In case you missed the headline, or saw it but thought you might have misread it, allow me to repeat: the Middle East — despite all its woes, wars and wounds — still has a chance to “change for the better.”

These enthusiastic words are not mine, but are rather what the US Ambassador to Saudi Arabia, Michael Ratney, repeatedly told Arab News in an exclusive interview this week with our flagship talk show “Frankly Speaking.”

The ambassador acknowledged that the word “historic” was a cliche, but still insisted on using it to describe a proposed new Saudi-US pact that would give birth to a written security agreement, normalize ties, integrate Israel into the region and guarantee Palestinians a state. “All the elements … are of extraordinary value,” he said. “The real value is taking it all together.” Such comments from a US ambassador are a big thing, which is why they were quickly translated into Arabic and widely shared online. Moreover, Ratney is not just any ambassador: before Riyadh, he served in the US Embassy in Israel and, in total, has devoted nearly three decades to trying to resolve Middle Eastern conflicts and counter violent extremism.

A few days after our interview, US President Joe Biden said it was time for the Gaza war to end and laid out the details of a reasonable three-phase peace plan: an initial six-week ceasefire for the release of Israeli hostages and Palestinian prisoners, negotiations for a permanent end to all hostilities, and finally the reconstruction of the devastated Gaza Strip. Some, including me, might argue that this is all too little, too late, but let’s be realistic too: it is better late than never.

Those who burn American flags and think that by boycotting hamburgers and caramel lattes they are serving the Palestinian cause are delusional if they believe that any peace deal or regional stability can be achieved without the deployment of the carrots and sticks available only to the US. The fact is, America remains the world’s most significant superpower and it alone has leverage over Israel.

On the subject of Israel, eight months after this war began, all that Benjamin Netanyahu and his war Cabinet have managed to achieve is a human-made famine, the loss of approaching 40,000 Palestinian lives — mostly civilians, women and children — and the reduction of Gaza’s infrastructure to debris and rubble.

They have achieved none of their stated war aims: the hostages remain in captivity, Israel is no safer and, as for eradicating Hamas — well, the Israeli prime minister and his right-wing extremist government may well have sown the seeds and applied the fertilizer that will grow into Hamas 2.0 in generations to come.

That would be nothing new for Netanyahu: in fact, it would be a continuation of his policy for the past 16 years, which has sought to empower Hamas and discredit the legitimate Palestinian Authority in the West Bank. Again, don’t take my word for it but take it from Tal Schneider, The Times of Israel columnist who wrote an op-ed published the day after the Oct. 7 attack on Israel under the headline: “For years, Netanyahu propped up Hamas. Now it’s blown up in our faces.”

That newspaper also reported recently that Saudi Arabia was removing antisemitic materials from educational curriculums. This should not be surprising; it is not new and the Kingdom’s Education Ministry seldom gets credit for the incredible work done so far. The truth is that Saudi reforms have been underway since 2016 and the Kingdom is ensuring that its entire ecosystem reflects its long-standing point of view — which is that the issue with Israel is not religious, it is a land dispute and, once it is resolved, there will be recognition, reconciliation and rewards for both sides.

This newspaper, for example, has published reports celebrating Judaism as part and parcel of our social fabric as Arabs; we were the first to wish Jews “Shana Tova,” or happy new year; and we have published interviews and columns by leading rabbis and community leaders from Ronald Lauder to Deborah Lipstadt, Biden’s envoy for combating antisemitism. In fact, it is the actions and rhetoric on the Israeli side that need to be monitored and accounted for.

As The New York Times writer Tom Friedman put it in a column published last month, Saudi Arabia and Israel are now “trading places” in terms of how they are viewed by the US. While elected Israeli officials are calling for Gaza to be nuked and citing biblical references that they claim justify the killing of women, children and even animals, Saudi officials are pushing for peace, investing in artificial intelligence and sending the first female Arab Muslim astronaut into space.

With our compass set to 2030, Saudi Arabia is determined to keep progressing and longtime partners such as the US are invited to be part of the journey.

Israel, too, has a pending invitation and could benefit greatly from being part of the 2030 club. Saudi Arabia offers legitimacy and Arab/Muslim world recognition, along with its huge diplomatic weight and vast international relations network to support the legitimate Palestinian Authority in being a peaceful and prosperous neighbor to Israel — which simply has to choose between being stuck in 1967 or boarding the bullet train toward 2030 with the rest of us. All Israel needs to do is end the hostilities, trust in Biden’s peace plan and recognize that only by allowing a legitimate Palestinian state to exist can it guarantee its security and end its isolation, which is increasing on a daily basis.

  • Faisal J. Abbas is the editor-in-chief of Arab News.

    X: @FaisalJAbbas

Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not necessarily reflect Arab News' point of view