The Region


The threats posed by the Syrian Civil War, ISIS, and Iran’s regional influence have created an unprecedented alignment of interests between Israel and key Arab states. It would be a mistake to assume these mutual interests will remain in place indefinitely.

EXPERT: NIMROD NOVIK


Nimrod Novik is the Israel Fellow for the Israel Policy Forum (IPF). In addition to Israeli security and political circles, Novik maintains close contacts with the Egyptian intelligence community; Jordanian security establishment; Palestinian political leadership and Saudi security experts, as well as with senior US, European, UN and other relevant officials dealing with Middle East policy.

Prior to that, for close to a decade he served as Advisor on Foreign Policy to Shimon Peres during his tenure as Prime Minister and Vice Premier. During those years he was involved in all foreign policy matters including negotiations with Arab leaders; negotiations with Moscow over Soviet Jewry, restoring bilateral relations and establishing intelligence cooperation, as well as Middle East policy, and with Beijing over establishing diplomatic relations. He thence served as a Special Ambassador of the State of Israel and an Advisor to the Israeli National Security Council.

Novik is a member of the board of CIS (Commanders for Israel’s Security); and the Board of Governors of the Peres Academic Center.

The Opportunity

EGYPT AND JORDAN

Already, Egypt and Jordan enjoy high levels of security and intelligence cooperation and coordination with Israel as a result of their respective peace treaties and shared border concerns. Egypt and Jordan have an interest in further deepening their close cooperation with Israel, but each must also respond to public sentiment. So long as the Palestinian issue risks sparking unrest and violence, cooperation with Israel will remain quiet and limited in nature


SEIZING THE OPPORTUNITY

Seizing the opportunity posed by Israel-Arab shared interests, and developing the kind of intelligence and security cooperation that could be essential to effectively fight the radical forces of ISIS and to promote regional security and stability, requires responsibly addressing the Israeli-Palestinian issue and preventing it from becoming a new source of regional unrest.

Arab Peace Initiative

Israel has never formally responded to the Arab Peace Initiative (API). The API, first introduced in 2002, and reendorsed by the Arab League subsequently, offers Israel normal relations following a comprehensive peace agreement. Today, it deserves a new look by Israel and the United States as a vehicle for Israel-Arab dialogue and Israeli-Palestinian peacemaking. Developments in recent years have revived the API’s relevance:

THE ACCEPTANCE OF LAND SWAPS

In the Spring of 2013 the Arab League accepted “comparable and mutually agreed minor swaps of the land,” as part of the API. This removes the previously unacceptable demand that Israel return to the 1967 Green Line and signals that the API should not be considered a take-it-orleave-it proposition.


REFUGEES

Some Israelis have criticized the API’s insistence on “a just solution to the Palestinian refugee problem to be agreed upon in accordance with U.N. General Assembly Resolution 194” interpreting the reference to UNGA 194 as a call for the full return of Palestinian refugees to Israel, upending Israel’s future as both a Jewish and democratic state. In recent years, representatives of the Saudi royal family and other Arab actors have underscored that the phrase “agreed upon” signals a recognition that any resolution to the issue of refugees requires both Israeli and Palestinian consent, acknowledging that a full-scale return of Palestinian refugees and their descendants is not in the cards.


SYRIAN CONFLICT

The API as issued in 2002 calls on Israel to withdraw “from all the territories occupied since 1967, including the Syrian Golan Heights to the lines of June 4, 1967 as well as the remaining occupied Lebanese territories in the south of Lebanon.” The Syrian conflict has created a mutual interest in Israel’s maintaining its long-term presence on the Golan Heights. By responding to the API in this current environment, Israel will find an Arab League that is not encumbered by the views of Syria or its Hezbollah partners and potentially prepared to further amend the API accordingly.

The API as an Action Plan, not a Trophy


Today, an agreement based on a land for peace formula with the Palestinians alone will not provide Israel with the security guarantees or regional integration that are necessary to forge a lasting, sustainable peace. Against the backdrop of regional unrest, and a weakened Palestinian leadership with an uncertain future, an effort to regionalize the Israeli-Palestinian peace process would be especially opportune.

Israel - with the encouragement and support of the United States - should welcome the API as a basis for discussion, with the aim of transforming it from a trophy to be received after an Israeli-Palestinian agreement into an action plan that advances two parallel tracks: IsraeliArab relations alongside advancements toward Israeli-Palestinian peace. The United States and Israel should aim to work with key Arab states to provide a number of critical contributions to reinvigorate a regional process:

A POLITICAL 'UMBRELLA' TO THE PALESTINIAN SIDE

By serving as a chaperone for the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO), Arab states can somewhat redress the imbalance between the government of Israel and the less potent PLO. Furthermore, at a time when the future of the Palestinian Authority leadership is uncertain, engaging regional actors now could be especially critical in ensuring a of support for continuity when future Palestinian leaders emerge.


TANGIBLE PROGRESS

Israel and the Arab states could together create a coordinated ‘zipper’ of pre-agreed mutual confidence-building measures to begin to demonstrate tangible progress and genuine intentions.


CHECK SPOILERS

Coordinated efforts will be essential to counter Hamas, Hezbollah, Palestinian Islamic Jihad, and the newer hostile players in proximity to the Israeli-Palestinian theatre such as ISIS affiliates.


PALESTINIAN STATE BUILDING

The Arab states can serve to revive the stalled efforts to bolster Palestinian institutions in preparation for eventual statehood, as well as encourage private initiatives to contribute financially and otherwise.


BUSINESS OPPORTUNITIES

Arab states could begin open up investment and other business opportunities for, Palestinian and Israeli entrepreneurs.


CONTRIBUTE TO REGIONAL SECURITY

Alongside progress toward the creation of a two-state reality on the path toward an eventual two-state agreement, Israel and the Arab states should engage in a process to create a regional security framework, designed to improve security and intelligence cooperation in order to promote security and stability throughout the region.