Since the outset of the Oslo process and through Camp David, Annapolis, and the Kerry round, negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians have involved outside mediators attempting to help in bridging the two sides' differences, but no other actors have been parties to an eventual deal. In recent years, however, both Israel and the Palestinians have recognized the potential benefits of bringing in new parties - specifically the Arab states in the region - in order to create pressures and opportunities.
For Israel, the security and economic benefits of a wider regional deal that would finally integrate Israel into the region in a meaningful way begin to outweigh the high risk-low reward paradigm with which the Netanyahu government has viewed a permanent status agreement with the Palestinians alone. In addition, bringing states like Egypt and Jordan who have influence on Abbas and the Palestinian Authority into the process makes it harder for Abbas to reject a reasonable and fair deal due to political considerations.
From the Palestinian perspective, having Arab states at the table equalizes a negotiating process in which the Palestinians feel like they have been outgunned and are always dealing from a position of weakness, and also makes it harder for Israel to make what the Palestinians view as unwarranted demands.
As envisioned by the Arab Peace Initiative, negotiations that proceed along parallel tracks - one between Israel and the Palestinians, another between Israel and regional Arab states - make it easier for both parties to say yes to an agreement and raise the costs of walking away from the table without a deal.
The Arab Peace Initiative, which enjoys broad vocal support from the region's Arab leaders, should serve as an action plan to further two parallel tracks: improved Israeli-Arab relations alongside advancements toward Israeli-Palestinian peace.
The United States and Israel should aim to work with key Arab states - namely, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and the United Arab Emirates - to provide a number of critical contributions to reinvigorate a regional and bilateral 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, STEP-BY-STEP 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.
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.
The Arab states can serve to revive the stalled efforts to bolster Palestinian institutions in preparation for eventual statehood, as well as encouraging private initiatives to contribute financially and otherwise.
Arab states could begin opening up investment and other business opportunities for Palestinian and Israeli entrepreneurs.
BOLSTERING REGIONAL SECURITY
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 across borders.