In Israel, Blinken is Betting on the Wrong Peace Process
It makes no sense for Anthony Blinken to create a linkage between advancing regional normalization and the moribund Israeli-Palestinian peace process.
U.S. Secretary of State Anthony Blinken spent two days visiting Israel and the West Bank. After meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Blinken said that normalization is “not a substitute for progress between Israelis and Palestinians.” In other words: Washington wants to tether Israel’s warming relations with the wider Arab world to the progress of negotiations with the Palestinians that have gone nowhere for the last fifteen years.
By linking these two efforts, Blinken is likely guaranteeing the failure of both.
The historic Abraham Accords agreements were signed with fanfare in 2020 on the south lawn of the White House, ushering in a new era of peace and cooperation between Israel, the United Arab Emirates, and Bahrain. Sudan and Morocco soon followed suit. A regional tectonic shift, the agreements opened the doors to new embassies, direct flights, a free trade agreement, and an influx of Israeli tourists—in particular to the UAE. The accords also seemed to signal a thawing of ties between Israel and Saudi Arabia, which last year agreed to allow Israeli aircraft to use Saudi airspace.
When the Abraham Accords were announced, the Palestinian leadership expressed outrage, further complicating their already strained relations with the UAE. Palestinian rejectionism is nothing new—the Palestinian Authority (PA) wants to be the gatekeeper for Israeli access to the Arab world, blocking normalization unless it’s on Ramallah’s terms.
But waiting for the PA means waiting forever. Palestinians see the PA as both corrupt and incapable of preserving law and order. It has no mandate to make the difficult compromises necessary for peace with Israel. Israelis know they have no credible partner with whom to negotiate peace, so no prime minister has the mandate to make painful concessions. The parties of the “peace camp,” once a powerful force, barely garnered enough votes last year to sit in the Israeli Knesset.
Four Israeli prime ministers from different political parties offered compromises in the name of peace over the years, but Palestinian leaders rejected them all. Rather than laying the groundwork for peace, the PA’s education system is rife with incitement to violence: Palestinian schoolbooks have erased Israel from the map, and the PA continues rewarding terrorists and their families with handsome salaries for killing and maiming Jews.
PA President Mahmoud Abbas—who is now entering the eighteenth year of his four-year term—is eighty-seven years old and deeply unpopular. More than three-quarters of West Bank Palestinians want him to resign. But the PA’s troubles don’t end there. The West Bank is facing the deadliest increase in violence since the Second Intifada (2000–2005), with more Israelis killed in the West Bank in almost a decade and more Palestinian fatalities since 2007.
Against this backdrop, it makes no sense for Blinken to create a linkage between advancing regional normalization and the moribund Israeli-Palestinian peace process. Instead, the United States should be working furiously to decouple the two.
The normalization track has particular value for Washington because it is building a robust regional alliance to serve as a bulwark against Iran.
President Joe Biden has reiterated time and again that he will not allow Iran to acquire nuclear weapons. However, a recent analysis by the Institute for Science and International Security estimates that Iran is dangerously close to breakout capacity. A nuclear Iran threatens not only threatens Israel but also U.S. allies and assets in the Gulf and beyond. If Iran becomes a nuclear power, it will set off a nuclear arms race in the region and super-charge the many proxy militias that Iran has funded around the Middle East.
As Iran barrels towards nuclear capabilities, and with America’s attention and resources drawn to pressing global threats like the war in Ukraine and the threat from China, Blinken should focus on rallying a coalition to share the work of deterring and containing Iran. In that coalition, Israel is the only country that has credible options for the use of force to prevent a nuclear Iran.
By placing an unnecessary emphasis on Israel’s domestic issues and the elusive dream of Palestinian statehood, Blinken underscored an apparent fissure between the U.S. and its strongest and most capable Middle Eastern ally. But there is still time for the Biden administration to reevaluate its strategy and set its priorities straight: national security and regional stability before the national cause of a hapless Palestinian Authority.
Enia Krivine is the senior director of the Israel Program and the FDD National Security Network at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies. Follow Enia on Twitter at @EKrivine.
Jonathan Conricus is an advisor to the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, focusing on the Middle East, terrorism, media, and information warfare. Follow Jonathan on Twitter at @jconricus.