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WORLD FOCUS: The ultimate deal

June 22, 2017
By FRANK SHATZ , Lake Placid News

According to numerous foreign policy experts, one of the main reasons for President Donald Trump's recent visit to Saudi Arabia, Israel and the West Bank was to open a new pathway to a peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinians.

Trump wants to be instrumental in concluding such an agreement. As he has proclaimed repeatedly, it would be for him the "ultimate deal."

The developing strategy to break decades of deadlock in the Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations is to enlist the Sunni Arab nations like Saudi Arabia, Egypt, the Gulf States and others in brokering a compromise peace agreement that both sides could live with.

What makes Trump's effort more plausible to succeed than the efforts of his predecessors in the White House is the changed situation on the ground. The Sunni Muslim Arab countries are now desperately trying to counter the attempt of Shiite-led Iran to become the dominant power in the Middle East.

Thus, according to Dennis Ross, a Middle East peace negotiator under Republican and Democratic presidents, during the last several years Israel's relations with Sunni Arab nations had grown closer because their shared concern about Iranian hegemony in the region.

Ross was quoted saying, "The logic of the recruiting Arab countries to help forge an agreement between Israelis and Palestinians, known as the 'outside-in" approach,' is that because the Palestinians are so weak and divided - and because there's a new, tacit relationship between the Sunni Arabs and Israel - there's the hope the Arabs would be prepared to do more."

Indicative of the changing attitude in the Sunni Arab world toward the need to end the Israeli-Palestinian conflict was the talk of Prince Turki Al-Faisal of Saudi Arabia, at the College of William & Mary in 2014.

Prince Turki's visit at the college was part of the 25th anniversary of the founding of the Reves Center for International Studies. In his speech, the prince, who for 23 years was the head of Saudi Arabia's General Intelligence Directorate, one of the most powerful positions in the government, reflected on "Saudi Views on Today's Middle East."

He pointed out that Saudi Arabia firmly believes that peace in the region will only be achieved through economic cooperation that is built on trust, dialogue and engagement.

"This is why Saudi Arabia will continue to take the lead in negotiating between conflicting parties and nations," he said.

In the course of an interview with the Lake Placid News and the Virginia Gazette, I asked the prince whether he would be interested in getting in touch with Yair Lapid, at that time serving as Israel's finance minister and seen as a leader in waiting. Yair's late father, Tomi Lapid, served as Israel's deputy prime minister and justice minister. He emigrated to Israel from Hungary, where he and I have been childhood friends.

Prince Turki expressed interest in exchanging views with Yair Lapid and directed me to get in touch with his staff. I did so, but apparently, the time for such an exchange was not ripe, yet.

In the wake of the Trump initiative, the political constellation in Israel is also in flux. Yair Lapid is now head of the centrist Yesh Atid party, the largest opposition party and is seen by many as a possible successor to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

In contrast to Netanyahu, who is reluctant to accept a "two states for two people" solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Lapid party's platform calls for an outline of "two states for two peoples," while maintaining the large Israeli settlement blocks and ensuring the safety of Israel.

"We are not looking for a happy marriage with the Palestinians but for a divorce agreement we can live with," Lapid said.

After meeting Mikhail Gorbachev, the Soviet leader, for the first time and negotiating with him, British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher proclaimed, "We can do business with Mr. Gorbachev."

Prince Turki may say the same thing after meeting Yair Lapid.


Frank Shatz's column was reprinted with permission from The Virginia Gazette. Shatz is a Lake Placid seasonal resident. He is the author of "Reports from a Distant Place," a compilation of his selected columns.



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