After decades of seeming deadlock, there is a new and important change in the debate over a two-state solution.
When Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was elected in 2009, he adopted a policy to support a two-state solution to the Palestinian problem, except that Israel would no longer make major concessions to see it happen. Now, Israel appears to have a new defacto coalition partner making the same declaration.
He told Israeli news:
“For the past 40 years, the Palestinian leadership has missed opportunities again and again, and rejected all the offers it was given. It’s about time that the Palestinians accept the offers, and agree to come to the negotiating table — or they should shut up and stop complaining."
The crown prince’s declaration brings the kingdom’s position closer to the Trump administration’s position that the obdurate opposition of the Palestinian Authority is no longer going to drive Middle East policy. Other reports signal that both countries would no longer agree to Israeli concessions to move the peace process along.
It is critical to understand just how important this is. By effectively removing Palestinian statehood from being central to Middle East peace, Saudi Arabia instead join Israel, Egypt and the United States in seeing Iranian driven “mayhem” as a central Middle East challenge, especially Iran’s nuclear and missile programs.
This runs head on into the previous U.S. government position, which effectively argued that if Israel provided the Palestinians their own country made up of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, most terrorism that roils the Middle East would end.
Former President Clinton encapsulated this prevailing view in 2010 when he said such a two-state solution "will take about half the impetus in the whole world — not just the region, the whole world — for terror away. It would have more impact by far than anything else that could be done."
Some objected to this simplistic approach by noting that many states, like Iran, were also state sponsors of terrorism, but, by default, the West had adopted the idea that if the main complaint of the Palestinians — not having a state — could be resolved, then most terrorism would come to an end.
This led to a perpetual push for Israel and the United States to make serial concessions to coax the Palestinian leadership to come to the negotiating table. The PLO often took the concessions but did not really negotiate.
Before Netanyahu was elected, Israel tried the concessions route. Their troops left southern Lebanon in 1978, after trying to eliminate the sanctuaries from which Palestinian terror originated, only to see the establishment in the 1980s of an Iranian-aided Hezbollah militia that is now armed with thousands of rockets aimed at Israel.
But in 2009 the new Israeli Prime Minister stood Middle East politics on its head. While Israel would work to establish a two-state solution, there would be no more major concessions. It was time for the Palestinians to negotiate.
For Saudi Arabia, this step was apiece with its other domestic reform policies. It is cracking down on Saudi Arabians funding terrorist groups. The Muslim Brotherhood is being removed from its role in education. Women are securing greater rights.
Today, Saudi Arabia and United States both see Iranian aggression as a key security challenge in the region. Iran is, after all, the primary state sponsor of terrorism in the world, and has the region’s largest missile arsenal. All that on top of arming terror groups like the Houthis in Yemen, Hamas in Gaza, and Hezbollah in Lebanon and Syria.
The crown prince is indirectly helping the United States with another security challenge — North Korea. By working to end or significantly amend the Iranian nuclear deal, a strong message is being delivered to Pyongyang as well as Tehran.
First, Saudi Arabian officials have suggested that a deal that allows the mullahs to sprint to a nuclear weapons capability in 10 years is foolish in the extreme.
North Korea must not be led to ask for a similar deal like that too. And merely adopting a freeze on North Korea’s nuclear program would mean that the mullahs could demand they also should retain a nuclear weapons and missile capability. However small it might be in comparison to the United States nuclear arsenal, nonetheless a nuclear arsenal it would be.
What irony: the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia signaling a sea-change in Middle East policies on Iran that, when applied to North Korea, may simultaneously take down that nuclear threat as well.
That is, if we all play our diplomatic and military cards correctly.
Peter Huessy is the director of Strategic Deterrent Studies at the Mitchell Institute for Aerospace Studies of the Air Force Association. He is also the president of Geostrategic Analysis, a defense consulting firm.