In the coming weeks, United States President Donald Trump and his administration may be presenting their first Middle East peace plan. The hope is that it will include confidence-building measures between Israelis and Palestinians, as neither side currently seems willing or able to make the necessary concessions for peace.
I have previously made the case that the establishment of an International Fund for Israeli-Palestinian Peace can help ripen prospects for peace because it will allow ordinary Israelis and Palestinians to humanize each other and build mutual trust, thus giving their leaders the public support and push they need to make certain compromises. However, establishing an international peace fund may not just help build peace from the ground up, but could also allow President Trump’s initiative to acquire a regional dimension.
The Trump Administration has shown that it does not just want the “ultimate deal” to be between Israel and the Palestinians, but to also include the normalization of relations between Israel and the Sunni Arab states. Since becoming Chief Middle East Peace Adviser, Jared Kushner has taken four trips to the Middle East where he has not only met with leaders in Israel and the Palestinian Territories, but also with officials in Jordan, Egypt, and Saudi Arabia to discuss peace talks. Kushner’s ostensible objective is to create a situation in which Israel and the Arab states can establish full relations, allowing more open cooperation over common interests in the region, such as countering ISIS and Iran’s regional ambitions. The Arab states have publicly reciprocated these aspirations, such as when they endorsed John Kerry’s framework for peace last December. In addition, the Saudis recently invited Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas to Riyadh, supposedly to discuss and prepare for America’s upcoming peace plan after Kushner’s secret meeting with the Saudis.
The Alliance for Middle East Peace’s (ALLMEP) initiative for an International Fund for Israeli-Palestinian Peace may be the key to incorporating the Arab states into the Middle East peace process. Though the primary purpose of the fund is to support grassroots organizations facilitating people-to-people dialogue between Israelis and Palestinians, the draft proposes that the Arab states would contribute 25 percent to the fund’s $200 million budget, which would formalize their participation in the peace process and create the opportunity for a regional peace deal. The United States can lead the way in the creating an international peace fund by including it within its Middle East peace plan. As ALLMEP Executive Director Joel Braunold writes, America can leverage “U.S. dollars off those of the rest of the international community in the creation of an International Fund for Israeli-Palestinian Peace.”
The Arab states obviously have incentives to work with Israel over their common interests, but they will not commit to full normalization until Israel reaches a final status agreement with the Palestinians. By investing in the international fund, the Arab states will be able to facilitate an agreement between the two parties by supporting dialogue between Israelis and Palestinians as part of a regional agreement.
Moreover, including the Arab states within the international fund may enable them to participate more in peacebuilding on the ground. Just as peacebuilding between Israelis and Palestinians may allow their leaders to sign an agreement, the same can and should be done on the ground in the Arab states to give their leaders the support and push they need to sign a permanent peace accord with Israel. Currently, the vast majority of ALLMEP’s affiliates work in Israel and Palestine, but the international fund may create more partners throughout the Arab world. Take the Women Wage Peace movement’s march in October for example, where thousands of Israeli and Palestinian women marched for peace. Under a regional peacebuilding approach, Jordanian, Egyptian, and even Saudi women could join their Israeli and Palestinian sisters for peace in next year’s march as well.
The idea of an international peace fund was introduced to the U.S. Congress last February and now the time may be ripe to reopen the idea and include it in America’s Middle East peace plan. Doing so will enable the Israeli and Palestinian parties to build trust leading up to an agreement and prepare Israel and the Arab states to establish closer relations and work together in creating a more secure and peaceful environment throughout the region.