Events in recent weeks suggest that Israel and Arab states in the region, despite the albatross of the conflict with the Palestinians, are seeking warmer relations. Late last month, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu visited Oman and met with its leader, Sultan Qaboos, and firebrand Culture Minister Miri Regev travelled with the Israeli national judoka team to the United Arab Emirates.

And on Friday, Netanyahu (along with Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al Sisi) urged the U.S. to maintain ties with Saudi Arabia’s de facto leader, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS), amid allegations that he ordered the murder of Jamal Khashoggi in the kingdom’s consulate in Istanbul.

Israel’s relations with the two Arab states that currently recognize it, Egypt and Jordan, are generally good. In response to domestic pressures, King Abdullah II of Jordan recently cancelled a longtime land lease agreement with Israel. While certainly not a positive development, the fact that relations have more or less continued while both sides negotiate testifies to the enduring partnership with the Hashemite Kingdom. Relations with Egypt are as close as ever, with the government there focused on combating terrorists in the Sinai and on working with Israel to avoid a humanitarian catastrophe in neighboring Gaza.

What is believed to be preventing further integration of Israel into the region, especially diplomatic recognition of Israel, is the occupation of the West Bank and East Jerusalem. Arab leaders may or may not be sincere in their concern for Palestinians, but they are mindful of the strong anti-Israel feelings in their own countries. The Arab Spring may have been a disappointment overall, but it served as an effective reminder for these regimes not to unnecessarily provoke the passions of their people.

This is the reason why it’s so difficult to take seriously the “outside-in” approach of Jared Kushner and Jason Greenblatt, in which Arab states pressure the Palestinians into accepting an objectively inferior arrangement (one euphemism for this is “economic peace”) that would produce outsize benefits for Israel. The incentives for Arab leaders are not nearly enticing enough, and the potential costs are obvious to anyone who looks at a survey of regional attitudes toward Israel and Jews.

Even MBS, who does not exactly stand averse to impulsive and shortsighted foreign policy decisions, has so far refrained from fully embracing the role Israel and the Trump administration would like to see him play.The fallout from the Khashoggi assassination could have been used as leverage to nudge the Saudis, but whatever opportunity that grisly murder created has been squandered by Kushner, who has remained a steadfast advocate for MBS, and Netanyahu.

However, unlike in previous years, there are signs Netanyahu finally understands that Arab concerns about Palestinian welfare, especially in Gaza, can present a serious obstacle in forging relationships with sympathetic and “moderate” governments in the region. As usual, however, his domestic political concerns and the way he has handled the alliance with the United States will complicate matters. The result is that he’s proceeded with caution when dealing with Hamas, likely concluding that Israel can’t afford a costly military conflict at this delicate moment, while cheering on the Trump administration’s political emasculation of the Palestinian Authority.

In these weeks of budding partnerships (which, as Israel Policy Forum’s Evan Gottesman pointed out in Ha’aretz this week, are not especially new or extraordinary), Israel has been engaged in serious talks involving Hamas, Egypt, Qatar, and the United Nations over the future of Gaza. Israel, of course, has engaged in talks with Hamas before, but never has the sense that Israel is desperate for an agreement been greater than it is now.

Last week, a senior Israeli official acknowledged that the humanitarian crisis in Gaza is what’s driving recent rocket attacks and intense border demonstrations from the territory. The concessions Israel is reportedly seeking from Hamas are exceedingly modest, mainly to “calm down” the weekly demonstrations and a formal three-year ceasefire.

In return, Hamas will expect an easing of the blockade and other measures to improve the enclave’s economic prospects. Israel has already allowed Hamas’ chief regional sponsor Qatar to reinstate fuel supplies to Gaza and to pay for the salaries of public employees there. With an upcoming election, Netanyahu is under pressure from his right-wing rivals to employ maximum force against all rocket attacks, incendiary balloons, and provocative demonstrations. He has wisely resisted these calls, instead pursuing a diplomatic path.

A prudent strategy offers two opportunities for Israel. One, if conditions in Gaza improve significantly, Arab states may feel more comfortable engaging with Israel openly, as Oman did last month. Second, by cultivating working ties with Qatar, Israel is in a position to help MBS extricate Saudi Arabia and its allies from his ill-conceived feud with that government. On his end, Netanyahu is clearly interested in enhancing ties with both countries, and Israel’s close alliance with the U.S. has already placed Israel in a much stronger diplomatic position in the region.

All of this sounds like excellent news for Israel and the United States until you consider the sorry state of their relations with the PA and its president, Mahmoud Abbas. The easing of tensions in Gaza, while welcome, come at the direct expense of the PA, which has now been reduced to a fifth-string player in the Gaza’s politics, after Hamas, Israel, Egypt, and Qatar. Egypt reportedly threatened Abbas with the prospect of negotiating with Hamas “as a sovereign” in order to secure his cooperation in the talks (mainly by stopping financial sanctions against Hamas).

A truly sensible policy would focus on securing Abbas’s position in the West Bank, up to and including encouraging him to elevate a successor, and ensuring that Hamas does not receive a more generous deal for its belligerence than the PA does for its cooperation. Unfortunately, Netanyahu can’t proceed with such a plan even if he believed in it. While the Israeli right may be willing to endure Netanyahu’s dealings with Hamas, as it has in the past, it is Israel’s conflict with Abbas that strikes at the heart of the issues that matter to his base the most. It does not help matters that Abbas’s main tactic over the last seven years has been to score points against Israel in regional and international forums, where Israel now seeks to improve its image and relationships.

In the end, it is much easier for Netanyahu to allow Qatari money to flow into Gaza than it is to institute a real long-term settlement construction freeze. It contains few political risks beyond empty threats by Naftali Bennett, who has no alternative to a Likud-led government after the next election. Executing an ambitious strategy that will improve conditions in both Gaza and the West Bank, all while preparing for solutions that are more than temporary, will require leadership and foresight that Netanyahu either simply does not have or can’t afford to use.

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