With the Israeli-Palestinian peace process at a standstill, USIP’s Ambassador Hesham Youssef talks about a new, diverse quartet of states that can help reinvigorate talks, saying, “joining hands, they can influence both the Arab position and the European position.”
Biden set to meet nine Middle East leaders, USIP’s Ambassador Hesham Youssef says the trip aims to untangle recent tensions rather than “result in all kinds of breakthroughs and deliverables … the question is whether we can set ourselves on a path that can lead to more constructive relations.”
Despite tremendous effort exerted since the 1991 Madrid Peace Conference to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict through a two-state solution, peace has been elusive. Today, there is a growing feeling among Palestinians, Israelis and the international community that the two-state paradigm may no longer be viable. USIP’s Ambassador Hesham Youssef examines the potential scenarios facing Israelis, Palestinians and the region as the stalemated conflict continues without progress toward two states.
Earlier this week, the top diplomats from Egypt, Morocco, Bharain, the UAE and the United States arrived in Israel at the invitation of Israeli Foreign Minister Yair Lapid for what was named the Negev Summit. Building on the normalization breakthrough started by the 2020 Abraham Accords, the summit marked a significant diplomatic shift for the region — especially as concerns mount over the fallout from Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. USIP’s Lucy Kertzer-Ellenbogen and Ambassador Hesham Youssef look at what happened at the summit, how the topics of Iran and Russia were addressed, and what this means for the Israeli-Palestinian peace process going forward.
Amid today’s dismal Israeli-Palestinian context, positive developments have been in short supply. However, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s June announcement of preliminary approval for the development of the Gaza Marine gas fields provided a rare glimpse of a potential win-win opportunity. For the Palestinians, it could provide a much-needed boost to their lagging economy and the cash-strapped Palestinian Authority (PA). On the Israeli side, it allows the Netanyahu government to claim it is assisting in improving living conditions in Gaza and could lead to less U.S. pressure on issues like settlement expansion. In the big picture, this is another example of how energy is increasingly becoming a focus for potential win-win agreements in the East Mediterranean.
No one was ever in doubt about the damage that the Israeli army can inflict on Gaza, or in the occupied territories in general, in any military confrontation. The gap in the balance of power is one of the widest in the region. This has been the case in the wars that took place in 2008, 2012, 2014, and 2021, and in the latest military attack that ended on August 7, 2022. The duration of the conflict, the extent of the destruction in Gaza, the regional and international response and other factors varied widely. However, unsurprisingly, like in previous confrontations, each side claims that to some extent it was able to achieve its objectives.
Before and since President Biden took office, debates have proliferated around an American “retrenchment” from the Middle East. The administration has consistently asserted that it is not withdrawing from the region, only aligning strategy and resources — “right-sizing” in the parlance of the moment. Still, most of the region remains unconvinced.
The good news is that there are intensive regional and international efforts to avoid another Israeli-Palestinian war. The preventive effort has been extensive, and the United States seems to be carefully monitoring the situation. The bad news is the reconfirmation of what most already know: the Israeli-Palestinian status quo is volatile and not sustainable. The resulting successive wars only take us many steps further away from peace.
Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett has made it clear that he has no interest in reviving the Israeli-Palestinian peace process. In a recent interview, he affirmed his longstanding position that he “opposes a Palestinian state and will not allow talks on the line of a Palestinian state.” Echoing Bennett, Israel’s more moderate Alternate Prime Minister Yair Lapid — set to take over in August 2023 — says he, too, will not seek peace talks once he takes office, despite his stated support for a two-state solution.
After the latest round of violence this May, Israeli and Palestinian leaders are walking a series of tightropes — Israel’s new government is composed of a potentially unsustainable coalition; a fragile cease-fire teeters between Hamas and Israel; and public protests continue to shake the Palestinian Authority.