That the meeting of Arab and Muslim nations in Riyadh last weekend was all talk and nothing more was surely a relief for President Biden, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and, arguably, for the wider world. The last thing that the global economy needs is a repeat of the oil embargo that the Arab states imposed in 1973, to punish the U.S. and some of its allies for having supported Israel during the Yom Kippur War.

An appeal by Iran’s President Ebrahim Raisi to impose sanctions on Israel (and to arm Hamas) went unheeded. Rather than cutting off the flow of oil, the leaders from the Arab League and the Organization of Islamic Countries settled for letting off steam. They condemned Israel for the military assault on Gaza and demanded an immediate cease-fire.

Saudi Arabia, the world’s largest producer, has signaled that it will not use its oil exports as leverage to achieve a cease-fire in Gaza. And the Arab states that have recently normalized relations with Israel – the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Morocco and Sudan – are not tearing up their copies of the Abraham Accords.

Not yet, anyway.

But the prolongation of war often prompts a reassessment of priorities. Although many Arab leaders are keen to retain their connections with Israel, they are keenly aware of the rage roiling their streets over the Israel-Hamas war, and the attendant risk of regional insecurity.

The longer the destruction of Gaza continues, with the concomitant images of Palestinian trauma and tragedy, the greater the pressure from the streets to the palaces – to act. The smart call for Arab princes and palaces would be to get ahead of the pressure and put together a comprehensive plan, not only to bring about an end to the war but, arguably more important, to manage the peace afterward.


And they may just be able to pull it off with smart diplomacy rather than economic blackmail.

They’ve tried this approach before, of course. The last comprehensive Arab proposal to end the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, known as the Arab Peace Initiative, was made in 2002, during the second Palestinian intifada, or uprising, against Israel. It was doomed by divisions among the Arab leadership, tepid support from the U.S. and even less from Israel’s then-Prime Minister Ariel Sharon.

Inevitably, the current crisis has prompted speculation that the Arab states may revive the API, or come up with a new, improved plan.

The conditions appear propitious. Thanks to the Abraham Accords, an unprecedented number of Arab states have leverage with Israel. Biden, having embraced Netanyahu after the Oct. 7 terrorist attack by Hamas, is growing anxious that the Israeli leader is taking too much license from that embrace. Netanyahu himself is deeply unpopular among his own people. International opinion is turning against Israel; perhaps more important, so too is American opinion.

So it’s an opportune moment for the Arab states to press their advantage. A good place to start would be the appointment of a point man to represent them in discussions with Israel, the Palestinians, the U.S. and other parties (Turkey, for one) interested in peace. Anwar Gargash, the veteran Emirati diplomat, would be an obvious choice. (The candidature of Tony Blair being mooted in some quarters belongs in the realm of stand-up comedy.)

Next, the Arab states should make it plain that they will only help in cleaning up the mess left by the war – rebuilding Gaza’s political institutions as well as its physical infrastructure – if Israel commits to the two-state solution and a timeline to that end. In return, they should be prepared to guarantee that Israel will not face a threat from Hamas, the Palestinian Islamic Jihad or any other extremist group.

For its part, the Biden administration should press the Arab states to present a comprehensive peace plan and lean on Netanyahu to accept it. The U.S. should be able to corral its allies in Europe to act as co-guarantors.

Given the fraught history of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, this approach has no guarantee of success. But the Arab states hold the strongest cards they’ve ever had in their dealings with Israel – and now’s the time to play them.

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