The “outside-in” approach is all the rage in Middle East peace process circles. The idea is that the threat of an increasingly assertive Iran will bring Israel and influential Gulf Arab states together, creating a chance of resolving the Israeli-Palestinian issue. Indeed, today, as the long-simmering tensions between Gulf Arab states boiled over and with Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, and others severing ties with Qatar, Israeli Minister of Defense Avigdor Lieberman remarked that this was an opportunity and that “Israel is more than open to cooperation. The ball is currently on the other side.”
The idea of pursuing peace now with willing Gulf States appeals to the right-wing Israeli government and many of its supporters in the policy community, for two reasons. First, if the approach is adopted, it splits the Arabs and puts even more space between the Gulf States and the Palestinians, thereby weakening the latter at the negotiating table. Israel hopes that by further dividing the Arabs, it can drive the minimum Palestinian demands—a sovereign, independent Palestinian state along the 1967 lines—even lower. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, for one, has made it clear that he adamantly opposes a sovereign and independent Palestinian state west of the Jordan.
Second, and perhaps equally important, is that if the Arab states do not agree to normalize relations with Israel, as is likely, Israel can then place the blame for the failure of renewed peace talks with the Palestinians on the Arabs. Israel will claim that the Arabs were simply not ready for peace. And few things are as valuable to Israel today as the opportunity to shift the blame for its continued denial of Palestinian rights.
The key problem with this approach is that its very premise is flawed; although some Arab regimes might view Israel as less of a problem than Iran, Arab publics see things very differently. Public opinion polling confirms that Arabs do perceive Iran as a threat to stability in the region (73 percent),