We are now seeing a paradigm shift in the geo-political landscape in the Middle East. The sworn enemies of Israel are now willing to broker peace with it.

The Saudi government, with the backing of all members of the Arab league, has recently brokered a plan that guarantees Israel’s right to exist as an independent state, and also offers normalization of diplomatic relations with it provided it withdrawal of Israeli forces from the occupied territory captured by it during the six day war in 1967. Turkey and Egypt have also shown their willingness to normalize their relations with Israel. The Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has welcomed the Saudi offer, as “The Arab peace initiative” can help revive constructive negotiations with the Palestinians. In effect, the Saudi plan paves the way for a two nation state.

What has led to the sudden change of heart by the Arab countries? The answer is, simply – Iran. The United States and its allies, in order to prevent Iran from becoming a nuclear state have entered into an agreement with IP5 + 1 countries (the permanent members of the United Nations Security Council—the United States, the United Kingdom, Russia, France, and China—plus Germany) and the European Union. According to the framework of Nuclear agreement, Iran would redesign, convert, and reduce its nuclear facilities and accept the Additional Protocol (with provisional application) in order to lift all nuclear-related economical sanctions, freeing up tens of billions of dollars in oil revenue and frozen assets. Added to is the going mistrust between the United States and Saudi Arabia, over the export of radical brand of Islam, whose tenets are based on a violent brand of Islam. Many of the terrorist organizations like Al Qaeda, Desh and its affiliates follow this brand of Islam.

As Israel also perceives Iran as its main enemy, it has welcomed the Saudi backed plan. Israel also sees collateral benefit of the plan, which, it believes, will bring the Arab countries, Egypt and Turkey under a common platform to negate the growing of assertion of Iran in the region. Moreover, there is a growing concern over Iran’s open support to Shiite controlled Hezbollah in Lebanon and Houthi rebels in Yemen.

The Saudi plan should, therefore, be seen in the larger context of countering Iran rather than any new found love for Israel, Riyadh is trying to recalibrate its strategy to mainly check Iran’s attempt to expand its influence in West Asia. Saudi is also wary of its growing relations with China and Russia. Both these countries are befriending Iran purely for commercial interests, as Iran is slowly opening up its economy, after lifting of embargo by US and its allies.

The Saudi initiative is emblematic of growing mistrust of Arab countries with the Western block, especially the United States. Tel Aviv is also feeling threatened with Iran, as it is close to acquiring nuclear technology. This threat is bringing Turkey, Egypt, Israel, and all members of the Arab league together, as they now see Iran as their common enemy. Also the Saudi move comes against the backdrop of growing disenchantment with the US policy of supporting Iran. Riyadh expects the new alliance will help reduce its dependence on the United States. It may be mentioned that the new plan was first conceptualized by the late crown prince Abdullah (he went to become in 2005) in 2002. The “2020 Arab Peace Plan” as it was then known, was backed by 22 members of the Arab league, called for the restoration of a Palestinian State with East Jerusalem as its capital, and asked Israel to provide a "fair solution" for the 3.8 million Palestinian refugees were illegally evicted from their lands. It also called upon Israel to vacate Golan Heights and other Israeli-occupied territory, including Southern Lebanon. Israel’s response to Arab peace initiative was lukewarm as it was not willing to concede its right over East Jerusalem. Secondly, Israel felt that the acceptance of offer would have replaced the UN resolutions 242 and 338, which called for bilateral negotiations between Israel and Palestine. On the other hand, Hamas, which controls the Gaza strip, also rejected the Saudi offer.

The new plan offers a great opportunity for both Israel and Palestine to bury their differences and settle the issue left by historical legacy. Although there is a consensus in Israel to vacate West bank and other areas, but when it comes to handing over the control of East Jerusalem, there is a large constituency which does not want Israel to cede East Jerusalem, as it is considered the holiest site of Judaism, apart from other holy sites of Christianity, and Islam, such as the Temple Mount, Western Wall, Al-Aqsa Mosque, Dome of the Rock and the Church of the Holy Sepulchre located there.

One way to end the impasse is to declare Jerusalem an independent zone, under the joint command control of both the countries. This may not be an easy option, but it appears to be the only viable option to end the impasse. This, in turn, will compel the Arab countries together with Egypt to persuade Palestine to dismantle all terror networks. They will also put pressure on Hamas to support the statehood of Palestine. The United Nations has already agreed to recognize Palestine subject to its holding elections and persuading Hamas to stop all terror activities.

Although, any settlement will be perceived by Palestine not to its satisfaction, as Israel had expelled over 800, 000 Palestinians and also forcibly captured their land after the 1967 war, but, today, Palestine has to compromise with the growing reality in the region. Moreover, if it stymies the plan, it may end up losing the support of Arab countries, which is so vital to its existence.

In sum, the new development shows that countries have no permanent enemies or friends and it is the compulsion of politics that dictates a country’s foreign policy. Both Israel and Palestine need to fully support the peace plan, as it offers an opportunity for a “two-state solution” to the over six decade old conflict. Israel should understand that it would be best served to negotiate with Palestine within the framework of the Saudi plan to bring peace and stability in the region, as history will not give another opportunity to resolve the 61-year Palestinian tragedy. On its part, Palestine should realize that it can’t hope to correct the historical injustice, but, by persuading Israel to vacate all lands in its illegal occupation, it would have scored a moral victory. If, however, Palestine does not support the Saudi plan there is a danger that the Saudi Arabia and other Arab countries may go ahead with their new strategy of forming an alliance with Israel to counter Iran. This will drive Palestine into a hopeless situation where they will find themselves totally isolated.

As King Hussein bin Talal of Jordan, commenting on the Israel-Palestine conflict had aptly put it “For our part, we shall continue to work for the new dawn when all the Children of Abraham and their descendants are living together in the birthplace of their three great monotheistic religions, a life free from fear, a life free from want – a life in peace.”

All that now is required is political will from both the countries to seize this golden opportunity and try out of box solutions to unravel the complex Israeli- Palestine issue, but a beginning has to be made for ushering in peace, stability and prosperity for the benefit of people of both the countries.

(K.S. Venkatachalam is an independent columnist and political commentator)