Israel is embroiled in turmoil following the passage of legislation aimed at reducing the Supreme Court’s power. The next key event in the judicial saga will come in September when the Court will hear arguments that the legislation should be struck down.

But next month won’t be momentous solely because of the Supreme Court hearing. Sept. 13 will mark the 30th anniversary of Israeli and Palestinian leaders signing the Oslo Accords, intended to pave the way for a two-state solution to end the conflict. There isn’t much to celebrate. Just as the judicial crisis is dividing Israelis internally, 30 years after Oslo, Israelis and Palestinians are farther apart on an agreement than ever before. Many believe a two-state solution is no longer feasible and have suggested alternatives, but none seem viable.

It’s not difficult to see why. The unitary state that many young Palestinians support is a non-starter for Israel; the relative demographics of the two populations mean it would risk the end of Israel’s identity as a majority Jewish state. Some advocate for a Switzerland-like confederation – a model that, as a senior Swiss diplomat recently reminded me, emerged only after hundreds of years of war. But the Swiss model – a quasi-direct democracy led by a seven-member federal council that rules by consensus – is unique among modern states and hardly a realistic solution. Full Israeli annexation would end Palestinians’ national hopes for a sovereign state of their own. A one-state-two-system approach would do little to assure Israelis or Palestinians of lasting stability and peace; in the best example of it, China and Hong Kong, the latter’s independent status has largely evaporated in recent years.

So, the only realistic path for a lasting peace between Israelis and Palestinians remains a two-state solution.

But it will be impossible to achieve solely as a bilateral agreement, as the political and on-the-ground changes in Israel and the Palestinian Territories over the last 30 years have eroded the required trade space. In other words, neither Israeli nor Palestinian leaders have sufficient political, security, economic, financial, natural resource, and territorial assets available to trade solely among each other in order to reach a bilateral agreement that ends the conflict.

Therefore, paradoxical though it might seem, the best and only chance to resolve the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians is to enlarge the number of States – and trades – that would be part of a final agreement. More parties mean more complications, with each State looking to its own national security, political, and economic needs, requirements, and interests. But it also means a vastly increased pool of tradeable resources.

A multilateral agreement that encompasses, as part of it, a resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict will require concessions from states that will be viewed as outlandish, even heretical – for example, Arab states agreeing to land swaps that permanently alter their territorial boundaries. But creative, outside-the-box proposals are the ones most likely to succeed in this context. And while such an agreement undoubtedly partially shifts the burden from Israeli and Palestinian leaders to those of third states, the benefits to these parties would also be substantial; whether in the form of territory, natural resources, economic support, enhanced security, or prestige.

And the Israelis and the Palestinians would still need to make a critical number of exchanges between them on borders, security, Jerusalem, water, and Palestinian refugees. But within a multilateral framework, the broader collection of tradeable assets available means new configurations exist for the Israelis and Palestinians to make trades for which there previously would have been insufficient assets.

Undertaking this pathway would not guarantee success – indeed, chances remain low – but it is the only realistic way to produce a sovereign Palestinian state and a secure Israeli one.

Creating More Trade-Space

Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Qatar, and the United States all stand to benefit from being part of a multilateral agreement and have the resources necessary to help achieve such a deal. Other states – such as Syria, Iraq, Turkey, the United Arab Emirates, Russia, and China – could also provide assets to help foster a solution, but the pieces don’t fit as well. Syria’s reconstruction demands would be anathema to much of the West, even as it finds its way back into the Arab fold. Iran’s influence in Iraq makes Baghdad equally likely to be a poison pill in a negotiation. Turkey lacks proximity and the same level of influence as Jordan and Egypt on this topic. The UAE lacks Qatar’s relationship with Gaza’s leaders and the leverage that Saudi normalization would bring. Russia lacks the capacity to play a role given its war in Ukraine. China lacks the capability, and desire, to provide Israel and Saudi Arabia the security guarantees the United States could deliver.

The timing of such a proposal comes as the United States is actively trying to broker bilateral Saudi-Israeli normalization. Many in Washington, including myself, support that effort. Modern Middle East history is littered with failed peace talks and renewed conflicts. Opportunities for reconciliation are often fleeting, tied to shifting political conditions. Such that when a chance for normalizing of relations exists, it should be explored to the full extent possible.

But Saudi-Israeli normalization remains far from a fait accompli. Nor would it mitigate the need for a multilateral agreement to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. If a multilateral effort that includes Saudi Arabia fails, bilateral normalization would be an inevitable fallback — a notion that could be leveraged to try to convince the Palestinians and some Arab states to join the multilateral negotiating table. But if bilateral normalization comes first, it probably removes the Saudis from playing as meaningful a role, given Jerusalem, Riyadh, and Washington will have already traded the political, economic, and security assets they most desire from each other.

Jordan, Saudi Arabia, and the United States

The idea of land swaps between Israel and the Palestinians remains a necessary tenet of any two-state solution. Some settlements and the land they’re on are inevitably going to be retained by Israel in any agreement. And the number Israel will insist on retaining increases every year as settlements grow to become small- to mid-sized cities in their own right. But it is not just the size of the settlements that presents an impediment to reaching an agreement on territorial swaps. It is their locations, which challenge the eventual contiguity of a future Palestinian state.

The percentage of a future state of Palestine that would be contiguous could increase, however, with the help of Jordan, since its territory is not impacted by Israeli settlers. Amman’s acquiescence to giving up some territory along the Jordan River could increase the contiguity of a future Palestinian state, once Israel cedes parts of Area C along the border, as the Oslo Accords always envisioned. Doing so would be the definition of infringing on Jordanian state sovereignty. But national borders have always evolved over time, often at the close of a conflict.

For Jordan – which already shoulders a greater burden from the Israeli-Palestinian conflict than any other country – such a fundamental concession should be compensated in two ways. First, Saudi could cede territory in the northern part of the Kingdom equal to that which Jordan gives up to a new State of Palestine. The second form of compensation to Jordan would be a guarantee by the United Nations and acceptance by the international community – which is likely to be skeptical of such an unconventional territorial proposal – that Palestinian refugees currently living in Jordanian territory that is part of the land swap be considered as full citizens of the new Palestinian state. The number of Palestinians affected would depend on exactly where the new border is ultimately demarcated.

For Amman, such an agreement could provide significant economic relief, reducing Jordanian responsibility for potentially hundreds of thousands of Palestinian residents. Jordan has been overwhelmed for decades providing for Palestinian, Iraqi, Syrian, and other refugees, resulting in it having the second-highest share of refugees per capita in the world.

Such an agreement would undoubtedly raise a host of practical, moral, and legal questions. International law is clear: refugees cannot be forcibly moved back to their home state if their safety would be at risk. At minimum, Jordan could not strip Palestinian refugees of their Jordanian citizenship as part of this process, per Article 15(2) of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights – which most Palestinians living in Jordan have. And some indirect precedent suggests Amman could be responsible for ensuring the refugees would be safe in the new State of Palestine.

On the other hand, Palestinian refugees living in this territory would not be forced to move anywhere. The border would move over them as it did for Mexican citizens living in present-day Texas when, following the conclusion of the Mexican-American War in 1848, they became citizens of the United States.

For Jordan, other inducements would almost certainly be necessary and could include Gulf and Israeli concessions to address the country’s water insecurity – one of the worst in the world. For example, Saudi Arabia and Qatar could agree to jointly finance a 100-year lease for a portion of Saudi Red Sea coastline for the construction of dedicated water pipelines and Israeli-developed desalination plants.

As part of such a multilateral agreement, it should be expected that Riyadh would seek custodianship of Jerusalem’s Al-Aqsa Mosque, the third-holiest site in Islam and currently under the custodianship of Jordan. For Jordan’s King Abdullah II to agree to such a demand would be an excruciating concession; much of his own legitimacy is predicated on his custodianship of the site. A joint custodianship might leave both Amman and Riyadh unsatisfied, but might be agreeable if the benefit for Jordan is greater political and economic stability and eliminating the persistent spill-over of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Riyadh gaining such a meaningful presence in Jerusalem might concern Israel given Saudi Arabia’s history of Wahhabism. But Jerusalem is likely to be placated given Saudi Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s (MBS’s) crackdown on that form of religious practice and recognizing that Riyadh having a direct stake in Jerusalem could create new trade space to help resolve the issue of the city as a point of conflict between the Israelis and Palestinians. And as part of the agreement, both would have demands of Saudi Arabia – financial and political support for the Palestinians, normalization and new security ties for Israel.

MBS has expressed his determination to diversify Saudi Arabia’s economy and would be unenthusiastic about providing gratis financial support or surrendering territory, and he may not yet be ready to normalize ties with Israel bilaterally. But the Crown Prince might reconsider all of these conditions in the context of a multilateral agreement that provided Saudi Arabia joint custodianship of Al-Aqsa, enhanced military ties with Israel, and U.S. weapons, training, security guarantees, and support for a civilian nuclear program.

Moreover, by leveraging its leadership to help drive a resolution to the conflict, Riyadh would also gain something it desperately desires but cannot buy: global goodwill. Leading the Arab world in negotiating a regional deal that ends the conflict won’t erase the murder of Jamal Khashoggi – nothing can. But helping to broker a broader peace in the region would significantly improve relations and rehabilitate MBS’s image in the West.

The Crown Prince may not care as much about that, especially if he’s looking east more often. But Riyadh is currently seeking these same provisions from the United States – weapons systems, a civilian nuclear program, and a security guarantee to support the Kingdom if it is attacked – in return for a bilateral normalization of relations with Israel. On that basis, such a framework is likely to face meaningful opposition in Congress. (Among the concerns would be Riyadh’s desire that a deal permit uranium enrichment on Saudi soil; but such enrichment could eventually be used to produce material for a nuclear bomb..) However, in the context of a multilateral accord that brings with it the end of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, it would be far easier for President Joe Biden to sell to Congress, and for MBS to sell to both his domestic population, and the region’s.

Given Washington’s international leadership and efforts at resolving the conflict over the past three decades, the United States would likely welcome such a deal. Washington would probably also be willing to provide support to help address Israel’s core security challenges, both in the context of the Palestinians and Iran. Moreover, it would help reinforce the U.S. commitment to the region at a time when it is being questioned.

Egypt, Qatar, and the Question of Gaza

Three realistic options exist for Gaza. First, Gaza could be a de jure part of a new, sovereign Palestinian state, but the status quo could continue de facto until the minimum requirements set out in the final multilateral agreement are met by the Strip’s leadership. Second, Gaza could be ignored in the final agreement and the status quo could remain as it is today. Third, Gaza could be a meaningful part of the multilateral agreement, but responsibility for it given to a small Arab coalition until it is ready to be integrated into a sovereign Palestinian state.

There would be two facets of an Arab coalition playing a role in Gaza: an on-the-ground presence and a behind-the-scenes financial one. The only realistic option to fill the on-the-ground role is Egypt – the only state with sufficient expertise, proximity, and relationships with both Palestinians there, including Hamas, and with Israel to have a chance of success.

Cairo would be loath to accept responsibility for Gaza. However, Egypt’s dire economic situation may offer a point of leverage. There is no simple solution to Egypt’s economic problems. The military has dominated every sector of the society for so long that the changes required will take decades and cost far more than Egypt could muster, even with support from the International Monetary Fund and the sale of state assets, especially as inflation skyrockets. The Egyptian population is facing record inflation of more than 35 percent, heavily driven by food costs, while Cairo is carrying an approximately $17 billion financing gap over the next four years and a national debt that equals 92.9 percent of GDP.

As a result, despite having no desire to become entrenched in Gaza, Cairo might be cajoled into the role – and into the broader multilateral agreement – in exchange for Qatar, Saudi Arabia, the United States, the European Union, and others making financial commitments to enable Egypt to make the difficult economic transition it needs to, without the country facing a collapse – the consequences of which would ripple across the entire region. The loans, grants, and gifts would need to be in the billions. But that amount of financial aid combined with an agreement, for example, to prioritize bringing a newly discovered Egyptian gas field online, could be an offer too tempting for Cairo to dismiss, knowing there are limited, if any, other avenues out of its financial crisis.

In addition to supporting Egypt domestically, the most obvious candidate to provide financial support to the Gaza Strip, and for Egypt’s temporary responsibility for it, would be Qatar. Israeli frustrations over what was once viewed as Doha’s close relationship with Hamas have been replaced by quiet gratitude for the role Qatar has played as an intermediary to tamp down new rounds of violence.

Moreover, Qatar’s current primary foreign policy objective – to be a global mediator – would align perfectly with the need for a trusted interlocutor with financial heft. For Doha, the return in cachet for helping to bring about peace between Israelis and Palestinians would be unmatched by any other diplomatic foray and accelerate its prominence as a global, let alone regional, diplomatic heavyweight.

New Motivations for Israeli and Palestinian Leaders

Ultimately, any multilateral agreement that settles the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is still going to require leaders in Jerusalem and Ramallah to make the key exchanges between them. Neither side sees an impetus to negotiate today. Netanyahu is giving rightwing, ultranationalist members of his coalition almost unilateral control to expand settlements, and his domestic focus is on the judicial crisis; which, ironically, has a direct implication for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict given the Supreme Court is one of the few institutions for West Bank Palestinians to seek recourse against settlers. Conversely, Abbas is unwilling to negotiate and risk further jeopardizing his standing among Palestinians who are – especially among the younger generation – frustrated and angry over the PA’s corruption, which in turn undermines the government’s legitimacy with the Palestinian public. But shifting regional dynamics might provide new motivations in a way that domestic watershed events never will.

The Palestinian cause is no longer a central theme for some Arab leaders, especially the wealthier Gulf States. Indeed, both Riyadh and Abu Dhabi are no longer willing to write large checks or blindly pledge political support to the Palestinian Authority (PA). Publicly, both countries have large pro-Palestinian publics to appease. But behind the scenes, as relations with the PA wane, they are waxing with Israel, especially in the security and commercial domains and even as new rounds of Israeli-Palestinian violence challenge their relationship.

Moreover, while public anti-Israel bias and antisemitism in the region will not end in the coming years, it may ebb as more Arab citizens have direct interaction with Israelis and as textbooks and educational curriculums in the Arab world are revised to take a more moderate line in relation to Israel, Jews, and related issues. Over time, these changes could diminish the reflexive, intense support for the Palestinian cause that exists among Arab publics today. That trend should be worrying for Palestinian leaders and prompt them to consider an opportunity to regain that support — which they never imagined losing in the first place – by working to reach an agreement with Israel today.

From Israel’s perspective, former PA leader Yasser Arafat’s and current President Mahmoud Abbas’ repeated rejections of a peace agreements has inspired skepticism from multiple Israeli leaders across the political spectrum of Palestinians’ sincerity in seeking a deal. Moreover, concessions leading to the establishment of a sovereign Palestinian state would seemingly run counter to the current tides of regional politics, including normalization agreements.

But political dynamics in the Middle East are about as stable as the desert sands. For Israel, it viewed the Abraham Accords, especially normalization with the UAE and Bahrain, in part, as a meaningful bulwark against Iran, Israel’s greatest threat, especially if Saudi Arabia joined. But Iranian-Emirati relations continue to advance, bilateral normalization with Saudi Arabia is far from assured, and Riyadh’s decision to undertake its own diplomatic rapprochement with Tehran should give Israel pause about the implicit security pact those Accords offer.

But even if Riyadh were to normalize relations with Israel tomorrow, the number of states in the region that still would not do so is significant. Last year, Iraq criminalized its citizens’ engagement with Israelis. Oman – not long ago thought to be a potential member of the Abraham Accords, or at least the most likely next country to normalize – recently followed Iraq’s lead.

If Israel’s priority is undermining the threat Iran poses, then normalizing relations with the rest of the Arab world would be the most consequential action it could take. Instead, Israel seems to be assuming that it can continue to enable settlers’ claims in the West Bank without meaningful consequences to its relations with the Arab world and wait out, for another three decades, those Arab countries unwilling to engage Israel today. But such a gambit is incredibly dangerous as it inherently assumes, without meaningful evidence, that the trajectory toward normalization of the last 30 years will hold for the next 30.

Unfortunately, when it comes to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the only clear trajectory upon which to make a meaningful assessment is that a two-state solution stemming from bilateral Israeli-Palestinian negotiations, as envisioned by the Oslo Accords, will not materialize. But a two-state solution can still come to be, and it will require the inclusion of others.

IMAGE: Israeli soldiers deploy following clashes between Palestinians (not pictured) and Israeli settlers who set up tents on lands in Halhoul village north of Hebron in the occupied West Bank, on August 1, 2023.  (Photo by HAZEM BADER/AFP via Getty Images)