It is just a hypothesis that the general prevailing moroseness will call crazy, absurd and totally unrealistic, but let us still imagine it. Let us imagine that, after discreet consultations with the United States and the European Union or some of its members, the Saudi Crown Prince, Mohammed bin Salman, known as MBS, revives the Arab peace initiative launched in 2002 by his father’s predecessor.

At the time, King Abdullah proposed that the countries of the Arab League should recognise Israel in exchange for the creation of a Palestinian state in the territories occupied since 1967. This plan has been ignored by the Israeli leaders because it opened the door to the partition of Jerusalem and the return of refugees and their descendants. Although endorsed by the Arab League and applauded by the Palestinians, this initiative remained in the dead on paper, but let’s imagine for a moment that the Americans, Europeans and Saudis soon exhume it, without undue haste but without procrastination either, and propose to make it the starting point for new discussions.

Which Israeli Prime Minister could turn a same deaf ear today as at the beginning of the century? Not even Mr Netanyahu could. His soon-to-be successor could do so even less, and now that several new Arab states have already recognised Israel, it is not just the creation of a Palestinian state that could be up for negotiation, but the realisation of Shimon Peres’ old dream, the creation of a Middle East Common Market paving the way for regional security and cooperation agreements.

Another war of hundred years

More surely than any military operation, this dynamic would lead to the complete political elimination of Hamas and the marginalisation of all the other less significant terrorist groups. Peace, real peace, could ensue but, of course, it will be objected on all sides that, however beautiful the dreams, the reality is that the massacre of 7 October and the bombing of Gaza are leading straight on, if not to a world war, then to a war of a hundred years. Those in the know will all say that it is as inevitable as it is inextricable, since there would be now no Palestinians ready to make peace with Israel and no Israelis prepared to coexist with a Palestinian state.

Yes, everything seems to point to this, since mistrust, resentment and the desire for revenge are exacerbated everywhere, but if we refuse to be blinded by the prevailing folly, there are plenty of reasons for hope.

Three weeks after the massacre organised by Hamas, half of Israelis declared themselves hostile to a ground operation in Gaza. Even though everyone has seen images of Black Saturday and there are very few of them who do not know, from near or far, a bereaved family, one in two has retained enough lucidity to know that street fighting in Gaza would cause as many casualties among the Israeli army as among the Gazan population and, above all, would lead nowhere.

Because what would the Israeli armed forces do after regaining control of Gaza? Would they keep it under their command even though they had to withdraw from the Strip in 2005? Would they hand it back to Egypt, which would not want it at any price? Would they hand them back to the Palestinian Authority, which does not even have the means to impose itself on the West Bank?

Stalemate and hopes

For Israel, a return to Gaza would be a dead end and to prevent the West Bank from going up in flames and the Arab countries from being drawn into a conflict which Iran would then join, there is no other way than to relaunch the peace process.

We have to think what seems unthinkable but is not, since Israel is too deeply divided by its extreme right-wing and weakened by the cruelty of this defeat not to want to avoid a real war; Syria and Lebanon are bled dry; Egypt is on the brink of a social explosion; Iraq is a patchwork quilt; and the Iranian regime, far too unpopular and penniless to go to war, has already scored a victory by preventing the rapprochement under way between Saudi Arabia and Israel.

A slip could set the world alight at any moment but Israel has just realised that it is not invincible, that there is no frenzy of war in the region and that the Palestinians can see, under this deluge of bombs, that violence only leads to more and more suffering.

There is a general stalemate. It is a stalemate for everyone and, by the strangest of paradoxes, there is a rare window of opportunity for peace, wide open to Mohammed Ben Salman. This young prince would like to make Saudi Arabia a power to be reckoned with in both the Middle East and the rest of the world. He also wants to avenge the affront that Iran has just inflicted on him through Hamas. An enlightened despot, he intends above all to go down in history as the Saud who brought his country into the post-oil era and the 21st century. He had been looking for the means to do so, and now he has become man of the hour.

Published in Le Monde on 3 November 2023.

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