Its time for a regional solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict

In recent days, rockets from Gaza were again fired at innocent civilians. This cannot be tolerated. The Israel Defense Forces must respond swiftly and without hesitation. We, as the opposition, will support strong government action.

Yet such action cannot stand alone. We need to restore quiet and start the painful but necessary process of separating from the Palestinians to reach a two-state solution.

I’m going to argue that the only way to achieve the two-state solution — a demilitarized Palestinian state alongside the State of Israel — is to give up on direct talks and manage the negotiations through a regional conference supported by the United States.

We should turn to the Arab League — of which the PLO, the umbrella organization of the Palestinian national movement, is a part — to create a regional summit under the auspices of the United States so we can conduct regional dialogue leading to an agreement.

It isn’t easy to accept the fact that the Israelis and the Palestinians cannot just sit together and find a solution, but the past 20 years have taught us that this isn’t going to happen. Why won’t it work? Because in the current circumstances, the maximum we can offer is lower than the minimum the Palestinians are willing to accept. There is no Palestinian leader today, and there won’t be one in the foreseeable future, who is able to reach the depth of compromise necessary for a deal.

In the internal Palestinian dialogue, compromise is treason. The punishment is death. They can’t admit that publicly because it will contradict years of propaganda intended to present Israel as the sole refuser of peace.

Added to the concerns of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and his government about reaction on the Palestinian street and from such terrorist factions as Hamas, an additional concern is the response from the Arab world. Countries like Saudi Arabia and Jordan, who see themselves as the custodians of the holy places, have made clear time and again that the Palestinians don’t have sole authority over what they see as religious issues.

On other issues as well, like the integration of refugees into the future Palestinian state or the money needed to rehabilitate and build the new country, there is simply no way to reach an agreement without the involvement of the Arab League.

For the sake of fairness, we have to admit that on the Israeli side as well, the commitment to the two-state solution at this time is halfhearted and doesn’t include the willingness to pay the political price needed to reach a deal. But that is more a matter of political circumstance than set conditions.

There were Israeli governments in the past that were willing to pay a heavy price to separate from the Palestinians, and there may well be again in the future.

A regional agreement that leads to an end of the conflict with the Arab League could also normalize our relations with much of the Islamic world, opening up new markets, creating economic growth and new diplomatic relations. A regional approach also provides us, the Israelis, with a clear incentive and a new set of tools with which to fight the BDS movement.

There isn’t — and there cannot be — a solution other than separation from the Palestinians. The State of Israel cannot allow itself to absorb 3.5 million Palestinians. In every sense — security, economic, social — the symbiotic connection with the Palestinians is destructive.

In the long run, Israel cannot continue to be democratic and Jewish without separating from the Palestinians. In the short term, the damage to our diplomatic relations is unbearable and the time between each round of fighting is getting shorter.

In the current reality, the lack of an agreement undermines our ability to cooperate with others to counter Iran’s aggressiveness and regional terrorism, both of which threaten Israel and the West.

The changes in the Arab world in the past five years present us with a unique opportunity. The Muslim Brotherhood no longer rules in Egypt. The civil war in Syria is occupying the terrorist organizations on our northern border. Saudi Arabia is leading a conservative Sunni coalition in Yemen against radical forces operating with Iranian support.

The Arab world is divided in two: radical forces and conservative Arab states that seek to maintain the status quo. To deal with that challenge, Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states need to decide with which of their former enemies they will cooperate, Iran or Israel. According to all the indications we have, they would prefer Israel. The coalition formed by Saudi Arabia to fight the pro-Iranian forces in Yemen strengthens that understanding.

These are forces that we can and need to work with. Those countries lead the Arab League. The Palestinian Authority, which fears the rise of Hamas, sees itself as part of them. We can and we should speak to this Arab League.

The opening point for these discussions should be a regional summit. Egypt is a natural candidate to host, and the world, led by the United States, should be the sponsor.

The sides need to know that they aren’t beginning to walk the long path to an agreement alone, and that the international community will play a part in funding and implementing the solutions.

Time is not on our side. The undermining of Israel’s international legitimacy is a genuine threat. The existential threat of a binational state is real and lies around the corner. Israel’s radicals, from right and left, are pushing us in that direction with all sorts of messianic delusions. That will be the end of Zionism, and under no circumstances can we allow it to happen.

Yair Lapid is a member of the Israeli Knesset and the chairman of the Yesh Atid party. This op-ed is adapted from remarks prepared for delivery to the Jerusalem Post’s 2015 conference in New York.