The U.S. is prophesizing the imminent signing of an Israeli-Saudi agreement. It is scheduled for early 2024, according to The Wall Street Journal. However, according to this American publication, the de facto ruler of Saudi Arabia, Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman, recently told his advisers that he is not ready to maintain full diplomatic relations with the current Israeli government. The heir to the throne is in no hurry to sign a peace agreement with Israel as long as a right-wing coalition that rejects the idea of an independent Palestinian state is in power in Jerusalem.
In turn, just the day before, a senior official in Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s entourage made a sharp statement. «Agreements with Saudi Arabia will in no way be concluded to the detriment of Israel’s security», he emphasized. According to the Israeli official, Riyadh aims to establish its own civilian nuclear program and links the legitimization of this program to the normalization of relations with Israel. But Jerusalem is not ready to risk its security.
The Palestinian issue remains a stumbling block for both sides. Although the United States and Saudi Arabia, according to world media reports, have agreed on the basic principles of peaceful interaction between Riyadh and Jerusalem, one of the conditions of the bilateral agreement is concessions by the Israeli side to the Palestinians.
Washington has urgently dispatched President Biden’s Middle East affairs adviser to Saudi Arabia. A meeting with the Palestinian delegation is to be held there, during which bonuses for the Palestinians will be presented within the framework of the agreement on normalization of relations between Israel and Saudi Arabia. This is reported by the Israeli portal Walla! /news.walla.co.il/ citing several American and Palestinian sources.
Although observers believe that Palestine is skeptical of the tempting American proposals. Last week, for example, U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs Barbara Leaf met in Jordan with Palestinian Authority Vice Chairman, Minister Hussein al-Sheikh and other influential officials. The meeting was very difficult, observers note. One of the requests the Palestinians insisted on was American support for recognizing Palestine as a full UN member state. Leaf made it clear that they would not be able to count on U.S. support on this issue. In addition, according to the Arabic edition of Al-Arabi Al-Jadid, the U.S. Assistant Secretary of State demanded that the leadership of the autonomy not to put forward its conditions to Saudi Arabia in connection with the process of normalization of relations between the kingdom and Israel.
The U.S. position has caused great frustration among Palestinian politicians and great doubt about the benefits of an Israeli-Saudi settlement.
In contrast to the sentiments in Palestine, Prime Minister Netanyahu demonstrates that he is not eager to link relations with Palestinian Chairman Abu Mazen and a peace agreement with Saudi Arabia. In a recent interview with Bloomberg, he stated, «The Palestinian issue has become a check mark that needs to be checked to show engagement and move on. Does it get touched on in secret talks, behind closed doors? The answer may disappoint you.»
In the same interview, Netanyahu expressed confidence in the ability of Israel and Saudi Arabia to conclude a normalization agreement and establish full diplomatic relations. He emphasized that the Israelis and Saudis can create an «economic corridor» connecting the Arabian Peninsula to Europe and make a real breakthrough in the fields of transportation, communications and energy. According to Netanyahu, the creation of such a corridor would open up tremendous opportunities for investors.
Despite political rhetoric and public denial, sources have identified close cooperation between Israel and Saudi Arabia over the past years in areas such as intelligence, security information sharing, counterterrorism and technological exchange. Some reports even point to secret rendezvous between the politicians.
This has not escaped international attention. And first and foremost, from the United States. There has been a radical turn in relations between the United States and Saudi Arabia, and Israel probably plays not the least role in this warming process. The White House expects the Israel-Saudi pact to advance U.S. interests in the region. According to the Israeli news agency Vesti /vesty.co.il/, Washington hopes to link the normalization of relations between the Saudi kingdom and the Jewish state to the resolution of the oil crisis. The U.S. is counting on the settlement of differences over oil supplies. In addition, there is an extreme interest in getting assurances from the Saudi rulers that they will not overly strengthen relations with China, a strategic rival of the US. So their efforts to reach a peace agreement between the Israelis and Saudis are motivated by pragmatism, but not by altruism.
Biden’s National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan personally emphasized that the U.S. administration has labeled the conclusion of a deal to normalize relations between Israel and Saudi Arabia as a «super goal».
Jerusalem and Riyadh are well aware that progress in their relations is only a bargain primarily for the United States itself. So, they are also trying to maximize the benefits. Reconciliation with Israel would allow Saudi Arabia to freely buy the most advanced weapons from the United States, since Israel would probably drop its objections to this — as it is doing now with the UAE and Morocco. A deal is a deal.
The young and ambitious prince, who is trying to reform his closed country to attract investment and create a business-friendly climate, does not see peace with Israel as something out of the ordinary. However, bin Salman will not only have to make a deal, but also convince his subjects, who have been indoctrinated for years that Israel is a colonial and illegitimate state, said former Knesset member and Arabist Ksenia Svetlova.
Despite Prime Minister Netanyahu’s assertion that there will be only symbolic concessions regarding the Palestinian Authority, these are clear demands from Saudi Arabia. It insists on substantial compromises in the process of creating a future Palestinian state, emphasizes Ksenia Svetlova. In this regard, the expert points out, not everyone in Israel, especially representatives of the power bloc, is in favor of a rapid rapprochement with the Saudis. Instead of a comprehensive agreement, the alternative is gradual integration in various spheres.
There are many obstacles to making peace. While Washington notes progress in the negotiation process, Riyadh and Jerusalem are not willing to take risks — the stakes are too high in this Middle East game. No one wants to become a remote-controlled pawn in it.