The United States has set its sights on establishing diplomatic relations between Saudi Arabia and Israel. Even though the US is making this move a top policy goal in the Middle East, analysts question the timing and potential consequences.
President Joe Biden’s administration believes that accomplishing this agenda could lead to Arab states accepting Israel as a legitimate nation. However, critics argue that such an approach overlooks the centrality of the Palestinian issue in the Arab-Israeli conflict.
The Complex Plan
A report by New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman details the steps Biden may take to secure an Israeli-Saudi deal. It includes providing Saudi Arabia with NATO-like security guarantees and assistance in developing a civilian nuclear program.
Though not directly involving Palestinians, some concessions are suggested, such as an Israeli settlement freeze and a promise not to annex the occupied West Bank. Despite not confirming the deal’s specifics, US officials have expressed their commitment to reaching an Israeli-Saudi agreement.
Israel, too, has been open about its desire for formal ties with Saudi Arabia. However, Saudi Arabia supports the Arab Peace Initiative, which requires a Palestinian state and a fair solution for Palestinian refugees.
Though open to normalization, Saudi Arabia believes addressing the Palestinian challenge is essential for any lasting resolution.
Netanyahu’s Government Skeptical Of Concessions For Palestinians
While few Arab states have recognized Israel throughout history, former US President Donald Trump’s administration brokered agreements between Israel and the United Arab Emirates, Morocco, Bahrain, and Sudan in 2020 in a deal known as the “Abraham Accords.” Despite these deals, Israel’s policies towards Palestinians, such as settlement expansion and military raids, have been heavily criticized by some rights groups as apartheid.
Hence, the question is whether the current Israeli government, led by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, would agree to concessions for Palestinians even if it meant gaining Saudi recognition. However, many experts doubt the government’s willingness to concede anything for Palestinians.
Furthermore, public opinion in Saudi Arabia does not favor recognizing Israel, making it challenging for the country to move forward with normalization without proving that it would provide specific benefits for Palestinians. Palestinian-American analyst Yousef Munayyer opined that any deal between Saudi Arabia and Israel should not exploit the Palestinian cause.
Meanwhile, Saudi Arabia seeks formal security guarantees from the US as part of the deal, which poses another hurdle for normalization. Approval of any treaty with Riyadh would require two-thirds of the US Senate, which may prove difficult given the growing criticism of Saudi Arabia and further US military involvement in the Middle East.
Despite potential challenges, analysts suggest that Biden’s pursuit of a normalization deal could be a foreign policy win for his administration as the 2024 US election approaches. Arab-Israeli normalization remains popular among both major parties in Washington, DC, and could garner support from voters.
Nevertheless, critics argue that such a deal would do little to address the Palestinian issue.