Saudi Arabia - Israel Relations
Saudi Arabia has said it would stick to the decades-old Arab League position of not having ties with Israel until the Jewish state’s conflict with the Palestinians is resolved. Saudi Arabia’s foreign minister has said Saudi Arabia would only normalise ties with Israel within a plan that would deliver a sovereign state to Palestinians, quashing speculation that the kingdom may soon become the latest Arab country to establish full diplomatic relations with Israel. “What we need to make [normalisation of ties with Israel] happen is a peace deal that delivers a Palestinian state with dignity and with a workable sovereignty that Palestinians can accept,” Prince Faisal bin Farhan Al Saud said on 04 Secember 2020.
“That deal would have to be negotiated, but what is important now is to bring back Israelis and Palestinians to the negotiating table to work towards a fair deal,” Prince Faisal said. The Palestinians have condemned the normalisation deals as “a stab in the back”, urging Arab states to hold firm until Israel ends its occupation of Palestinian territory and agrees to the creation of a Palestinian state.
Prince Faisal said a normalisation of ties with Israel has long been part of Saudi Arabia’s vision. “It was first put on the table in Fez in 1982 by then Crown Prince Fahad,” he said. “We still have that same vision, whereby Israel becomes a normal part of the region, where it has fully normal relations with the neighbours. What we need to make it happen is to deliver a [Palestinian] state.”
The two-state solution closely reflects the Arab Peace Initiative, which was proposed by Saudi Arabia in 2002. The initiative called for normalised relations between Israel and other Arab states in exchange for a full withdrawal by Israel from lands it occupied in the 1967 war, including the Golan Heights, East Jerusalem and the West Bank. The initiative was re-endorsed over the years by the Arab League but never implemented, as Israel continued its occupation and settlement expansion in the West Bank.
Saudi Arabia’s foreign minister has denied reports that a meeting took place between Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and Israeli officials. “I have seen press reports about a purported meeting between HRH the Crown Prince and Israeli officials during the recent visit by @SecPompeo. No such meeting occurred. The only officials present were American and Saudi,” Prince Faisal bin Farhan Al Saud wrote on Twitter 23 November 2020.
Saudi Arabia agreed to let Israeli airliners cross its airspace en route to the United Arab Emirates after talks between Saudi officials and White House senior adviser Jared Kushner, news agency Reuters and Israeli media outlets reported 30 November 2020. Kushner and Middle East envoys Avi Berkowitz and Brian Hook raised the issue shortly after they arrived in Saudi Arabia for talks. “We were able to reconcile the issue,” an official from the administration of United States President Donald Trump told Reuters.
Israel and Saudi Arabia may seem unlikely allies in regional politics but by 2017 regional developments had pushed Riyadh and Tel Aviv closer together, setting the stage for the Middle East’s strangest bedfellows. The covert ties between Israel and Saudi Arabia, based on an alliance against the “common threat” of Iran, are part of a new regional paradigm. The inclusion of Israel as a potential partner reflects a break from the fragmented order in the Middle East, where since the early 2000s the United States had sought to create a hegemonic system to dominate West-friendly states.
Saudi Arabia, capitalising on its religious standing in the Arab world, broke through the ranks to establish its own order, one that included seeking ties with Israel on the basis of land for peace. In tandem, it worked on the preservation of its Sunni identity and alliances to counterbalance Shia Iran’s influence. This shifting political order must pertain to the parameters of the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, which the US and Saudi leaders see as an imperative condition for enabling such a regional cooperation.
A visible Saudi-Israeli alliance that will deter Iran is a rationale for advancing Israeli-Palestinian peace in Washington and Riyadh. The Trump White House, under the efforts of senior adviser and the president’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, was busy devising a new plan to break the deadlock of the peace process, which President Donald Trump has described as “the ultimate deal”.
The motives of Saudi Arabia are based on the shared strategic interest with other countries in the region, which he described as the “pragmatic Arab camp”. Egypt, Jordan, the Gulf states – excluding Qatar – have two strategic threats: Iran and the Salafi or radical Islamic terrorism. Israel is perceived as the most reliable potential all. The Saudis understood that it was a good time to be good friends with Israel.”
Saudi Arabia realised that its support of the Palestinian peace process had become a burden on its shoulders and that there were more issues that hold strategic importance. Where it once drew up what became known as the Arab peace initiative for lasting peace with Israel in 2002, by 2017 the country was now willing to push the Israelis and Palestinians to accept Kushner’s peace plan.
Once the Palestinians had been pressurized enough to enter the political process, an upgrade of relations between the Saudis and the Israelis will take place where it will transcend the covert layer. This will be a sort of incentive for the Israeli leadership to make some further moves in the peace process with the Palestinians which they will see as something they can benefit from – the normalisation of relations.
Although Saudi officials remained silent on underhanded relations, their Israeli counterparts have made no efforts to hide that meetings between the two countries have taken place, with invitations for future visits.
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