By Altaf Moti
The issue of normalization between Saudi Arabia and Israel has been a hot topic in the Middle East and the world, especially after the speeches of their respective leaders at the UN General Assembly. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in his address to UN General Assembly expressed his optimism about reaching a historic peace deal with the Saudis saying that it would create a new Middle East and enhance the prospects of peace with the Palestinians.
On next day, Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan Al Saud reiterated his country’s support for a two-state solution based on the 1967 borders and the Arab Peace Initiative, while criticizing Israel’s unilateral steps that violate international law. He did not mention any progress or details about the normalization efforts, which are reportedly facing several challenges and uncertainties.
Normalization between Saudi Arabia and Israel means establishing official diplomatic relations between the two countries which do not currently recognize each other or have any formal ties. This would involve opening embassies, exchanging ambassadors, signing treaties and cooperating on various fields such as trade, tourism, security and culture.
Normalization between two is a complex and sensitive issue as it involves various political, religious and strategic factors. Saudi Arabia is the custodian of Islam’s holiest sites in Mecca and Medinah, and has been a staunch supporter of the Palestinian cause and the 2002 Arab Peace Initiative which calls for Israel’s withdrawal from the occupied territories and the establishment of a Palestinian state with East Jerusalem as its capital. Israel, on the other hand, has rejected this initiative and has continued to expand its settlements and annex parts of the West Bank, while denying the Palestinians their basic rights and aspirations. Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has said that he is not in favor of giving veto power to the Palestinians or creating a separate Palestinian state.
However, normalization between Saudi Arabia and Israel is also a possibility, as both countries share common interests and threats in the Middle East. Both countries see Iran as their main adversary and have been engaged in a proxy war in Yemen, Syria, Iraq, and elsewhere. Israel also hopes that normalization with Saudi Arabia will improve its acceptance and legitimacy in the Muslim world particularly considering Saudi Arabia’s role as the custodian of Islam’s holiest sites.
What U.S. has said?
The US sees normalization between Saudi Arabia and Israel as a national security interest and a way to counter Iran’s influence in the region. The US has been holding covert talks with both countries for months to explore the possibility of establishing ties. The US has also denied the reports that Saudi Arabia has frozen the talks because of Israel’s refusal to make concessions to the Palestinians. The US has said that it remains committed to furthering Israel’s regional integration including through active diplomacy aimed at Israel-Saudi normalization. The US has also said that it is working on providing incentives and guarantees to both sides, such as a US defense pact for Saudi Arabia and a settlement freeze for the Palestinians.
According to some reports, the US is considering offering Saudi Arabia a formal defense treaty and assistance in developing its civilian nuclear program in exchange for recognizing Israel. However, such a deal would require congressional approval and could face opposition from human rights groups and Iran hawks. Moreover, it is unclear whether Saudi Arabia would accept such a deal without a clear commitment from Israel to end its occupation and agree to a two-state solution.
Saudi Arabia’s conditions for normalisation
According to reports, Saudi Arabia has set the following conditions for normalizing relations with Israel :
– A US defense pact that would provide Saudi Arabia with security guarantees and advanced weapons as well as a commitment to defend it from any external aggression especially from Iran.
-Assistance in developing a civilian nuclear program that would allow Saudi Arabia to produce nuclear energy but not to enrich uranium or reprocess plutonium, as well as a formal defense treaty that would require congressional approval and could face opposition from human rights groups and Iran hawks.
– Major progress towards the creation of a Palestinian state based on the 1967 borders with East Jerusalem as its capital, and a fair solution for the Palestinian refugees in accordance with the 2002 Arab Peace Initiative.
These conditions reflect Saudi Arabia’s strategic interests and concerns, as well as its historical and religious role as the custodian of the two holy mosques in Mecca and Medinah. Saudi Arabia wants to ensure its security and sovereignty, as well as its leadership and legitimacy in the Muslim world.
Israel reaction to Saudi Arabia conditions
Israel’s view on the Saudi conditions for normalization is not very clear, as it has not officially commented on them. However, based on some reports and statements, it seems that Israel is interested in improving ties with Saudi Arabia, but it also has some reservations and objections to some of the Saudi demands. Here is a summary of Israel’s possible stance on each of the three conditions:
– A US defense pact: Israel may not have a problem with this condition, as it already has a strong security alliance with the US and may benefit from having another partner in the region to counter Iran. However, Israel also have some concerns about Saudi Arabia’s military capabilities and intentions especially if it receives advanced weapons and technology from the US. Israel may also want to ensure that its own qualitative military edge (QME) is not compromised by any US-Saudi deal.
– Assistance in developing a civilian nuclear program: Israel may be more wary of this condition, as it has long opposed any nuclear proliferation in the Middle East and has viewed Iran’s nuclear program as an existential threat. Israel fear that Saudi Arabia’s nuclear ambitions could spark a regional arms race and undermine its own nuclear deterrence. Israel may also doubt Saudi Arabia’s assurances that its nuclear program is purely for peaceful purposes and may worry about the possibility of nuclear materials falling into the wrong hands.
– Major progress towards the creation of a Palestinian state: Israel may be the most reluctant to accept this condition as it has been opposed to any concessions to the Palestinians or any international pressure to resolve the conflict. Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has said that he is not in favor of giving veto power to the Palestinians or creating a separate Palestinian state. Netanyahu’s government is composed of religious and nationalist parties that support the expansion of settlements in the occupied West Bank and the annexation of parts of it. Israel may also argue that the Palestinian issue is not directly related to its relations with Saudi Arabia and that it should not be a precondition for normalization.
Israel motives for normalization with Saudi Arabia
Israel looks very keen towards normalization with Saudi Arabia for several reasons, such as:
– Israel sees Saudi Arabia as a potential ally and partner in the region especially in countering Iran’s influence and threats. Iran is Israel’s main adversary and has been supporting various armed groups that oppose Israel. By normalizing relations with Saudi Arabia, Israel hopes to form a coalition with other Arab and Muslim countries that share its concerns about Iran’s nuclear and regional ambitions.
– Israel also hopes that normalization with Saudi Arabia will improve its acceptance and legitimacy in the Muslim world, particularly considering Saudi Arabia’s role as the custodian of Islam’s holiest sites in Mecca and Medinah. Israel has faced isolation and hostility from many Muslim countries for decades due to its occupation of Palestinian lands and its denial of Palestinian rights. By normalizing relations with Saudi Arabia, Israel hopes to gain recognition and respect from the Muslim ummah and to reduce the tensions and conflicts that have plagued the region.
What has Iran said?
Iran has said different things about the normalization deal between Saudi Arabia and Israel depending on the context and the audience. Here is a summary of Iran’s statements:
-Iran has welcomed the restoration of ties with Saudi Arabia, which were severed in January 2016 after Riyadh cut off diplomatic relations following attacks on its embassy in Tehran and consulate in Mashhad by protesters angry over the execution of a prominent Shiite cleric, Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr.
-Iran has said that it hopes to improve its relations with all its neighbors, including Saudi Arabia and to cooperate on regional issues.
– Iran has also expressed its opposition to any normalization of relations between Saudi Arabia and Israel which it considers an illegitimate and occupying regime that violates the rights and dignity of the Palestinian people. Iran has said that it will not recognize Israel or accept any compromise on the Palestinian cause which it views as a central issue for the Muslim world. Iran has also accused Israel of being a source of instability and aggression in the region, and of pursuing nuclear weapons that threaten regional and global security.
– Iran has also warned Saudi Arabia of the consequences of normalizing relations with Israel, which it sees as a betrayal of the 2002 Arab Peace Initiative and a surrender to the US pressure and interests. Iran has said that any normalization with Israel will not bring peace or security to Saudi Arabia but rather will expose it to more threats and isolation from its own people and allies. Iran has also said that any normalization with Israel will not affect its own relations with Saudi Arabia as long as Riyadh respects Tehran’s sovereignty and interests.
After the views of these countries, the only way to achieve a lasting and just peace in the Middle East is to end the Israeli occupation and colonization of Palestinian lands and to establish an independent and sovereign Palestinian state with East Jerusalem as its capital based on international law and UN resolutions. This is the position that Saudi Arabia and the Arab world have consistently upheld, and should not abandon for any price or pressure. The Palestinian cause is not a bargaining chip but a matter of dignity and justice.