Is Saudi Normalization With Israel Possible? – OpEd


By Faisal J. Abbas

Much has been said about the recent visit of US National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan to Jeddah. According to US press reports, one of the topics on the table was the prospect of a US-brokered Saudi-Israeli normalization deal. Of course, there has been no official confirmation from the Kingdom. However, one has only to speculate, contextualize, and take recent developments into consideration to reach the conclusion that it is highly likely that such a deal might be possible.

Before I go on, allow me to shush conspiracy theorists who will jump to the conclusion that Saudi Arabia has “sold out” the Palestinian cause. They will argue that proof of this theory is that the discussions — if they occurred — happened in secret, which in itself is reason for them to believe that something dodgy was cooking. Well, with all due respect to the intellect — or, rather, the very little intellect — of those who propagate such views, the norm for any talks of this nature is that they happen in secret and are announced only when/if successful. Just ask the Palestinians, orwatch the film “Oslo.”

Second, Saudi Arabia is one of the few countries that actually practices what it preaches. Unlike Tehran, Riyadh’s position has never been ideological in the sense that we never preached — or to be more precise pretended to preach — throwing Jews into the sea (while secretly getting weapons from Israel during the war with Iraq, as Iran did in the 1980s). In fact, since the Madrid conference of 1991, Saudi Arabia has been at the forefront of trying to achieve a peace deal that puts Palestinian rights first, while at the same time offering Israel the recognition and guarantees it needs.

As a reminder, it was actually the late King Abdullah who offered Israel the Arab Peace Initiative adopted by the Arab League in 2002. More recently, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman told the Atlantic magazine last year that the Kingdom sees Israel as “a potential ally.”

“We don’t look at Israel as an enemy; we look to them as a potential ally, with many interests that we can pursue together,” he said in remarks carried by the official Saudi Press Agency. “But we have to solve some issues before we get to that,” the crown prince added, saying that he hopes conflicts between Israelis and Palestinians will be resolved.

Third, comes the aspect of the additional Saudi demands that have been reported since late 2022. As mentioned in this column last March, a fair and just solution for Palestinians has always been the Kingdom’s first priority. However, let us suppose Israel takes serious and satisfactory steps toward a solution, and suddenly a Saudi-Israeli normalization and peace treaty becomes a potential reality. What, then, would the subsequent consequences be?

If such a treaty were signed, then the US should have no more concerns about a Saudi nuclear program (which was always meant to be peaceful anyway), nor should it have any reservations about putting its verbal commitments to protect the Kingdom in writing. Indeed, although Israel has never been a security threat to Saudi Arabia, a peace treaty with Israel would mean that the only real threat to the Kingdom would be from Iran and the Houthis. Given that the first refers to the US as the Great Satan, and the latter’s official slogan is “Death to America,” then the Biden administration should really have no reservations committing to a signed treaty with the Kingdom, be it in the form of a “major non-NATO ally” or something else. (This, of course, is assuming Iran doesn’t abide by the China brokered peace treaty with Riyadh).

In fact, apart from the deeply rooted, multifaceted 80-year relationship between the two countries, it makes perfect sense for the US to safeguard the oil wells from any attack that would cause a supply shortage, which would, in turn, ultimately cause a huge increase in price — something any junior economist would be able to point out to cynics.

Apart from that, this would be a huge foreign policy win for the highly criticized Biden administration before a crucial election year — although pushing such a decision for Congressional approval will require an enormous effort by the White House despite some bipartisan approval as demonstrated by Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham giving it a public endorsement last April.

Last but not least, this might be a much-needed double-edged instrument which could both rein in the far-right lunatics in Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s current government, and also guarantee Palestinians a state, once and for all.

As our respected colleague Thomas Friedman eloquently wrote in The New York Times: “Netanyahu’s ruling coalition of Jewish supremacists and religious extremists would have to answer this question: You can annex the West Bank, or you can have peace with Saudi Arabia and the whole Muslim world, but you can’t have both, so which will it be?”

Once again, none of this is official, but even the prospect is a huge step forward for Palestinians, Israelis, and indeed for Saudi Arabia, which has embarked on a new, remarkable foreign policy that safeguards not only the huge prosperity Vision 2030 has achieved, but also aspires to be a force for good across the region and the world.

  • Faisal J. Abbas is the editor in chief of Arab News. Twitter: @FaisalJAbbas

Arab News

Arab News is Saudi Arabia's first English-language newspaper. It was founded in 1975 by Hisham and Mohammed Ali Hafiz. Today, it is one of 29 publications produced by Saudi Research & Publishing Company (SRPC), a subsidiary of Saudi Research & Marketing Group (SRMG).

One thought on “Is Saudi Normalization With Israel Possible? – OpEd

  • July 30, 2023 at 4:22 am

    Would the clergy and population of Saudi Arabia accept normalization with Israel? My guess is they would not . Even the creation of an independent, viable State of Palestine might not be enough. I would like the author of this article to address that. Perhaps I don’t understand the actual situation.
    Thank you.


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