January 12, 2024 | The Algemeiner

The US Should Not Tie Israel-Saudi Normalization to a Palestinian State

January 12, 2024 | The Algemeiner

The US Should Not Tie Israel-Saudi Normalization to a Palestinian State

Secretary of State Antony Blinken told reporters this week that Saudi Arabia still has a “clear interest” in normalizing relations with Israel, but that moving forward would require a “practical pathway” to Palestinian statehood. By tying Saudi-Israel normalization to Palestinian statehood, Blinken is once again handing Palestinians the ability to veto regional peace and security.

The prospects of an Israeli-Palestinian peace accord have been remote for almost two decades. With Hamas entrenching itself in Gaza and legitimacy slipping away from the corrupt Palestinian Authority (PA), led by an aged and ailing Mahmoud Abbas, there is no leader both willing and capable of hammering out peace with the Israelis.

Even before October 7, Israeli-Palestinians relations were getting worse, not better. Israelis were already experiencing a year of deadly terror attacks emanating from the West Bank, where the PA has increasingly lost its ability to maintain a modicum of law and order.

While the prospect of Palestinian statehood remains more elusive than ever, normalization between Saudi Arabia, the leader of the Sunni Arab world, and the Jewish state appears to be within reach. And the benefits of a Saudi-Israel normalization deal are myriad.

On the security front, normalization would facilitate increased military cooperation between Israel and the Arab Gulf states, who are seeking a credible deterrent to Iran, especially at a time when Washington is so hesitant to stand up to the regime in Tehran.

Saudi-Israel normalization would also help to realize the vision, shared by the United States and many others, of an economic corridor that would connect India to Europe through the Middle East, traversing both Israel and Saudi Arabia. The corridor would provide a potential alternative to China’s Belt & Road Initiative, which many of Beijing’s partners have begun to see as a recipe for debt and corruption. Building this corridor requires a stable, secure, and peaceful Gulf region, a goal advanced by improving Israeli relations with the Arab world.

While Riyadh and Jerusalem have been quietly drawing closer for years, this convergence represents a major reversal of long-held Saudi foreign policy. Saudi Arabia had previously been a patron of the Palestinian cause and financed Palestinian terror during the Second Intifada, which lasted from 2000-2005.

A major turning point came with the ascent of Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman (MBS), who has been running Saudi Arabia since 2015, even though his ailing father remains king.

One might describe MBS as an iron-fisted reformer, a combination that is uncomfortable for Western friends. He wants to move the Saudi economy beyond a reliance on fossil fuels, favors regional integration, and seeks to stamp out Islamic extremism. He considers the Arab conflict with Israel to be an inheritance holding his kingdom back.

In October 2020, former US president Donald Trump announced that Saudi Arabia would soon forge ties with Israel. Trump lost his election the following month, which some speculate delayed movement with the normalization agenda. However, progress did not totally stall. In September of 2023, MBS discussed the prospects of normalization with Israel during a Fox News television interview saying, “every day we get closer” to an agreement with Israel.

Importantly MBS did not condition peace with Israel on a Palestinian state, instead, he said that any agreement should “ease the life of the Palestinians.”

Even after the events of October 7 and the pervasive criticism of Israel’s response, Riyadh continues to signal it favors normalization, as Blinken reported. On a phone call with President Biden on October 24, MBS reportedly affirmed that Riyadh and Washington would continue to “build on the work that was already underway” between the US and Saudi Arabia in recent months, implying Saudi normalization with Israel. After Saudi Defense Minister Khalid bin Salman visited Washington in late October, White House spokesman John Kirby said he was “confident” that the Saudis were interested in pursuing normalization with Israel.

The Saudis’ weight as the custodians of Mecca and Medina means that normalization could embolden numerous other Arab and Muslim-majority countries to follow the Saudi example. There is even some hope that Riyadh, perhaps in concert with other Gulf and Arab states, will help to stabilize and rebuild Gaza after the war. Normalization with Israel would pave the way to a Saudi playing a central role when it is time to restore Gaza.

Saudi normalization with Israel would be a boon for peace and stability, even if the threat posed by Hamas’ Iranian patrons and their other proxies would remain acute.

Amid a devastating war, the dream of peace between Israelis and Palestinians may seem especially alluring. Yet if Biden and Blinken pause to consider what is realistic, then they should consolidate the emerging peace between Jerusalem and Riyadh, rather than undermine it in the name of an unachievable peace between Israelis and Palestinians.

Enia Krivine is the senior director of the Israel Program and the FDD National Security Network at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies. Follow her on X at @EKrivine


Arab Politics Gulf States Israel Military and Political Power Palestinian Politics U.S. Defense Policy and Strategy