Will Saudi Arabia Embrace Israel? Saudi Inches Towards Historic Israel Recognition!

The potential normalization of diplomatic ties between Saudi Arabia and Israel stands as a pivotal moment, highlighting both opportunities and deep-seated challenges.

by Faruk Imamovic
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Will Saudi Arabia Embrace Israel? Saudi Inches Towards Historic Israel Recognition!
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The potential normalization of diplomatic ties between Saudi Arabia and Israel stands as a pivotal moment, highlighting both opportunities and deep-seated challenges. The recent surge in violence, marked by Hamas' attack on Israel on October 7 and the subsequent war leaving over 23,000 Palestinians dead, has not deterred Saudi Arabia's tentative steps towards recognizing Israel.

This development, if it materializes, could reshape regional dynamics significantly. U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken, in his recent Middle East tour, confirmed ongoing normalization discussions. In Saudi Arabia, he noted a palpable interest in this direction, describing it as potentially transformative.

Saudi Arabia’s ambassador to the United Kingdom, Prince Khalid bin Bandar, echoed this sentiment in a BBC interview, acknowledging longstanding interest dating back to 1982. However, the path to normalization is fraught with complexities.

Experts suggest Saudi Arabia's demands for such a move have escalated post-Gaza war. Riyadh, they argue, may seek greater concessions from both the United States and Israel. Analyst Ali Shihabi outlined specific prerequisites, including significant steps towards a two-state solution, such as lifting the Gaza blockade and empowering the Palestinian Authority.

While Blinken did not advocate for a ceasefire in Gaza, he emphasized that Israel's deeper integration into the region hinges on ending the conflict and paving the way for a Palestinian state.

The Abraham Accords and the Palestinian State Puzzle

The narrative of Middle East peace shifted dramatically with the Abraham Accords in 2020, when the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Morocco, and Sudan recognized Israel.

This move, bypassing the Arab insistence on a Palestinian state, was a significant departure from traditional peace efforts. The Biden administration has since been working to bring Saudi Arabia, a key influencer in the Muslim world, into this fold.

The UAE’s role in the accords, as highlighted by ambassador Yousef Al Otaiba, emphasized the viability of the two-state solution, suggesting it remains a crucial element in the region's peace architecture. Saudi Arabia's official stance has long favored the establishment of a Palestinian state.

However, this demand had receded from the kingdom’s rhetoric in recent years, until the October 7 attack re-ignited these discussions. Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS), while expressing hope for easing Palestinian lives, stopped short of explicitly calling for a state, focusing instead on enhanced U.S.

security assurances and assistance with Saudi’s civilian nuclear program. The war's aftermath saw a dramatic shift in public opinion within Saudi Arabia, with a poll revealing overwhelming support for severing ties with Israel in protest against its actions in Gaza.

This sentiment underscores the delicate balancing act Riyadh faces in moving towards normalization while addressing Palestinian rights.

Saudi Arabias Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan Al Saud© Getty Images/David Dee Delgado

Strategic Patience and Complex Realities

For Saudi Arabia, the timing and terms of any deal with Israel are critical.

The Biden administration views Saudi-Israel normalization as a cornerstone of its Middle East policy, offering a significant diplomatic win ahead of U.S. presidential elections. However, Riyadh remains cautious, particularly given the current Israeli government's perceived hardline stance and the fallout from the Gaza conflict.

Saudi ambassador Prince Khalid has criticized the Israeli government's extremist views, emphasizing that the resolution of the conflict hinges on Israel's approach. Tensions between Israel and the UAE, a primary signatory of the Abraham Accords, further illustrate the fragility of these agreements.

The UAE's insistence on a two-state solution as a precondition for its continued engagement highlights the importance of this issue in regional dynamics. Saudi Arabia’s reluctance to rush into a deal underscores its strategic patience.

The kingdom, while open to normalization, is not willing to compromise on fundamental issues, particularly those related to Palestinian rights. This stance reflects a broader regional perspective, emphasizing the need for meaningful concessions from Israel for a sustainable peace process.

The Future of Middle East Peace Efforts

As we look to the future, the role of Saudi Arabia in the evolving landscape of Middle East peace cannot be understated. The kingdom's influence, coupled with its strategic patience, places it in a unique position to shape the course of regional diplomacy.

However, this journey is not without its hurdles. The current Israeli government's stance, perceived as hardline and uncompromising by many in the Arab world, poses significant challenges to advancing peace talks. The complexities of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, a central issue in these discussions, require careful navigation.

The prospect of a Palestinian state remains a contentious and divisive topic. While some parties, like the UAE, advocate for a two-state solution, others, including key Israeli officials, remain skeptical. The path to peace is further complicated by the recent history of violence and the deep wounds it has inflicted on all sides.

The October 7 attack and the ensuing war in Gaza have left an indelible mark on the region, influencing public opinion and political calculations alike. In this context, the potential normalization of Saudi-Israeli relations takes on a broader significance.

It represents not just a diplomatic milestone, but a possible shift in the region's approach to one of the world's most enduring conflicts. The balance between strategic interests and moral imperatives, between national aspirations and regional stability, will be crucial in determining the success of these efforts.

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