According to the online Arabic daily newspaper Elaph, Saudi Arabia is calling off talks about normalizing ties with Israel. More on this unsurprising announcement can be found here: “Saudi Arabia suspends talks on peace deal with Israel, Arab report claims,” Jerusalem Post, September 17, 2023:
Saudi Arabia has informed the Biden administration of its decision to halt all talks of normalizing ties with Israel on Sunday [Sept. 17], the Arab news outlet Elaph cited an Israeli official in the Prime Minister’s Office as saying.
According to the unconfirmed report, Riyadh issued a message through the US, explaining that the “extremist” nature of Israel’s right-wing government led by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is “torpedoing any possibility of rapprochement with the Palestinians, and thus with the Saudis,” as per Aleph.
Furthermore, the report specified that Saudi Arabia was put off from a potential peace deal due to Netanyahu’s “acceptance” of demands made by the likes of National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir and Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich, who the Saudis see as “extreme right.”
But Itamar Ben-Gvir and Bezalel Smotrich have been part of Netanyahu’s cabinet since the end of 2022; their views are well known to everyone, including the Saudis, who are now feigning surprise at their “extreme right” views prevailing in Jerusalem. The Saudis wish to present themselves to the Americans as eager for normalizing ties with Israel, but unfortunately the “extremists” in Netanyahu’s cabinet have made that impossible. In fact, Netanyahu himself has always been unwilling — he didn’t need any pressure from Smotrich or Ben-Gvir — to give the Saudis what they apparently want for the Palestinians. They want a Palestinian state encompassing all of the West Bank and Gaza. That is, they want Israel to withdraw within the 1949 armistice lines, that Abba Eban famously called “the lines of Auschwitz,” leaving Israel stripped of its critical defenses in the Jordan Valley and the Golan Heights, and with a nine-mile-wide waist from Qalqilya to the sea. And Israel would be expected to give up east Jerusalem, as well, which includes the Old City and the Temple Mount. No Israeli government would accede to such a demand.
Last week, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said that Saudi Arabia has let the Biden administration know that resolving Palestinian issues is critical for any normalization deal with Israel.
“It is also clear from what we hear from the Saudis that if this process is to move forward, the Palestinian piece is going to be very important too,” he said on Wednesday [Sept. 13] in an interview with the podcast Pod Save the World.
Israeli normalization with the Arab world and “any of the efforts that are going on to improve relations between Israel and its neighbors can not be a substitute for Israel and the Palestinians resolving their differences and having a much better future for Palestinians,” Blinken said.
“In our judgment that needs to involve a two-state solution” to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, he explained.
But has Blinken forgotten that Israel has indeed, without conceding anything to the Palestinians, quite easily normalized ties with the UAE, Bahrain, and Morocco? If Saudi Arabia wants to hold out for the territorial concessions it apparently wants Israel to make to the Palestinians, concessions that would endanger the Jewish state, it can wait forever. It is the Saudis, after all, who want the Americans to do three things that are far more important to Riyadh than a Palestinian state. First, they want Washington to sign a defense pact that will guarantee Saudi Arabia’s security; second, they want access to advanced American weaponry that so far has been denied them; third, they want American help in establishing what they insist will be a “peaceful” nuclear program.
The Bidenites could have negotiated a “normalization of ties” between Saudi Arabia and Israel by agreeing to those three significant requests and leaving aside the Palestinian question altogether. After all, it is in America’s interest to protect Saudi Arabia from a possible attack by Iran that could lead to the destruction of Saudi oil facilities and cause energy prices to skyrocket; it is in Washington’s interest to have the Saudis buy American weapons — earning our defense industry tens of billions of dollars, and allowing us to keep close tabs on what the Saudis have in their armory, rather than have Riyadh look elsewhere for advanced weaponry, in Europe, or Russia, or China. And the Americans have a stake, too, in helping the Saudis built a peaceful nuclear program that will be under close American supervision, rather than have the Crown Prince ask Beijing for nuclear assistance, which might not be limited to a “peaceful” nuclear program.
Those three concessions would have been quite enough, had the Bidenites negotiated properly, to obtain Saudi agreement to join the Abraham Accords. It has been the Bidenites’ harping on the need for Israel to move “on the Palestinian front” in order to convince Riyadh to join the Abraham Accords that made the Saudis realize that the Americans were even more interested than the Saudis themselves in squeezing Israel into making territorial concessions to the Palestinians.
Right now the Israelis should stop talking so much about their wish for a “deal with Saudi Arabia.” They have already expressed, quite unnecessarily, an excited desire to normalize ties with Saudi Arabia, which only convinces the Saudis that they can stand firm in their territorial demands for the Palestinians. The Saudis must be disabused of that notion. Israel, instead of running after Riyadh, should stop trying to woo the Saudis. Jerusalem should make clear that the price in territory that is now being demanded of them is too high, and a danger to the existence of the Jewish state. And Israel should let it be known that the concessions offered to Saudi Arabia by the Americans should be enough to obtain Riyadh’s adhesion to the Abraham Accords. But if they aren’t, okay, then, it’s back to square one, The Saudis won’t get those American concessions after all, and Israel will continue to strengthen its economic and security ties to the UAE, Bahrain, and Morocco, and to other states, too, that have signalled their desire to join the Accords. And Netanyahu could state, in a friendly but sober manner that “of course we hope that eventually Saudi Arabia will decide that it has more to gain from joining the Abraham Accords than by staying out.”