Abraham Accords signed in 2020 between Israel, the UAE, and Bahrain. Subsequently, other countries joined the fold including Sudan and Morocco. The Abraham Accords enjoy broad support among Democrats and Republicans in the U.S., a rare bipartisan consensus. The Accords opened the door for the potential normalization of relations between Israel and other Arab and Muslim-majority nations in the future. The Biden administration inherited the accords and has worked to nurture and expand them, establishing initiatives like the Negev Forum for regional cooperation. The groundwork was Laid by Abraham Accords and were seen as the foundation for envisioning Israeli-Saudi normalization, making such discussions possible.
In Israel politics are polarizing such as the Netanyahu controversial judicial reform, and Palestinian politics are dissolving, with this maneuver Israel wants to rejuvenate its image. Saudi stance position is to coincide the normalization and the case for Palestinians to be front and center with concessions from Israel. The Palestinian Authority engages with Saudi Arabia to secure the best possible deal while maintaining ambitious goals, including Israeli concessions, negotiations, settlement cessation, and financial support, as the Saudis are thinking regional and not bilateral terms.
Saudi stance is to coincide the normalization and the case for Palestinians to be front and center with concessions from Israel. The Palestinian Authority engages with Saudi Arabia to secure the best possible deal while maintaining ambitious goals, including Israeli concessions, negotiations, settlement cessation, and financial support.
Saudi strategic gains if normalization occurs involves a long wanted NATO type commitment a formal legal commitment to their security given by the US, Saudi Arabia seeks a robust security guarantee from the U.S., possibly treating an attack on Saudi Arabia as an attack on the U.S. itself. For Saudi Arabia, a U.S. security guarantee and normalization with Israel would enhance its security, provide a strategic partner, and boost economic prospects, bolstering Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s reformist image. Saudi Arabia desires civil nuclear and uranium enrichment capabilities to counter regional threats, particularly Iran. Jordan’s King Abdullah for the first time he says he supports the normalization between Israel and Saudi Arabia with the caveat that the Palestinians should not be forgotten.
A Washington Institute claimed that a third of Saudis want business and high-tech cooperation with Israel and that upgrading the relationship with Israel brings with it an upgrading of the relationship with the US. Biden finds the Saudis to be essential partners in energy pricing, regional security and counterterrorism, the rapid liberalization of some aspects of Saudi life is a sign that the Kingdom is changing, trade and transit bing the two major concerns for Saudis and the US alike. US President Joe Biden has many a time reaffirmed his Zionism and the strong ties between the US and Israel. In his words ‘we will continue to advance Israel’s integration in the region and expand emerging forms and engagements.’ like the new I2U2 summit” of Israel, the US, India and the United Arab Emirates. Biden calls himself: “I am a Zionist. You don’t have to be a Jew to be a Zionist.” President Biden standing for re-election who wants to get reelected and the Republicans game plan is to portray the president as this dithering ineffectual old man. Through this deal it is a way for him to demonstrate himself as a president essential for leadership demonstrate Vitality on the international stage. Providing a security guarantee to an autocratic regime and allowing nuclear enrichment face domestic political opposition in the U.S., especially among Democrats.
Biden finds the Saudis to be essential partners in energy pricing, regional security and counterterrorism, the rapid liberalization of some aspects of Saudi life is a sign that the Kingdom is changing, trade and transit bing the two major concerns for Saudis and the US alike.
Netanyahu is pushing for normalization with the Saudi’s, then initiate the economic corridor and then address the issue of the Palestinians. Israel’s domestic politics pose challenges, with security hawks and ultra-nationalists in the coalition opposing territorial concessions and a Palestinian state. Israel fears a regional cascade of uranium enrichment if Saudi Arabia acquires the capability, potentially undermining Israel’s status as the sole nuclear power. A first Israeli official delegation took part within the framework of UNESCO in a gathering in Riyadh of Israeli Tech Sovereign fund have invested openly in listed stocks of Israeli high-tech, as there is alot of Israeli tech companies working in Saudi Arabia.
Navigating Domestic Politics – Israel faces the challenge of managing domestic political dynamics, with security hawks and ultra-nationalists opposing territorial concessions and a Palestinian state. The way forward involves Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu potentially reconfiguring his coalition to secure majority support for the deal. This could necessitate a shift in his governing coalition and may require taking political risks.
Balancing Regional Security – Israel’s defense and intelligence establishment wants to address concerns about regional nuclear proliferation. Israel actively engages in negotiations and international efforts to prevent the cascade of uranium enrichment in the Middle East. Ensuring its status as the region’s sole nuclear power while denying Saudi Arabia’s security aspirations.
Strategic Benefits – Israel emphasizes its strategic benefits of normalization, solidifying its place in the region and serving as a security asset, akin to previous peace treaties with Egypt and Jordan. Prime Minister Netanyahu may need to demonstrate leadership and vision to support from a potentially reconfigured governing coalition.
Obtaining Security Guarantees – Saudi Arabia continues to pursue a formal security guarantees from the United States. To progress, it engages in sustained diplomatic efforts and possibly negotiate specific terms that satisfy both parties. Riyadh’s leaders should be prepared to address concerns about human rights and foreign policy behavior.
Managing Palestinian Dynamics – While recognizing that full Palestinian statehood may be unattainable, Saudi Arabia can work toward securing meaningful progress in negotiations. This includes advocating for increased Palestinian autonomy in the West Bank, timelines for final status talks, cessation of Israeli settlement activities, and restored Saudi funding to the Palestinian Authority. Riyadh can play a mediating role to reconcile differences within the Palestinian factions.
Economic and Strategic Gains – Saudi leaders should highlight the economic and strategic gains of normalization. The normalization agreement would provide Saudi Arabia with a valuable strategic partner, bolster regional stability, and support economic diversification efforts. Emphasizing these advantages can help secure public support and address concerns about the Palestinian cause.
U.S. (Biden) Perspective
Domestic Political Consensus – The Biden administration must work to build a domestic political consensus in the United States to support the deal. This involves addressing concerns from both Democrats and Republicans regarding providing a security guarantee to Saudi Arabia and potential nuclear proliferation. President Biden should engage with legislators on both sides to secure the necessary votes.
Diplomatic Achievement – The Biden administration can leverage the normalization agreement as a substantial diplomatic achievement. By de-risking the region, countering China’s influence, and fostering peace, the U.S. can advance its strategic goals in the Middle East. This achievement can be strategically highlighted in the lead-up to the 2024 elections.
Balancing Interests – The U.S. should carefully balance its interests in the region, recognizing the need to address regional security challenges while focusing on global great power competition, particularly with China. The administration can continue efforts to encourage regional actors to take more responsibility for their security and contribute to regional stability.
Global Great Power Competition – Manage and balance U.S. interests in the Middle East with the broader context of great power competition, particularly with China, while reducing the U.S. military footprint in the region. Moreover, leverage evolving geopolitical dynamics, including China’s role in the Middle East, to create opportunities for regional diplomacy and flexibility.
Strategic Cooperation – Establish a framework for ongoing cooperation on regional security and other shared challenges among Israel, Saudi Arabia, and the United States.
Domestic Political Consensus – Build domestic political support within each involved country, addressing concerns and securing necessary approvals, including approval from the U.S. Senate for a formal security treaty.
The potential normalization between Israel and Saudi Arabia with U.S. involvement, raises several critical points of critique from the perspective of Islamic unity and the concept of the ummah (Muslim community), which traditionally does not recognize Israel as a legitimate state due to its occupation of Palestinian land. As the potential normalization between Saudi Arabia and Israel contradicts the historical stance of the Islamic ummah, which has largely not recognized Israel’s legitimacy as a state. This shift challenges the principles of Islamic unity and solidarity in support of the Palestinian cause. The proposed normalization appears to prioritize regional political and security considerations over the rights and self-determination of the Palestinian people. Critics argue that such a move disregards the suffering and aspirations of Palestinians living under occupation. The potential agreement could strain Islamic unity and solidarity, as it may be viewed as a betrayal of the Palestinian struggle by some Muslim-majority countries. This division weakens the collective voice of the ummah in advocating for Palestinian rights.
The potential normalization between Saudi Arabia and Israel contradicts the historical stance of the Islamic ummah, which has largely not recognized Israel’s legitimacy as a state. This shift challenges the principles of Islamic unity and solidarity in support of the Palestinian cause. The proposed normalization appears to prioritize regional political and security considerations over the rights and self-determination of the Palestinian people.
Furthermore, Jerusalem (Al-Quds) holds immense religious significance for Muslims, and any actions that appear to compromise its status can evoke strong emotions within the ummah. Concerns about Jerusalem’s status under any normalization agreement should be addressed because normalization should not occur at the expense of Palestinian rights. With geopolitical considerations, including shared interests in countering Iran, should not take precedence over the ummah’s commitment to Palestinian rights and the liberation of Palestinian territories.
Hence, the potential normalization between Israel and Saudi Arabia, within the context of Islamic unity and the ummah’s historical stance, raises significant concerns and critiques regarding its impact on the Palestinian cause, religious significance, and principles of solidarity within the Muslim world. Balancing geopolitical considerations with Islamic values and Palestinian rights remains a complex challenge in this evolving diplomatic landscape.
Therefore, the way forward involves Israel, Saudi Arabia, and the U.S. addressing domestic political challenges, emphasizing the strategic benefits of normalization, and actively engaging in diplomatic efforts to secure the necessary support and concessions for the Palestinians. This approach can lead to lasting regional stability and cooperation, while addressing the complex dynamics of the Middle East.
Asma Khan Durrani is an Islamabad-based expert in Strategic Affairs. She is a student of Defence and Strategic Studies. She has done M.Phil. from SPIR Quaid-I-Azam University Islamabad. She has also been published internationally. She tweets @AsmaKhan_47 Mailed @ firstname.lastname@example.org