There have been remarks in Israel recently expressing disappointment at Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad Bin Salman’s performance regarding the disappearance of journalist Jamal Khashoggi. This does not stem from his bloody repression of his opponents, but from the fact that this policy has reduced Israel’s ability to rely on him to draw a new map of the Middle East or to push US President Donald Trump’s plan for the Palestinian cause in a manner that serves the policies of the occupation. Reading between the lines, we can also see more of Israel’s hidden aspirations for Bin Salman.
A comment in Yedioth Ahronoth newspaper yesterday is a case in point. An Israeli journalist specialising in Arab affairs noted that the regional strategy adopted by the Trump administration and the government of Benjamin Netanyahu for the Arab region depends on two things: a close alliance with Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi’s Egypt and the anti-Iran axis in the Gulf, led by Saudi Arabia. In the journalist’s opinion, the Israel-Saudi axis was supposed to completely change the status quo in the region regarding the anti-Tehran front by achieving comprehensive open normalisation with Israel. At the same time, she stressed that many Israelis and Jews who have met with Bin Salman said that he gave them a strong impression of being “the Arab leader” capable of bringing about such change. She noted that unlike many other Arab leaders who agree with the Israelis on everything behind closed doors and then attack it publically, Bin Salman’s discourse regarding Israel in the Saudi media and social media is very positive.
In this regard, we must note that Israeli research centres have warned in the past against relying on Arab states defined as moderate by Israel to force the Palestinians to accept Trump’s plan. One institute described this assumption as “a dangerous illusion.”
This is not due to the Israeli conviction that these Arab states are keen on the Palestinian cause, but because of the Arab leaders’ limited willingness to deviate from the prevailing positions held by the general public in their countries on this issue, especially in the wake of the Arab Spring revolutions. This has been noted by the same Israeli writers.
The current remarks about Bin Salman are reminiscent of those made about the Arabs by the founder of the Zionist movement, Theodor Herzl, in his novel Altneuland (The Old-New Land). Herzl’s character, Reschid Bey, was an intellectual educated in Germany who gladly agreed with the Jews coming to Palestine, believing that they would bring blessings and civilisation and save it from underdevelopment. The author described Bey’s father as “among the first to understand the beneficent character of the Jewish immigration, and enriched himself, because he kept pace with our economic progress. Reschid himself is a member of our New Society.” Herzl also put submissive words in the character’s mouth: “Our profits have grown considerably. Our orange transport has multiplied tenfold since we have had good transportation facilities to connect us with the whole world. Everything here has increased in value since your immigration.” Furthermore, “The Jews have enriched us. Why should we be angry with them? They dwell among us like brothers. Why should we not love them?”
While Herzl did not mention the Arab issue in his novel and deliberately chose to ignore it completely, along with the indigenous Arab people, he did portray the Jews as the masters and guardians who will bring civilisation and culture with them, while portraying the Arabs as the submissive and lowly side of the equation who promote the benefits of Jewish immigration.
It is no exaggeration to say that the general Zionist view of the Arabs is still attached to this vision. Moreover, it seems that some of the Arabs have internalised it about themselves.
This article first appeared in Arabic on Al-Araby Al-Jadeed on 17 October 2018
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.