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Can Saudi Arabia normalise ties with Israel?

August 9, 2023 at 11:11 am

Flags of Israel and Saudi Arabia

Israel wants to normalise ties with Saudi Arabia. The motivations behind this intriguing development are far from one-dimensional, as they involve economic aspirations, geopolitical dynamics and the thorny issue of Palestine.

At the heart of Israel’s pursuit lies the allure of Saudi Arabia’s flourishing economy. Filled with riches and boasting a robust economic landscape, Saudi Arabia presents a promising potential partner for Israel. In an interview with Bloomberg in Washington on Monday, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu seemed optimistic about normalising ties with Saudi Arabia. He hinted at building an economic corridor to Europe with Saudis. This corridor would encompass energy, transport and communication sectors to stimulate trade and economic growth between the continents.

But before the normalisation, an underlying issue must be taken into consideration: Palestine. Critics argue that any progress in relations between Israel and Saudi Arabia should only come after a resolution to the ongoing Palestine-Israel conflict. The Israeli premier, however, has a different position on this. In the interview, he rejected the view that the issue of Palestine could cause any kind of problem in forming ties with Riyadh.

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Meanwhile, the US seems to differ on this matter. It insists that the interests of Palestinians should be a significant element of the talks between Saudi Arabia and Israel. Why is the US so invested in this situation? The answer lies in economic concerns: the stability of the US dollar is at stake. If Mohammed Bin Salman (MBS) were to announce that oil could be traded in currencies other than the dollar, it could trigger a domino effect, shaking the very foundation of the dollar’s supremacy.

This is why the US is eager to bolster economic ties with Saudi Arabia, leveraging its burgeoning economy and vast resources to safeguard its own economic interests. Saudi Arabia has a lot of money to throw away, and the US wants to make the most of this. But for that to happen, the US must be in Saudi Arabia’s good books. And to be in the good books of MBS, it is pushing Israel to behave itself for a while.

Israel’s growing aggression towards the Palestinians is a noteworthy concern among the international community. It is demolishing houses and making real estate moves in Palestinian territories. Its far-right Jewish groups are killing Palestinians. The situation is getting so out of hand that even the White House itself has used the word “terror” for the killing of a 19-year-old Palestinian girl by Western settlers. State Department Spokesperson Matthew Miller on Monday made it clear that the use of the word “terror” was not in error.

So, when a major ally of Israel with a very pro-Israel president, Joe Biden, is concerned about the growing violence against Palestinians, why would Saudi Arabia overlook this aggression and turn a blind eye? Of course, Riyadh is closely monitoring what is happening in Israel. Therefore, Israel cannot expect that MBS will happily shake hands with Netanyahu over the dead bodies of Palestinians.

Iran is also concerned about the possible normalisation of ties between the countries. Iran is a major rival of Israel and has been a rival to Saudi Arabia too, but now Tehran and Riyadh are moving forward to be allies, and Iran can certainly influence Riyadh on this issue. Even if Saudi Arabia wants to move past the Israeli aggression, Iran could constantly remind MBS of Israeli offences and hinder their ties. This is why the US is attempting to convey to Israel that it should consider the interests of Palestinians while holding talks with Saudi Arabia.

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It seems as though Israel itself is mentally prepared for the possible demands of Riyadh regarding the interests of Palestinians. The prospect of improved relations with Saudi Arabia seems to be of such paramount importance that Israel is now considering revisiting its policies concerning the Palestinians. In his interview, Netanyahu hinted about curbing settlement procedures and even entertained the idea of a Palestinian state governed by Palestinians but monitored by Israeli forces, signalling a willingness to compromise. So, if MBS demands, Israel may agree to a two-state solution.

As Israel reaches out for this newfound alliance, the ball is now in Saudi Arabia’s court. Netanyahu’s desperation to be friends with Saudi Arabia indicates its importance. Will Crown Prince MBS seize this opportunity to stop the genocide and illegal settlement in Palestinian authorities? The answer remains uncertain, but one thing is clear: the evolving relations between Israel and Saudi Arabia are far more intricate than they appear on the surface.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.