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Saudi sceptical to pursue full normalisation deal with current Israel right-wing government

August 10, 2023 at 2:22 pm

Saudi Arabian Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman on July 16, 2022 [Royal Court of Saudi Arabia/Anadolu Agency]

Saudi Crown Prince, Mohammed bin Salman, has informed his associates that he is not prepared to completely normalise relations with Israel and neither is he enthusiastic about coming to an agreement with the present right-wing government headed by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, reported The Times of Israel.

Although US officials have emphasised that their approach to an Israel-Saudi agreement is not an all-or-nothing proposition, in addition to supporting measures to bring the two sides closer to complete normalisation, the Wall Street Journal article yesterday noted that Saudi Arabia is not ready for an arrangement similar to the one Israel established with the United Arab Emirates in 2020.

Moreover, even though US officials have privately acknowledged that opponents of Palestinian sovereignty – who make up a clear majority of Netanyahu’s government – will complicate efforts to secure a normalisation deal as it requires significant efforts to establish a two-state solution, the report also marked the first occasion when Riyadh expressed unease with the notion of entering any form of agreement with the current coalition.

READ: Netanyahu seeks US security pact as part of Saudi normalisation deal 

However, according to The Times of Israel, the report was firmly rejected by the White House National Security Council spokesperson, John Kirby, during a phone briefing with reporters. He said, “There are no mutually established negotiations, no agreed-upon framework to formalise normalisation or address the various security concerns that both we and our allies hold in the region.”

He added, “The way the report has been presented has led some individuals to believe that the discussions have progressed further and are closer to a certain level of certainty than is actually the case.”

With one eye on the 2024 elections, the US President is reportedly keen to secure a deal between the Saudis and the Israelis. Biden is purportedly willing to pay a high price, including offering Riyadh a North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO)-level mutual security treaty that would enjoin the US to come to Saudi Arabia’s defence if attacked, high-tech weapons sale and allowing the Saudis to develop a nuclear programme.

Though the Saudis have repeatedly stressed that normalisation with Israel will only progress on the condition Israel ends its occupation, it is not clear what the Saudi Crown Prince would do if the Biden administration were ready to pay such a high price. It is claimed that Bin Salman is not too concerned about the Palestinian issue and is ready to reach an agreement if Washington is prepared to meet his demands. Israel has also claimed that normalisation with Saudi Arabia is not linked to concessions for Palestinians.

Meanwhile, the Wall Street Journal noted that the Saudi Crown Prince has conveyed contradictory messages to various groups, while US officials maintain their belief that the Saudi leader is genuinely committed to pursuing a resolution.

According to The Times of Israel, Kirby clarified that Biden had, indeed, directed his top aides “to see what was in the realm of the possible when it comes to pursuing Israel-Saudi normalisation” and that “there is a commitment by the administration to keep talking and to keep trying to move things forward”.

For its part, Washington is seeking to have the Kingdom make guarantees that it will impose limits on its relationship with China, the Journal said, adding that officials hope to finalise the deal within a year.

READ: Palestine must be at the centre of Israel-Saudi normalisation, say Democrat senators