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What the PA should and should not accept if the Saudis join the normalisers

September 14, 2023 at 8:02 am

US President Joe Biden makes his way to board Air Force One before departing Israel’s Ben Gurion Airport on July 15, 2022 [ABIR SULTAN/POOL/AFP via Getty Images]

It appears that the Biden administration is working on a tight schedule with one of its top foreign policy priorities: normalisation between its two Middle Eastern allies, Saudi Arabia and Israel. Next year, the administration will be totally consumed in the presidential campaign, since Joe Biden is seeking a second term. Campaigning for a sitting president tends to be a full-time job, requiring the collective effort of the top administration officials, leaving them with little time to deal with complicated foreign policy matters of the magnitude and significance of getting the Saudis and the Occupation State together. With low approval rating of some 40 per cent, Mr. Biden badly needs a breakthrough in foreign policy, even if it matters little in presidential elections.

Any advance on the normalisation front must be finished, at least in principle, before the end of this year for the Democratic President to reap any political revenues and deploy them into his political campaign as a successful foreign policy, to offset the lack of any success stories, so far. Even the administration’s position on Ukraine has, until now, failed to score any big achievements, despite the pumping of billions of dollars and military hardware to Ukraine, with little to show for it in terms of in- the-battlefield success, while American voters, increasingly, oppose more funding to Kyiv.

Saudi Arabia’s Foreign Minister, Prince Faisal Bin Farhan, earlier this year, appeared to make any deal with Israel conditional. He said that normalisation is “beneficial” to all, but it will be even better if a “pathway” to settle the Palestinians could be found, to give the process credibility. He repeated the same position after talks with Antony Blinken last June in Riyadh.

READ: Israel sweating over the price of normalisation with Saudi Arabia

From the Saudi perspective, normalisation is not that urgent and Riyadh would prefer to have as broad consensuses as possible among its domestic and regional constituencies. This explains why the Saudis were keen to hear from the Palestinians, before they commit to any deal with Israel.

Earlier this month, a Palestinian Authority (PA) delegation visited Saudi Arabia to discuss the potential benefits any deal between Tel Aviv and Riyadh might bring to the Palestinians. While the PA and the Saudis gave little away about the meetings, various media reports said that the PA has made different demands in return for not rejecting and publically condemning any Riyadh-Tel Aviv deal. Such demands include some financial aid to the cash-strapped and extremely corrupt PA.

Taking into account that Saudi Arabia has its own demands before signing any deal with Israel, what the Palestinians must focus on is what the Palestinians want, and to what extent they can make such demands as realistic as possible for the Saudis to include in their negotiating agenda with the American brokers and the Israeli negotiators.

Some PA officials, particularly from the Fatah faction which dominates the PA, believe that normalisation between Saudi Arabia and Israel is only a matter of time and it could happen soon. This, they think, is the time to take advantage of any such imminent deal.

30 years since Oslo, has the PA simply entrenched the occupation? - Cartoon [Sabaaneh/Middle East Monitor]

30 years since Oslo, has the PA simply entrenched the occupation? – Cartoon [Sabaaneh/Middle East Monitor]

What exactly is the PA said to be demanding in return for blessing or, at least not publicly, rejecting any Saudi-Israeli deal?

Little is available to go by, but the nature of the PA as discredited, corrupt and being an Israeli security establishment helping-hand, it is likely such demands fall far short of any Palestinian expectations. First and foremost, the PA should insist on making the 2002 Arab Peace Initiative, initially drafted and sponsored by the Saudis themselves, a central component to any normalisation. The Initiative, broadly accepted by the Arab League, calls for an independent Palestinian State founded on the 1967 borders, with East Jerusalem as its capital. It also tackles the issues of water resources and that of the refugees, in addition to future relations with the wider Arab world.

The Saudis are unlikely to give up easily on something that they themselves have pushed for and promoted over the last two decades. It would be a sell-out if they do and it will cost them dearly, at least in terms of public and religious credibility. The Saudi public and the wider Arab and Muslim peoples across the world still reject any kind of deal between Riyadh and Tel Aviv and such rejection will become even more widespread if the Saudis appear to be giving up on their own Initiative.

The PA will be selling out if it accepts a few million dollars and a temporary freeze on settlements and celebrate that as an achievement, in return for blessing Saudi-Israeli ties.

READ: Israel says holding talks with Palestinians to advance Saudi normalisation deal

If the notorious Oslo Accords made the entire Palestinian occupied land as a “disputed” land between the Palestinians and Israel, any deal between Riyadh and Tel Aviv could make the entire Palestinian struggle a matter of internal Israel civil struggle, instead of what it really is—a case of colonisation and brutal occupation.

The PA is not under any urgency to bless anything that does not, at least, uphold the fundamental rights of its people in freedom and statehood. The illusion of, for example, Israeli freezing the settlements in the West Bank will never be honoured by the Israeli side and, even if it is promised and upheld, it is meaningless. Since the Oslo Accords were signed, the Israeli settlements in the West Bank have expanded so much that the entire West Bank appears to be taken over by Israeli settlers.

While the Saudis are free to make their demands to the Israeli and their American friends, they should not infringe on Palestinian rights, as the late Anwar Sadat did when he signed up for peace with Israel over 45 years ago.

Palestinians do not stand to lose more than they already have now, and the PA should stop pushing forward discredited peace negotiations with Israel while the latter is getting away with its daily crimes committed against Palestinian civilians.

READ: PFLP warns PA against making concessions for Saudi-Israel normalisation

For the Saudis to get a deal with Israel, based solely on their own demands such as security guarantees, civilian nuclear programme and more American weapons will be a humiliation to the Kingdom and everything it once stood for. But, even if that happens without anything in return, for the Palestinians the PA is not obliged to bless it and should mobilise the public across the Arab and Muslim world against it, regardless of how the Saudis feel about this.

Riyadh needs Palestinian blessing or, at least, silence over any deal with Tel Aviv, more than the PA needs some financial aid that will be siphoned into the corrupt corridors of Ramallah.

The PA also risks wider internal Palestinian divisions and fighting, since almost all other Palestinian factions, particularly in Gaza, are unlikely to accept any Israeli-Saudi deal that does not safeguard basic Palestinian rights.

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