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Could Bin Salman emerge as the saviour of Palestine?

October 11, 2023 at 8:49 am

Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman on June 22, 2023 [LUDOVIC MARIN/POOL/AFP via Getty Images]

Under-fire Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has vowed to change the political landscape of the Middle East in response to the astonishing Hamas attack launched during the Jewish festival of Yom Kippur. No truer word has been spoken by the alleged fraudster who stands charged with breach of trust and accepting bribes, as well as fraud, leading him to hand over all of his ministerial portfolios other than that of prime minister.

Hamas has ripped open a Pandora’s Box which, I believe, will change the shape of the Middle East for years to come, and it will be for the better. It would be incredibly difficult for the suffering of the Palestinians to get any worse than the brutal occupation that they have been forced to endure for the past 75 years.

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The shocking events that unfolded at the weekend offer an unbelievable opportunity for redemption for some of the most monstrous individuals in the region, while exposing the usual hypocrisy of Western leaders.

First up is the unpredictable and petulant Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman, who has unequivocally announced his support for the Palestinian people. Shame he did not go as far as to include Hamas in this unprecedented show of solidarity with Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas, but that may come later.

It also seems that Bin Salman has binned plans for normalisation with apartheid Israel, which is a major blow for Netanyahu and his American allies. Netanyahu has yet to go on trial in the very tough court of public opinion in Tel Aviv after last weekend’s events, and go he well might.

I believe that the Hamas incursion will eventually cost Netanyahu his job because his own people, including the families of fallen soldiers, kibbutz survivors and others, have lost all trust in his ability to lead. Last week the average Israeli never gave Palestinians a second thought. In today’s climate, though, the Israelis have moved from hubris to humility and are living in fear while being forced to re-evaluate their personal security.

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Losing the normalisation deal with the Saudis will also send tremors through the corridors of power in the Zionist state. That alone will probably result in the defanging of Netanyahu, currently the world’s most dangerous man. He has convinced Israelis that the biggest threat to world peace is Iran and, through the normalisation process, he was obviously hoping that Saudi Arabia would help tame Tehran’s aggression towards Israel.

Iran has dismissed accusations that it funded and enabled Hamas to carry out Saturday’s attack. This is likely true, not least because the response by Hezbollah in Lebanon is uncharacteristically muted, although we are told that the movement is waiting in the wings to lend support if needed.

What is clear is that Israel suffered its darkest day in its violent history. It is being referred to in some circles as Tel Aviv’s own 9/11, and it’s on Netanyahu’s watch.

In terms of intelligence failures, it was catastrophic, a bit like US intelligence failing to see the fall of the Berlin Wall coming until it actually happened.

Gaza is now being bombed without mercy and, in some cases, without warning. Collective punishment is, of course, illegal under international law. Israel doesn’t care about that; it treats international laws and conventions with contempt, and is allowed by the US and its craven allies in the West to act with impunity.

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Those allies trembled when Hamas delivered its own version of “shock and awe”, breaking out of the open-air prison that is the Gaza Strip to attack Israel. Then Washington, London, Paris, Berlin and elsewhere reverted to type and condemned the actions of Hamas as “terrorism”.

The word was bandied around liberally having been conspicuous by its absence in descriptions of Ukraine’s resistance to Russian occupation, but now the West is wondering what else it can do. All are mindful not to incur the wrath of the crown prince and de facto ruler of Saudi Arabia in case the West’s golden goose turns and flies away. The plans for normalisation between Riyadh and Tel Aviv now lie in tatters, and not one of the Western leaders has the guts to chastise Bin Salman or persuade him to resume negotiations.

To complicate matters further, the prince is having a very public spat with another Western ally, Abu Dhabi’s own strongman, Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Zayed. There are serious cracks opening up in the thin veneer of their much-vaunted Arab entente cordiale. The bromance is well and truly at an end, although their rivalry is a cause for concern.

While pursuing his own interests quite ruthlessly, Bin Zayed has sided openly with Israel in his response to the Hamas attack. That duly sent Bin Salman on the opposite tack, with him favouring the Palestinians, but not Hamas.

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The joint ventures of Bin Zayed and Bin Salman with Moscow in Libya, their combined mercenary adventures in Yemen, and the courting of China to influence global information power, have put the two crown princes on a collision course.

World leaders have been forced to watch and grimace as the Saudi leader cosies up to the Russians and Chinese on the world stage. He has shown that he is in charge of his own diary and dance card, and US President Joe Biden — what a supporter of far-right extremists that supposed Democrat is turning out to be — has already learned to his own cost not to raise the issue of human rights with Riyadh, especially retribution for the brutal murder of Jamal Khashoggi (that ship has already sailed) or oil production.

Bin Salman has the servile Western leaders exactly where he wants them under his royal thumb. This presents him with a golden opportunity to put the grim days of the Khashoggi murder behind him while he plays the beneficent royal to the Arab world. He could yet shock us all by becoming the saviour of the Palestinians by insisting on a Middle East peace deal and seeing to it personally that a deal is thrashed out and implemented.

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We should get a hint of what might be when British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak rolls out the red carpet for an official visit to London; if all goes well and enough oil and arms deals are agreed, no doubt a state visit will follow. Sunak is not going to rock the boat, and if he is told to be kinder to the Palestinians he will almost certainly agree.

Bin Salman has a chance to redeem his overseas image on which he has spent billions with a series of extraordinary “sportswashing” deals. This show of soft power serves him well in some quarters, but now he could reap even more rewards if he decides to play to the people in the souk.

With almost open war between Bin Salman and his UAE counterpart, exposing a huge disparity in their reaction to Israel, the Hamas attack provides the Saudi leader with the opportunity to boost his negotiating position on the world stage. The controversial normalisation process with Israel threatened to derail his position among ordinary Arabs and Muslims who watched in disbelief as groups of Jews visited Madinah and some even took selfies in the Grand Mosque in Makkah.

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In the current climate, therefore, any normalisation deal by the Saudi crown prince will be seen as a betrayal. This is why, I believe, he has aligned himself with the Palestinian Authority and its leader Mahmoud Abbas.

His proposed visit to the UK and possibly the US is part of the process of whitewashing his human rights record and rehabilitation. While everyone realises it is in their best interests to remain on Saudi Arabia’s good side, Mohammed Bin Salman could emerge as the fully redeemed saviour of Palestine. It would be an extraordinary reversal of fortunes, but once again the Palestinians will be at the mercy of a third party. True freedom will only come their way when they can control their own destiny without having to rely on criminal prime ministers and petulant crown princes.

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