Photo Credit: Yoav Ari Dudkevitch/POOL
Last Thursday, as soon as his plane had left Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, Secretary of State Antony Blinken called Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and for the next 40 minutes plus, briefed him on what Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman expects to receive in return for diplomatic relations with Israel. Netanyahu then delivered his own demands.
According to the NY Times report on Saturday, the conversation was part of a new effort by the Biden White House to do what no White House has done before: peace between the two strongest pro-Western countries in the Middle East who share a common fear of a nuclear Iran.
Iran, for its part, is concerned that the recent thawing of its relationship with the Saudis will not change anything in the region. Alireza Enayati, the head of the Persian Gulf Bureau at the Iranian foreign ministry, who will be Iran’s ambassador to Saudi Arabia, pointed out in an editorial last week that “Iran and Saudi Arabia are the two important poles of the political field of the West Asian region, and with their multiple capacities, they can play a decisive role in the equations of the global economy.”
But the Saudis are painfully aware that Iran’s economy is failing, that Iran is more engaged in attacking civilian targets in Ukraine than they are in bettering the global economy, and that, in the end, a nuclear Iran would have lethal leverage on the Kingdom.
The White House has entered complex negotiations involving bin Salman, Netanyahu, and Blinken, whom the Times notes “are making demands that might prove to be too costly, and they simply do not much like or trust each other.”
In a joint press conference on Thursday in Riyadh, Blinken said: “We fully support Israel’s integration into the Middle East, and from day one, we have been working both to deepen some of the existing agreements and also expand them to other countries. That includes Saudi Arabia.”
Saudi Foreign Minister Faisal bin Farhan, who stood next to Blinken, said: “It’s quite clear that we believe that normalization is in the interest of the region, that it would bring significant benefits to all. But without finding a pathway to peace for the Palestinian people, without addressing that challenge, any normalization will have limited benefits.”
To be exact, bin Farhan did not mention a Palestinian State or the two-state solution, he merely asked for “finding a pathway to peace for the Palestinian people.”
This line is miles away from what used to be known as the “Saudi Initiative,” which was endorsed by the Arab League in 2002, and offered a comprehensive proposal to end the entire Arab–Israeli conflict based on the following 10 lines:
“(a) Complete withdrawal from the occupied Arab territories, including the Syrian Golan Heights, to the 4 June 1967 line and the territories still occupied in southern Lebanon; (b) Attain a just solution to the problem of Palestinian refugees to be agreed upon in accordance with the UN General Assembly Resolution No 194; (c) Accept the establishment of an independent and sovereign Palestinian state on the Palestinian territories occupied since 4 June 1967 in the West Bank and Gaza Strip with East Jerusalem as its capital.
“In return, the Arab states will do the following: (a) Consider the Arab–Israeli conflict over, sign a peace agreement with Israel, and achieve peace for all states in the region; (b) Establish normal relations with Israel within the framework of this comprehensive peace.”
Since then, Prime Minister Netanyahu has signed peace treaties with several Arab countries that did not require any of the Saudi Initiative’s conditions. Now, it appears that the Saudis, too, are not asking for anything resembling the Arab League’s document.
Don’t forget, the US is not exactly the most favorite ally of Saudi Arabia these days – the Saudis outright rejected President Biden’s request, which he delivered in person, that they rev up oil production to save America from inflation. The Saudis want from the US top-of-the-line military equipment and nuclear technology. To them, opening some mission on Hayarkon Street in Tel Aviv would be a trivial gesture, should the US extend its protection to them. They put in the line about the PA to keep up appearances. Unlike the 2002 statement, this line is bereft of a concrete meaning.
In his talk with the Saudi foreign minister, Iran’s President Ebrahim Raisi said only Israel and the enemies of the Muslims are unhappy about the Iran-Saudi thaw. “Only the enemies of Muslims, and at the head of them, the Zionist regime, are upset with the development of bilateral and regional cooperation between Iran and Saudi Arabia,” Raisi said.
His guest did not respond.