The Biden administration is planning a push for normalisation between Saudi Arabia and Israel before the end of 2023, US officials reportedly told Axios.
The White House is hoping to make the diplomatic effort before President Joe Biden turns his focus on his 2024 re-election campaign, according to the report published on Wednesday.
According to the unnamed officials, Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MbS) told US national security adviser Jake Sullivan last week in Riyadh that the price of normalisation would be a big package of US deliverables, including military cooperation, as opposed to incremental concessions from Washington.
The package would likely include arms sales that were suspended by the Biden administration over Saudi Arabia's war in Yemen and could even extend to support for Saudi Arabia's nuclear programme.
"Arab states approach normalisation with Israel in the belief that it offers sweeping influence, access, and impunity in the US Congress and the White House," geopolitical risk consultant and commentator Sami Hamdi told The New Arab, adding that MbS remained indignant about reputational damage done to Riyadh by criticism from Washington.
"He [MbS] remains unsure if normalisation, and the subsequent improvement it would bring in his relationship with Washington, will change investor sentiments on a scale that makes it worth enduring the sweeping, and potentially dangerous, backlash he will get from the Muslim world," he added.
To push Washington's case, officials have reportedly emphasised to MbS that a normalisation deal under Biden's tenure will receive bi-partisan support in Congress from Democrats and Republicans.
While many Democrats remain critical of MbS over the 2018 Khashoggi killing, it is believed that they would be more amenable to warming up to Riyadh under a president from their own party.
The US officials cited by Axios, as well as an unnamed Israeli official, indicated their agreement that a deal would have its best chances in Washington under the current administration.
Republican Senator Lindsey Graham expressed a similar sentiment during a recent visit to Jerusalem, which came days after a meeting with MbS.
"I told the crown prince that the best time to upgrade our relationship is now, that President Biden is very interested in normalizing relationships with Saudi Arabia and, in turn, Saudi Arabia recognizing [Israel]," Graham said in a statement, adding that Republicans would be "glad" to work with Biden on getting US-Saudi relations back on track.
The striking of a deal within the next six to seven months would also suit the Biden administration, which has been widely criticised for its handling of Middle East policy.
"The Iran Deal, which was supposed to be the hallmark of Democrat foreign policy, no longer seems likely anytime soon," Hamdi said. "There is now a greater urgency in the White House to secure a foreign policy ‘win’ that can be presented during the 2024 election campaign as Biden bids for another term."
Riyadh, meanwhile, has publicly remained cool on normalisation, saying in official statements that it will not move forward until steps are made towards Palestinian statehood.
If Washington concedes to MbS's demands, it remains to be seen what will be offered with regard to the Palestinians. However, observers are sceptical of Riyadh's official pronouncements on the Palestinian issue and Israel's normalisation.
Speaking to The New Arab, Hamdi highlighted that Saudi state media has been criticised for being supportive of Israeli policy, including its recent assault on Gaza.
"The issue of Palestine is more about orchestrating a PR mechanism through which the Saudi Crown Prince can present an ‘achievement’ to temper the backlash at home," he said.