A Saudi-Israel normalisation deal would be yet another betrayal of Palestine
Global media are offering glowing reports of an imminent breakthrough in talks leading to normalisation of relations between Israel and Saudi Arabia.
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and national security advisor Jake Sullivan recently visited the kingdom for high-level talks. Israeli Mossad chief David Barnea secretly travelled to Washington before those meetings to lay out Israeli positions on the matter.
Tom Friedman reports for The New York Times the extensive Saudi shopping list: “The Saudis are seeking…from Washington: a NATO-level mutual security treaty that would enjoin the United States to come to Saudi Arabia’s defence if it is attacked (most likely by Iran); a civilian nuclear program, monitored by the United States; and the ability to purchase more advanced U.S. weapons.”
"At their heart, these deals attempt to substitute economic improvements for true political justice. The Palestinians want their freedom. They want political rights"
Another condition the Saudis are demanding from Israel is "resolving" the conflict with the Palestinians. Yossi Melman writes in Haaretz what Israel is willing to offer: “Netanyahu’s promise not to annex the West Bank, not to build in the settlements, to ease freedom of movement for residents of the West Bank and to work to improve their economic situation.”
Let’s be clear. This is far from a "resolution" of the conflict. It merely repeats the same empty offers of past US administrations and past normalisation agreements.
At their heart, these deals attempt to substitute economic improvements for true political justice. The Palestinians want their freedom. They want political rights. If given those, economic development will result. Without them, nothing will improve.
These Israeli "concessions" would be the Saudi version of "resolving" the conflict, even without any discussion of ending the occupation or system of apartheid, or of a Palestinian state. But this would satisfy no one in Palestine, nor those who support the Palestine cause.
Analysis: While Saudi demands for US weapons and nuclear energy are real, Riyadh is also likely testing the water to see what's possible in Washington as the costs of normalising ties with Israel still far outweigh the benefits— The New Arab (@The_NewArab) July 11, 2023
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Saudi Arabia going nuclear
If the US provided Saudi Arabia with a nuclear reactor it would mark a major escalation in the Middle East arms race. Currently, no other country in the region aside from Israel has such capability. And Tel Aviv wants to keep it that way.
For Israel to acquiesce in such a project would abandon decades-old Israeli security policy. Netanyahu has cynically shown himself willing to abruptly change course in such a fashion if it would maintain his political power.
The Saudis have long coveted such nuclear technology. If they get it, almost certainly other states in the region like Turkey and Egypt would escalate their own scientific and technological efforts to achieve nuclear capability.
The resulting arms race could be catastrophic for a region already sitting on a powder keg of national rivalries, sectarian violence, and instability.
Israel also fears Iran's quest for nuclear capability. The former has spent billions over several decades, reportedly funded in part by the Saudis, to sabotage this effort. A US-funded nuclear transfer to Saudi Arabia could escalate Iran’s own nuclear programme in response.
Israel will reject any normalisation deal that gives Saudi military superiority. Barnea likely would have demanded US control over any reactor technology offered to the Saudis, to ensure they would not develop weapons that could be used against it.
The danger of drawing US into another Middle East imbroglio
The Saudis also seek a pact with the US which would require it to come to the kingdom's defence should it be attacked, based on the NATO model.
This would be an extremely sensitive subject in Congress since it would involve renewed US intervention in the Middle East, a "market" the Biden administration has sought to abandon.
So far, the Biden administration has offered the Saudis defensive weapons systems, but has baulked at offensive weapons which might escalate simmering conflicts. The Saudis want them and it may be the price for a deal.
Another factor dragging normalisation down is its increasing unpopularity in those countries which have already joined the Accords. Israel's extremist government and its massive violence against Palestinians have exposed past normalisation deals as empty promises and turned citizens of these countries even more strongly against normalisation.
Saudi Arabian leaders, in contemplating proceeding with discussions, know they will face resistance from a large segment of the population.
"The past few years have shown that the normalisation offered by the Abraham Accords proved to be a chimaera - far less than it seems and what its adherents claim"
Pitfalls of normalisation: not all it's cracked up to be
The past few years have shown that the normalisation offered by the Abraham Accords proved to be a chimaera - far less than it seems and what its adherents claim. Since the deals were signed in 2020, Israel has only escalated its racism and settler colonialism.
Don't be fooled by the cheerleading of media darlings like Tom Friedman, who basked in the endless possibilities offered by normalisation.
He claims, for example, that the Saudis are not demanding resolution of the Israel-Palestine conflict as part of the deal. But rather "that Israel make concessions to the Palestinians that would preserve the possibility of a two-state solution."
Preserving a solution is a far-cry from resolving the conflict through creation of a Palestinian state, which has been a longstanding Saudi goal. Not to mention that anything Israel offers could not preserve something that's already dead.
The terms Israel is willing to concede wouldn't "preserve" it, since they don't begin to do what it would take to make such a solution viable. This Times of Israel headline makes the point far more succinctly: "Potential Saudi-Israel normalisation could see Palestinians thrown under the bus."
Nor has anyone considered the Palestinian response to such betrayal. Hamas will redouble its armed resistance against Israel. The few Palestinians who have not embraced armed resistance will be so angered that they too will be pushed to do so.
Israel believes that with the Palestinians isolated on the world stage, it will face little consequence from an escalation of its own genocidal violence in response. Everyone will be happy with normalisation except the Palestinians.
And they don’t figure in the calculations of any of the parties.
"Israel believes that with the Palestinians isolated on the world stage, it will face little consequence from an escalation of its own genocidal violence in response"
Further Friedman grandiosity argues that normalisation between Saudi Arabia and Israel “would be a game changer for the Middle East” and get the rest of the Muslim world to follow, as well as “dramatically reduce the Muslim-Jewish antipathy”.
This is overreaching. Firstly, Saudi Arabia does not dictate the decisions of the "Muslim world.” With bodies piling up like cordwood in Palestinian towns and villages, countries like Indonesia and Pakistan would be loath to follow the Saudi example.
Secondly, antipathy in the Muslim world did not arise from the Israeli occupation. Rather, it arose from Israel's 1948 declaration of statehood and its ensuing war with Arab frontline states.
Further, there is no "Muslim-Jewish antipathy." Rather there is Muslim antipathy toward Israel for desecrating Haram al-Sharif and restricting Muslim access to the holy sites.
Nor is there a "Jewish-Palestinian conflict” - at least not on the part of Palestinians. Jews are not at war with Palestinians. Israelis are.
Israel expects that normalisation will give it the acceptance it has long cherished; that it will "normalise" Israel in the view of the rest of the world.
If most of its former enemies come to accept it, the world will follow in not just accepting Israel itself, but all of its interests (as it perceives them). Among them would be recognition of its regional hegemony, especially with regard to Lebanon, Syria, and Iran.
Such a prospect bodes ill for the region and Palestinian aspiration for justice and self-determination.
Richard Silverstein writes the Tikun Olam blog and is a freelance journalist specialising in exposing secrets of the Israeli national security state. He campaigns against opacity and the negative impact of Israeli military censorship.
Follow him on Twitter: @richards1052
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Opinions expressed in this article remain those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The New Arab, its editorial board or staff.