The integration of the Middle East as a group of countries in a region is important, including sovereign states with a “shared and common interest”, Saudi Arabia’s Ambassador to the United States, Princess Reema bint Bandar Al Saud, to the Jewish Insider news site. “Integration means our people working together, our businesses working together and our young people thriving. »
His comments were made during the Aspen Ideas Festival. On the one hand, even though she did not mention Israel, it may serve as an example of how the debate over Saudi-Israeli relations has become mainstream, seeming to be constantly in the spotlight these days. As such, normalization has been put on a pedestal, and every little incident in Israel, the Gulf, or the United States is tied to it.
This focus, however, can create a potentially problematic link, as it requires responding at every opportunity to see if the latest news can reduce or improve the chances of normalization. It also has the unintended consequence of sometimes feeling like it’s straining the ties or creating the illusions of tension.
Saudi Arabia, for example, has expressed concern over recent violence in the West Bank. With the focus on potential ties, every clash necessarily becomes a potential setback.
While Saudi Arabia and Israel are both interested in normalization and both want the United States to play a role in it, the current clashes in the West Bank are akin to a fire burning in their backyards, recently US Secretary of State Antony Blinken told the Council. on external relations.
“It will be much more difficult, if not impossible, to deepen existing agreements and expand them to include, potentially, Saudi Arabia,” he said.
Link Saudi normalization to a precondition for peace
The connection between peace with Riyadh and the incidents in the West Bank recalls an earlier time in 2016, when then-Secretary of State John Kerry said, “There will be no progress or separate peace with the Arab world without the Palestinian process and Palestinian peace… Everyone has to understand that. It’s a harsh reality.
This link between normalization and problems in the West Bank has a long history. Kerry’s comments were part of a larger milieu of accepted truths that Israel’s ‘right-wing’ government was preventing peace – because the lack of a two-state solution meant there could be no peace. have peace.
After the Six Day War in 1967, Israel was encouraged to trade “land for peace”, a paradigm that led to the Oslo Accords. These agreements were constructed in such a way that “final status” issues would make a two-state solution and final peace impossible – because the people who drafted these agreements knew that Palestinian refugees would never return. They also knew that Jerusalem would never be divided and that most Jewish communities in the West Bank would never be evacuated.
Israel was told that it could not achieve peace unless it withdrew along the original 1967 lines, thus creating an impossible situation. Moreover, the prospect of peace with the Gulf States has been presented as a kind of ploy, using the absence of peace as leverage for Israel.
This could make Israel the only country where the lack of a peace agreement on an issue is used to prevent diplomatic relations, which is generally considered quite fundamental, even between countries that do not get along. For example, the Pakistan-India conflict that erupted in 1948, along with Israel’s War of Independence, was not presented as a reason for India or Pakistan not to have no relations with other countries.
There is also no evidence that the absence of normalization has really contributed to the establishment of peace. If all Arab states had normalized their relations with Israel in 1949, the Six Day War might never have happened and there would have been no “occupation” of the West Bank. Instead, the lack of ties fueled the conflict.
In 2020, the Abraham Accords were signed, proving both enduring and significant. Countries now realize how critical they are to the region and the world as a whole. The US House of Representatives recently passed a bipartisan bill to create an Abraham Accord envoy. US Air Force Lt. Gen. Alexus Grynkewich, Ninth Air Force Commander and Combined Forces Air Component Commander for US Central Command Southwest Asia, said last week that Central Command will focused on the integration of regional air and missile defense in the Middle East. East.
An air defense group in the Middle East is part of this integration and the creation of stability. It is these progressive blocs that help form the basis of eventual Saudi-Israeli relations.
Let us now compare the positive steps – the Abraham Accords envoy, regional air defenses and growing trade between Israel and the Gulf states – with the challenges. There was a link between Riyadh’s desire for a civilian nuclear program and normalization with Israel, according to a New York Times article published two weeks ago. But that wasn’t the only obstacle, the article says. The Saudis also want a defense pact and fewer restrictions on US arms sales.
Other issues are also at stake: Iran-Saudi relations have been mediated by China and questions have been raised about the long-term US commitment to the region. Are Saudi-Iranian relations reducing the chances of Saudi-Israeli relations? Are China’s advances a game-changer?
Riyadh has always said that its position on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has not officially changed. He backed the Arab Peace Initiative in 2002, a plan that called for peace in return for a just and comprehensive peace with the Palestinians, based on a two-state solution.
Clearly, there is a lot of focus on potential ties, which is aided by the constant attention given to this issue by US National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan, who discussed normalization in May. In April, US Senator Lindsey Graham (Republican of South Carolina) told reporters in Jerusalem that an opportunity for normalization could end in 2024.
Sometimes barriers to standardization work like a feedback loop of diminishing returns, for example placing a stumbling block where none existed before. It looks like this: “Normalization could happen, but the election of a right-wing government is a setback. Normalization is possible, but a comprehensive peace must first be achieved, and the right-wing government is making that more difficult.”
Moreover, even if normalization is possible, the clashes in the West Bank make the task more difficult. China’s incursions into the region and Iran’s initiatives also make the task difficult. Moreover, we would need a US commitment to “civilian nuclear power” to achieve this…and so on.
The past six months have been marked by near-daily standardization talk, which feels like a very close and familiar time period. Yet at the same time it feels like a Gordian knot, largely because increased attention leads to increased controversy.
Actors likely to seek to impede normalization may also have more leverage, such as Iranian-backed terrorist groups, notably Islamic Jihad members in Jenin. With a single operation, they believe they can derail a deal that could bring in billions of dollars in trade and help weave a corridor of stability stretching from Greece to India.
This is unreasonable and therefore worth keeping an eye on the bigger picture. The integration of the region is increasing and the dynamic is taking shape. Riyadh has its timetable for possible normalization.