One day ahead of the Israeli election, Riyadh sent a signal to Jerusalem through an unusual article in the popular, Jerusalem-based newspaper Al-Quds, that Saudi Crown Prince Muhammad bin Salman will not agree to normalize relations with Israel until a full-fledged Palestinian state is established, and that Israel’s current policy under Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s leadership toward the PA and Gaza Arabs does not allow for normalization between the two countries.
The article, “Will we soon see the Israeli flag flying in Riyadh?” was published by Dr. Nawaf Obaid, a political scientist, and former Saudi Arabian foreign policy and media advisor between 2002 and 2015. Obaid currently serves as the CEO of the Essam & Dalal Obaid Foundation (EDOF) in Geneva, he is a Commissioner at the Commission for International Justice and Accountability (CIJA) in The Hague and is a Visiting Senior Research Fellow at the Department of War Studies at King’s College London. His article likely would not have been published without a green light from the Saudi authorities.
Obaid’s answer to the question posed by his title is a resounding no.
Obaid claims that Crown Prince Ben Salman has invested a great deal of effort that may change the face of the Palestinian issue and has kept in touch with both sides, but for the moment he prefers not to move forward with his efforts in that direction.
This message clashes head-on with Netanyahu’s promises this week to operate a direct flight between Tel Aviv and Mecca for Israeli Muslim pilgrims participating in the annual Hajj.
The article further states that the Abrahamic Agreements, despite having been a small step in the right direction, are far from the foundations of the Saudi peace initiative, proposed on March 28, 2002, by then Crown Prince Abdullah bin Abdulaziz Al Saud (who died in 2015). That vision of peace included two states and a return to the 1967 borders, complete with evacuating the Jewish settlements.
Obeid claims that the Abrahamic Agreements did not move Israel to change its attitude toward the PA and Gaza Arabs. In fact, he suggests that Prime Minister Netanyahu is one of the most reviled leaders in the Arab world and that his policy is destroying any hope for a workable peace plan.
At the same time, Crown Prince Ben Salman believes, according to Obeid, that regional leaders should give the highest priority to economic development and diversity to rescue the people of the region from corruption and poverty, and not use the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as an excuse. But he cannot ignore the great danger of recognizing Israel in the current conditions, a move that would affect not only Saudi Arabia but the entire region.
The article also explains that Saudi Arabia, with its special status in the Arab and Islamic world as the protector of the two holy places, cannot now normalize relations with Israel because of the hostility to Israel that is still ingrained in the consciousness of the citizens of the Arab world as well as inside Saudi Arabia.
It appears that Ben Salman, like many other Arab leaders, is not interested in an assassination just now, which is what happened to many leaders, starting with King Abdullah I, then Anwar Sadat, and others, who recognized the Zionist entity’s right to exist.
Obeid believes that Muslim extremists will use the normalization to increase anger against the Saudi leadership and will see it as abandoning the values of Islam and the traditional positions of the Kingdom: “The Kingdom will be very careful in adopting any policy that puts a wedge between it and the Saudi people, and undermine the Kingdom’s power by virtue of its being a leading state in the Arab and Islamic world,” he writes.
In other words: please do not assassinate the Crown Prince.
Obeid’s concluding paragraph states that the door of normalization with Israel has opened and will probably not close, but in the Saudi context, normalization is conditioned on the Palestinians achieving statehood with full sovereignty. Should Crown Prince Ben Salman decide to move toward recognition of Israel – it will only be through the use of the normalization as a means of pressure on Israel to change its policy, and that is not going to happen any time soon.
The article follows the statement of the Saudi Minister of Foreign Affairs Adel bin Ahmed Al-Jubeir over the weekend, which clarified that there would be no normalization with Israel before a peace deal with the PA Arabs. This means the Saudi leadership has done its cost assessment and concluded that to keep their heads intact where they are, on their shoulders, they must disabuse Netanyahu of his dreams of peace without Ramallah.