Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman made four things crystal clear about the Palestinian-Israeli issue during his recent interview on Fox News:
One: Yes, it is true that there are ongoing talks relating to a potential solution that will improve the lives of Palestinians.
Two: Riyadh is edging closer toward normalization with Israel.
Three: The Biden administration is leading the initiative.
Four: No, it is not true that Saudi-Israeli talks were suspended.
This clarity came after months of speculation, with many international policy analysts apparently confused by Saudi Arabia’s long-standing and legitimate demands for a written security pact with the US, assistance in developing its peaceful nuclear program, and removal of previous restrictions on arms sales to the Kingdom at the expense of a solution accepted by the Palestinian leadership. What many pundits also missed is that these asks of Washington are a natural result of a Saudi-Israeli normalization deal. None of them would have been possible without this, as it would be almost an impossible mission for any US administration to approve such arrangements for any country which does not have a deal with Israel.
Needless to say, countries have a right to focus on and pursue their own interests. In this case, we are seeing a regional powerhouse that is insisting on including a Palestinian angle when there is really nobody forcing it to. Other regional countries have had no reluctance in pursuing similar normalization deals in exchange for the recognition of a disputed land, such as in the case of Morocco and the Donald Trump-era recognition of Western Sahara. Or even the more extreme case of the Hezbollah-dominated Lebanon, which still managed to sign a maritime border agreement with Israel (despite not recognizing it officially) in return for rights to offshore gas reserves.
However, none of the Arab countries that have signed deals with Israel have the weight, importance and influence of Saudi Arabia. So, the inevitable questions cynics will soon raise are: But what about the Palestinian cause? And does this mean Saudi Arabia has sold out on this crucial principle? Well, nobody responded better than the crown prince himself: “For us, the Palestinian issue is very important. We need to solve that part … We hope that will reach a place that will ease the life of the Palestinians.” However, skeptics and warmongers will always do whatever it takes to muddy the waters, so no attention should be paid in my opinion, as actions will always speak louder than words.
One of the definitions of insanity is doing the same thing again and again and expecting a different result.
Faisal J. Abbas | Editor-in-Chief
Let us not forget that Saudi Arabia was the country that presented the Arab Peace Initiative in 2002. What the crown prince said does not deviate from any attempt since then to give peace a chance. At the end of the day, Saudi Arabia — just like any other country — cannot negotiate or decide on behalf of either the Palestinians or the Israelis. Peace and the terms of peace have to be agreed by them alone.
What Saudi Arabia can do — and, from what I understand, has been doing for the past two years — is work on an initiative to make peace a more attractive proposition than war for both parties. In fact, there is a whole team at the Saudi Ministry of Foreign Affairs that has been working with serious and concerned parties such as the EU and the Arab League on imagining a 2.0 version of the Arab Peace Initiative. How would the region look if peace were achievable and how could we pool resources to ensure both parties understood its value?
My understanding is that every detail imaginable has been examined, including how to boost the Palestinian economy through exports to Israel and other neighbors. In fact, one could argue that this could be a lesson learned from Jared Kushner’s plan. Yes, it could be argued that Kushner ended up giving more to Israel than to Palestine and that his team could have done a better job by not alienating the Palestinian Authority (and the PA could have bothered showing up nevertheless), but if anything it gave, for the first time, an idea of how to support the economy and give Palestinians a chance.
With steps like appointing the Saudi Ambassador to Jordan, Nayef bin Bandar Al-Sudairi, as the Saudi consul general to Jerusalem, its continuous condemnation of any intimidation of worshippers at Al-Aqsa and by continuing to offer both sides a carrot (including allowing some Israeli ministers to attend international summits in the Kingdom), Saudi Arabia is doing its best to enable a real and verifiable framework for peace — and that is the maximum it can probably achieve.
Can a miracle take place over the next few weeks or months? Well, if anything can be learned from Saudi Vision 2030 and what it has accomplished over the past six years, it is never to say never.
Could there be peace with the most right-wing government in Israeli history? The best answer to that came from Rabbi Marc Schneier during his conversation on Arab News’ “Frankly Speaking” this week: “Often when it comes to these negotiations, when it comes to concessions, you need the people who are more to the right to lend credibility and legitimacy and authenticity to what would be a genuine and real peace.”
After all, the 1979 Egypt-Israel peace treaty was agreed and signed by then-Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin — a staunch Zionist and former leader of the brutal Irgun militia that committed atrocities in the years leading up to Israel’s foundation — and it still stands to this day. Begin even shared the Nobel Peace Prize with Egypt’s Anwar Sadat. And who would have thought that Irish republican leaders Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness, who for so long were hated in London due to their terrorism links, would ultimately play a key role in bringing peace to Northern Ireland through the 1998 Good Friday Agreement?
But what if Hamas decides to once again sabotage a deal? Well, all we can say in that case is that one of the definitions of insanity is doing the same thing again and again and expecting a different result. The events of the past 70 years suggest that the Palestinian cause has been losing ground, not winning it.