Alwaght- In recent weeks, reports have been emerged about Saudi-Israeli normalization with the US mediation and the two sides’ willingness to conclude the project by March’s end. However, it seems that the Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman has started a win-win game, showing that he is neither hasty and enthusiastic about nor opponent of normalization.
While showing a green light to the Israelis, Riyadh at the same time considers the Palestinian interests and implementation of the two-state initiative that was presented by Arab countries in 2002 and proposes foundation of an independent Palestinian state with Eastern Al-Quds as its capital and retreat of the Israeli occupation to the 1967 borders.
Saudi leaders have repeatedly said if there were no two-state solution, there would be no normalization. In a show of commitment to its two-decade-old plan, the Arab kingdom named its first ambassador to Palestine last month, arousing the ire of the Israelis.
This was not the only anti-Israeli step, and continuing its pro-Palestinian gesture, Riyadh last week procrastinated issuing visas to Israeli Foreign Minister Eli Cohen and Education Minister Yoav Kisch for UNESCO conference, finally leading to cancellation of the visit.
On the other hand, Saudi Arabia welcomed the leaders of Hamas in Jeddah after 17 years of conflict in warning to the hardline Israeli government to stop its adventures in the West Bank. The meeting between the members of Hamas and the Saudi officials represented a thorn in the eyes of Tel Aviv leaders.
Sending promising signals to Israelis
Beside putting up a sour face, the Saudis have sent positive signals to the Israelis, telling Tel Aviv that beside its patronage to Palestine, the kingdom mulls a thaw at the back of its mind. Saudi Arabia had been supporting the Palestinian cause for years and has evaded official contacts and interactions with the Israelis, but it explicitly approved of Abraham Accords between Israeli regime and UAE-led Arab states.
Though there have been many reports of secret meetings between Israeli and Saudi officials, the first move that can be regarded as a practical one towards normalization was the permission for Israeli planes to fly in Saudi airspace for shorter flights to East Asia. The first Israeli plane landed in King Khaled Airport in November 2021, opening the door to a thaw. In September last year, an Israeli plan landed in Riyadh, and since then some Jewish businessmen traveled to Saudi Arabia and signed deals with the Saudis, especially on the Neom megacity.
On the other hand, at the same time as no visas were issued to the Israeli ministers to travel to Riyadh, in recent days a 12-member business delegation from the Israeli regime participated in a government-arranged cyber security meeting in Dammam, Saudi Arabia’s fourth most populous city.
Also, i24 news website reported on Friday that last May, Israeli researcher Nirit Ofir was invited to lecture at a conference on the “Security in the Middle East” held in Riyadh. Some sources said that the Israeli researcher chaired the conference, a Saudi move Israelis interpreted as a prelude to peace between the two sides.
On the other hand, the Wall Street Journal has recently claimed in a report that Saudi Arabia is seriously trying to remove the obstacles to establishing diplomatic relations with the Israeli regime, and in this regard informed Saudi and Palestinian sources said that bin Salman promised guarantees that Riyadh will eventually resume its financial support to the Palestinian Authority, provided that its president Mahmoud Abbas can control the security conditions.
Though Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is counting the seconds for normalization with Riyadh and thinks that it would mark the end of the Arab-Israeli dispute, bin Salman had shown the Israelis that realizing this dream is fruitless. Saudi Arabia is well aware of the scale of the aversion of the Arab public opinion to the normalization and does not want to join this risky project without securing privileges from the Israeli occupation.
Formation of an independent Palestinian state is the first demand of the Saudis, which has not yet seen the light of existence after three decades of the Oslo Accords, and Netanyahu himself made it clear last month that he will not allow the Palestinians to have their own state, and that is perhaps why the White House National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan recently said that there is a long way to go for peace between Tel Aviv and Riyadh.
In addition to Palestine, the Saudis have made new conditions for a thaw that include uranium enrichment on their soil and establishing a security coalition with Washington. But the Israelis are against Saudi Arabia becoming a nuclear state. Last week, Netanyahu in Cyprus said “Israeli security would not be sacrificed” for a deal with Riyadh.
Preparing himself to ascend the throne, bin Salman understands well the course of regional and international developments, and according to American and Israeli analysts, the Saudi crown prince is trying to buy time to establish relations with Tel Aviv by setting new conditions to make the final decision with consideration of the developments in the region.
Aside from Israeli opposition to the Saudi conditions and possible buying of time by the Saudis, an important issue that at present circumstances works as an obstructive factor in the Israeli-Saudi relations is the presence of the hardliners in the Israeli cabinet that has brought the tensions with the Palestinian groups to their peak, drawing anger of the Muslim world.
Evidence shows that Saudi Arabia is not hasty about normalization as it is well aware of the risks. Actually, Saudi rulers know that yielding to the normalization means stabbing the Palestinians in the back at a time the Israeli radicals have closed all doors to formation of an independent Palestinian state and are seeking to devour all Palestinian lands and Judaize Al-Quds with settlement projects.
Furthermore, Saudi Arabia identifies itself as the leaders of the Arab world and the biggest supporter of the Palestinian nation, and peace with the occupiers can disrupt bin Salman’s ambition to lead the region.
Given all these, normalization is neither far nor near, but what is certain is that this project is seriously on the agenda of President Joe Biden administration, and experts predict that Biden team will put heavy pressure on Saudis until the start of the presidential campaign in the coming months. However, unfolding developments on the international stage allow the Saudi rulers to withstand these pressures if they wish to.