Dangers of an unrecognisable Middle East

Hussein Haridy
Thursday 3 Aug 2023

If the Saudi government normalises relations with Israel in the absence of a proper solution to the Palestinian issue, this will lead to an unrecognisable and more unstable Middle East.


US National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan flew to Saudi Arabia to hold talks with Saudi Crown Prince Mohamed bin Salman on 27 July. It was his second visit to the country over the last few months.

According to a White House readout last Thursday, the talks covered Saudi-US relations and regional matters including “initiatives” – in other words, the US-Israeli plan for the Middle East – to advance a common vision for a more “peaceful, secure, prosperous, and stable Middle East region interconnected with the world.”

The US and Saudi delegations at the talks reviewed the “significant progress,” as the White House readout put it, to build on the benefits of the truce in Yemen. Sullivan welcomed the efforts by the UN to end the war in that country.

Three days after Sullivan’s trip to Saudi Arabia, the Biden administration sent its Special Envoy for the Abraham Accords Dan Shapiro to Israel, where he held a meeting with Israeli Foreign Minister Eli Cohen on 30 July.

In the wake of the meeting, Cohen reaffirmed the central US role in expanding and deepening Israeli relations with two sets of countries – those that have already normalised their relations with Israel and newcomers like Saudi Arabia.

The two men also discussed the promotion of the “Negev Summit” meeting that Morocco is expected to host. The first meeting of this political forum took place in the Negev Desert in Israel and was attended by Egypt, the UAE, Bahrain, Morocco, and the host country Israel.

Despite its name, participation in this political forum is on the level of foreign ministers.

The US diplomatic and political priority in the Middle East centres around bringing Saudi Arabia into the circle of those Arab countries that have joined the club of normalisers with Israel by signing up to the so-called Abraham Accords.

The US administration knows that the inclusion of Saudi Arabia in this club would encourage other Muslim countries to follow suit. US and Israeli sources have already mentioned Indonesia and Malaysia in this regard.

As far as the Saudi government is concerned, it is doubtful that it will accept to normalise relations with Israel in the absence of significant progress in moving towards a solution to the Palestinian question in accordance with UN Security Council resolutions and the Saudi-inspired Arab Peace Plan of 2002.

This plan has not been recognised by Israel, a fact that should be mentioned in passing.

An Israeli defence official was quoted in the Israeli newspaper Haaretz on 30 July as saying that King Salman, the Saudi monarch, had insisted in the meeting with Sullivan last week that any normalisation with Israel should be accompanied by clear Israeli steps towards the Palestinian people.

It goes without saying that if the Saudi government accepts to join the bandwagon of Arab normalisers without a peaceful resolution to the Palestinian question including the lifting of the illegal Israeli siege of the Gaza Strip that has been in place since 2007, then the Middle East region will be unrecognisable and more unstable and insecure regardless of what the US administration may say to the contrary.

If any such move takes place, the chances of the two-state solution being implemented would become almost zero.

Earlier in July, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu reportedly told a meeting at the Israeli parliament the Knesset that Palestinian hopes for a sovereign state of their own “must be eliminated.”

The fact of the matter is that the present Israeli government has embarked on a plan to accelerate the building of settlements and the legalisation of outposts built by Israeli settlers in the West Bank on land that is supposed to be the territory of an independent and sovereign Palestine.

It rescinded a ruling by the Israeli courts outlawing the construction of one such outpost. One of the undeclared reasons behind the current “reform” of the judicial system in Israel is precisely the removal of any judicial impediments to the acceleration of the construction of settlements in the West Bank.

 I very much doubt that the integration of Israel into the Middle East, a top priority for the US, in the absence of fulfilling the national aspirations and political rights of the Palestinian people, will make the Middle East “more peaceful, secure, prosperous, and stable.”

Maybe this is what US Senator Chris Van Hollen (Democrat – Maryland), a Member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and the Appropriations Subcommittee on Foreign Operations, meant when he was quoted by journalist Thomas Friedman in the New York Times on 27 July as saying that “I can assure you that there will be a strong core of Democratic opposition to any proposal [he was speaking of a possible US-Saudi-Israeli deal] that doesn’t include meaningful, clearly defined and enforceable provisions to preserve the option of a two-state solution and to meet President Biden’s own demand that Palestinians and Israelis enjoy equal measures of freedom and dignity. These elements are essential to any sustainable peace in the Middle East.”

Let us hope that the Biden administration sees eye to eye with this strong and unambiguous position on the necessary conditions for peace and security in the Middle East and that it comes out publicly in its support with the strong political will to carry it through.

That would be quite a deterrent to the present Netanyahu government, which must realise that there would be huge political, diplomatic, and security costs for Israel if it proceeds with the annexation of the West Bank.

* The writer is former assistant foreign minister.

* A version of this article appears in print in the 3 August, 2023 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly

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