Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu addressed the United Nations General Assembly on September 22, 2023, armed with a map he claimed represented the ‘New Middle East.’ His intention was to illustrate the burgeoning relations and peace initiatives between Israel and its Arab neighbors, but the map he displayed sparked a tempest of controversy by omitting Palestine entirely from the narrative.
In his remarks, Netanyahu asserted that the burgeoning peace between Saudi Arabia and Israel could herald in a new era in the Middle East, one unburdened by the specter of past Arab-Israeli conflicts. He attempted to draw parallels between Judaism and Islam, implying that both religions fostered harmonious relationships and portraying the proposed agreement as sacrosanct to both faiths. He went so far as to assert that this agreement could pave the way for Palestinian reconciliation.
Underneath this veneer of neighborly intentions, however, lies Israel’s deep-seated contempt for the Palestinian cause. Netanyahu asserted vehemently that the Palestinians should not be able to veto this Arab-Israeli agreement. This position revealed Israel’s desire for Palestinian participation in the peace process, but not as active participants. It rendered the Palestinian Authority irrelevant in terms of negotiating the terms of the agreement.
Khalid Elgindy, a scholar from a Middle Eastern think center, argued that Israel’s opposition to the idea of a Palestinian nation renders it incapable of making substantive concessions to the Palestinian Authority.
On September 26, the Israeli Minister of Tourism, Haim Katz, traveled to Saudi Arabia to participate in the United Nations World Tourism Organization Conference, a significant development. This was the first time in history that an Israeli minister set foot on Saudi Arabian soil. Katz’s emphasis on tourism’s function as a bridge between nations sparked optimism that this visit was merely the first step in the formation of a burgeoning alliance.
Saudi Arabia has embarked on a delicate diplomatic maneuver, engaging actively with all parties engaged in the so-called “peace deal of the decade”: the United States, Israel, and Palestine. Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman’s strategic management of this accord was masterful. Here arises a question, what will Saudi Arabia achieve from this arrangement?
First and foremost, Saudi Arabia desires comprehensive security guarantees from the United States, including defense pacts. Washington has committed not only to loosening restrictions on arms sales to Saudi Arabia, but also to aiding Riyadh in the establishment of its civilian nuclear program.
Saudi officials have gone so far as to declare that any agreement they reach will include measures designed to advance the establishment of a Palestinian state. Rebuilding ties with the Palestinian Authority Saudi Arabia requires the support of the Palestinian Authority to lend legitimacy and credibility to this global peace agreement. Riyadh has offered to recommence financial assistance to the Palestinian Authority, a consistent sustenance since 1948. However, this assistance declined in 2016 and terminated entirely in 2021. Given Palestine’s ongoing struggle and financial difficulties, this assistance is urgently required.
At the same time that the Israeli Minister of Tourism landed in Riyadh, the Palestinian Authority welcomed Nayef Bin Bandar Al-Sudairi, Saudi Arabia’s first Ambassador to Palestine. During his visit to the West Bank, Al-Sudairi met with a number of Palestinian officials and political figures to affirm the kingdom’s commitment to establishing a Palestinian state with East Jerusalem as its capital. Considering Israeli politicians’ and citizens’ vehement opposition to the idea of Palestine as a state, this would be a remarkable diplomatic accomplishment.
The United States is the central actor in this unfolding drama, actively advocating for peace among the involved nations. The United States’ close alliances with Saudi Arabia and Israel make this collaboration a policy priority. The conclusion of experts is that President Biden does not view the recognition of Palestinian rights as the central issue fueling unrest and conflict in the Middle East. Instead, he identifies Arab states’ refusal to recognize Israel as the primary source of tension.
Despite occasional U.S. criticism of Netanyahu’s government, the Israeli Prime Minister praised President Biden’s pivotal role in brokering this peace agreement. He thanked the United States for its indispensable efforts in nurturing this alliance.
Conditions in the Palestinian Territories It is essential to observe the evolving posture of the Palestinian Authority. When Arab states moved to normalize relations with Israel through the Abraham Accords in 2020, the Palestinian Authority vehemently condemned them for violating the Palestinian cause and people. In contrast, the PA has adopted a more pragmatic approach this year. Palestinian officials have outlined specific conditions in exchange for Saudi Arabia’s support, including the reopening of a U.S. consulate in Palestine, U.S. support for Palestinian representation at the United Nations, increased territorial control in the West Bank, the freezing of Israeli settlements, and a substantial financial injection.
This pursuance of amicable relations with Israel comes at a crucial juncture. Saudi Arabia must proceed with caution as it navigates the complexities of dealing with an assertive, right-wing, and ardently pro-Zionist Israeli government — a challenge unprecedented in the evolving Middle Eastern diplomatic landscape.