When will Saudi Arabia Sign Peace with Israel?


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(Photo:  The man in a white robe waving to the crowd is late Saudi King Faisal on his visit to Jerusalem in 1966. The man in suit and Arab headdress is late King Hussein of Jordan.)



Saudi Arabia’s new policy, Vision 2030, requires a newer foreign policy on Palestinians


Today, 78 years ago, the founder of Saudi Arabia King Abdulaziz Ibn Saud met with US President Franklin Roosevelt, aboard USS Quincy in the Red Sea. In the meeting that established an enduring alliance between the two countries, Ibn Saud said that the immigration of Jews to Palestine, and their purchase of land, were a threat to Arabs. The Saudi leader proposed that Jewish refugees be settled in countries of the defeated Axis. He said that “the Arabs and Jews could never cooperate,” and that “the Arabs would choose to die rather than yield their lands to the Jews.”


The late Saudi king was not speaking out of solidarity with the Palestinians but on their behalf and the behalf of Arabs and Muslims. Back then, states were different. They were expansionist, and the Saudis were a leading expansionist power. After reestablishing the Saudi state, Ibn Saud expanded in Najd, defeated the Shammar tribe in Hail and married a Hail women with whom he fathered future King Abdullah. Ibn Saud also wrestled the Hijaz from the Hashemites and decimated the Muslim Brotherhood.

Per the tribal code, the defeated pledged allegiance to the victor, giving Ibn Saud sovereignty over their lands that stretched from Hail, in northwest Saudi Arabia, all the way northward to central Syria. When Ibn Saud tried to annex these lands, France and Britain blocked him. France took Syria while the British got Jordan.

European seizure of tribal territory of the likes of the Ruwwala and the ‘Niza did not deter Ibn Saud from granting members of these tribes Saudi nationality, including to those who lived in Iraq, Syria and Jordan. Ibn Saud saw himself as the leader of the Arabs, and that was why he raised the Palestinian issue with Roosevelt.

Then times changed. Sovereign nation states replaced borderless empires like the one Ibn Saud had in mind.

The Palestinians, however, did not change. Instead of establishing a Palestinian state on the territory that the UN granted them in 1948, they rejected UN resolutions and insisted on destroying Israel and joining the imagined Arab nation.

Saudi Arabia was more reasonable. It saw diplomacy as the only option to wrestle sovereignty from the Jews and giving it to Palestinians. Saudi Arabia led a boycott campaign through the Arab League. But Arab revolutionary powers, led by Egypt’s Gamal Abdel Nasser, shamed Saudi diplomacy and launched several wars on Israel, which they all lost.

Despite the Arab defeats, the majority of Palestinians today still subscribe to conflict and still hold Saudi Arabia responsible for all Palestinian losses.

Today, the world has changed again, and Saudi Arabia is changing. While many Palestinians insist that the Saudis should stay the course, continue boycotting Israel and supporting the open-ended conflict, Riyadh seems to have moved on.

Globalization has rendered obsolete the Saudi model of spending their enormous oil revenue on Saudis and Arabs. The United Arab Emirates was the first to notice this problem.

Today, Saudi Arabia understands that its future depends on transforming its economy from one reliant on oil to one dependent on knowledge and services. Players in such economy compete globally while avoiding countries immersed in open-ended conflicts, like the Palestinian Israeli conflict. Companies from different countries vie for borderless markets and strive to attract global talent while developing local human resources.

Change in Saudi policy has been coupled with a change in Saudi Arabia’s perception of itself. Gone are the days of competing with Iran over regional leadership. Saudi Arabia’s problem with Iran today is not due to rivalry but to Iran posing an existential threat to people of the region and their governments, including Riyadh. Iran is not a good neighbor but rather a bully that is always trying to subjugate others. Tehran probably perceives of itself as the leader of the Muslims world, if not the whole world.

Saudi Arabia has switched from regional politics to national policies, adopting the slogan “Saudi first.” Riyadh is still willing to sweeten the pot of neighboring governments, but only if such payments render measurable gains for Saudi Arabia. This is why the Kingdom has given up on Lebanon and its affairs. Riyadh believes Lebanon is a lost cause, a country that is completely in Tehran’s pocket.

It is odd that the major upgrade in Saudi policy has left intact Riyadh’s outdated views on the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. Even though Saudi Arabia’s national interests demand immediate ratification of peace with Israel, the kingdom is still committed to open-ended solidarity with the Palestinians.

Palestinian demand for Arab solidarity would have made sense had the Palestinians had any kind of leadership, vision or a reasonable ask of Israel. Instead, all what the Palestinians have is more of the same: Slogans, populism, emotions, and an urge to carry on with an open-ended struggle that is not inline with the new ways of Arab countries like the UAE and Saudi Arabia, whose policies are now pegged to clear timetables. Time is money and wasting it is a waste of resources and opportunities.

There is nothing wrong with Saudi solidarity with Palestinians, just like there is nothing wrong with Turkey’s solidarity, that is solidarity in statements only. When it comes to economic and national interests, Turkey’s relations with Israel are thriving, including steadily growing bilateral trade and diplomatic relations.

Bilateral peace of each Arab country with Israel is a national interest that can be postponed. but only if delay yields clear Palestinian gains. As it stands, Palestinians are in a hole that they have no idea how to dig themselves out of. Instead of asking other Arabs to seek their national interests until Palestinians figure out what they want or how to pursue their interests, Palestinians want the Arabs to jump with them into the hole and stay there, forever.

House of Wisdom

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