Despite Israel’s strong will and increasing U.S. mediation efforts, the establishment of Israeli-Saudi diplomatic relations still faces serious obstacles, analysts have said.
Washington has recently increased its contacts with Israel, Saudi Arabia, and the Palestinian authorities on the issue of normalizing Israeli-Saudi ties. Earlier this month, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken made separate calls to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas to discuss the possible Israeli-Saudi agreement, while a group of senior U.S. officials traveled to Riyadh for the same purpose.
According to observers, the Chinese-mediated restoration of diplomatic ties between Saudi Arabia and Iran earlier this year served as an important catalyst for the U.S. efforts to advance Israeli-Saudi relations.
Washington is trying to send a message to the Middle East that the U.S. is back, “or it has never left the region,” said Yoel Guzansky, a senior fellow at the Institute for National Security Studies, Tel Aviv University.
Moreover, an Israeli-Saudi agreement is in the interest of the Biden administration, which wants a political achievement ahead of the 2024 presidential elections, Israeli Foreign Minister Eli Cohen told local media Ynet in August.
For Israel, the normalization of relations with Arab countries has remained an important strategic goal for years as it seeks to improve the geopolitical environment. So far, six Arab countries have normalized relations with Israel, including Egypt and Jordan, which established diplomatic ties with Israel in the 1970s and 1990s, respectively, as well as the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Sudan, and Morocco, which agreed to normalize ties with Israel under the so-called Abraham Accords in 2020.
Now Israel has set its sights on Saudi Arabia, a major power in the Muslim world. According to Guzansky, if Israel and Saudi Arabia normalize their relations, it could result in extensive bilateral cooperation, particularly in the economic realm, and potentially pave the way for Israel to establish official ties with more Arab nations.
From the Saudi perspective, it is now committed to promoting regional reconciliation and creating an external environment conducive to development, which is similar to the Israeli objective. After normalizing its relations with Iran, Saudi Arabia has also supported Syria’s return to the League of Arab States and improved its ties with Türkiye.
In addition, the Saudis have been acquiring innovative technologies from around the world in recent years in preparation for the Saudi Vision 2030 program. Establishing official ties with Israel, which is known for its leading technologies and innovations in various fields, is certainly a good opportunity for Riyadh, Eyal Pinko, senior research fellow of Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies at Bar-Ilan University, told Xinhua.
Despite the optimism of Cohen, who stated in August that peace with Saudi Arabia is “only a matter of time,” analysts say there are still significant obstacles to achieving the diplomatic breakthrough.
One of the key obstacles, of course, is the Palestinian issue.
According to Riyadh-based political commentator Saad Abdullah al-Hamid, Saudi Arabia, as one of the leading countries in the Arab world, believes it is capable of assuming greater responsibility for resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Therefore, Saudi Arabia demands that Israel make concessions on the Palestinian issue by accepting the Arab Peace Initiative proposed in 2002, which includes the recognition of the two-state solution.
However, the current Israeli government led by Netanyahu, considered the “most right-wing” in the country’s history, is dominated by ultra-nationalist and pro-settler parties. Due to its tough stance on the issue, such as refusing to recognize a Palestinian state and advocating for the expansion of settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, it is unlikely that the Israeli government will make any major concessions.
Another problematic issue is security. To maintain its advantage in the region, Israel has consistently opposed U.S. sales of advanced weapons to Saudi Arabia. In addition, Riyadh’s request for permission to use enriched uranium in its civilian nuclear program is also “problematic” for Israel, which for decades has sought to prevent other countries in the region from acquiring nuclear capabilities.
The chances for a peace agreement between Israel and Saudi Arabia are “higher than before,” said Guzansky, while acknowledging that challenges still remain.
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