Arabic Press: Saudi Arabia breaking off talks with Israel out of despair that far right government will make any concessions to Palestinians

Juan Cole

Informed Comment  /  September 18, 2023

Ann Arbor – The Arabic newspaper Al-Ilaf is reporting that its reporters in Jerusalem were told by an official in the office of Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu that Saud Arabia had informed the Biden administration that it would halt talks regarding normalization of relations with Israel.

One of the major diplomatic efforts of Biden and his Secretary of State Antony Blinken has been to build on the so-called “Abraham Accords” put together by Jared Kushner, former President Donald Trump’s son-in-law and special envoy to the Middle East. The United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Sudan and Morocco have joined in establishing diplomatic and commercial relations with Israel, though Sudan’s generals were blackmailed into it and the civilian government pledges to revisit the matter when open elections are held.

That Biden’s team was attempting to bring Saudi Arabia aboard has been repeatedly reported, especially by the Wall Street Journal, though many seasoned observers of the Middle East are deeply skeptical that these talks are more than likely fruitless explorations. For one thing, Saudi King Salman, 87, is said to be dead set against making a separate peace with Israel that would injure the interests of the Palestinians. For another, Israel currently has the most extremist government in its history, and it is full of hard line Zionist expansionists intent on annexing the Palestinian West Bank. Were Netanyahu to accept a settlement freeze, the extremist Religious Zionism and Jewish Power blocs may well resign from the coalition and cause the government to fall.

Al-Ilaf says that it is precisely because Bezalel Smotrich of Religious Zionism and Itamar Ben-Gvir of Jewish Power are dead set against concessions to the Palestinians and that Netanyahu has acquiesced in their demands that the Saudis are withdrawing from the talks. The newspaper says that the Saudis had cleverly included the Palestinians in the talks behind the scenes, ensuring that they had a voice in whatever happens.

The Wall Street Journal stories about Netanyahu talking to Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman were allegedly based on leaks by Israel’s minister of propaganda, Ron Dermer.

The Israelis are said to have been convinced that they could do a deal with Riyadh that excluded the Palestinians.

Why are the Israelis leaking news of these failed talks with the Saudis now ? Is it a way for Netanyahu to pressure Smotrich and Ben-Gvir into making concessions for the sake of the potential bonanza of Saudi relations with Israel ?

If, so, the latter two don’t appear to be the sort of rational individuals who would be open to an argument of that sort.

Is it a way to pressure the Saudis to give up some of their demands or risk a complete collapse of this round of negotiations?

Or did the Saudis use Netanyahu’s office to impress upon the Biden team that they are not happy with what they are being offered in order to join the Abraham Accords, including their longstanding demand for a US security guarantee of the sort Washington has with NATO allies, where an attack on one is an attack on all.

Or maybe King Salman is still robust enough to slap down a process that he foresees will further screw over the West Bank Palestinians.

Juan Cole is the founder and chief editor of Informed Comment ; he is Richard P. Mitchell Professor of History at the University of Michigan and the author of, among others, Muhammad: Prophet of Peace amid the Clash of Empires and The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam


Saudi Arabia pulls out of Israel normalization talks: Report

The Cradle  /  September 17, 2023

According to Saudi-owned newspaper Elaph, Israeli reluctance on concessions towards the Palestinians has ‘torpedoed’ any possibility of an agreement.

According to a September 17 report by Saudi media, the kingdom has told Washington that it aims to withdraw from US-sponsored efforts for normalization with Israel due to an Israeli reluctance to make concessions towards the Palestinians. 

“Saudi Arabia has informed the American administration to stop any discussions related to normalization with Israel,” the London-based, Saudi-owned Elaph newspaper cited an official from the office of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as saying. 

The outlet cites an official from the prime minister’s office as saying that the actions of Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich and Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir, and their insistence on not making any concessions is “torpedoing any possibility” of peace with Saudi Arabia. 

The official confirmed “that the United States informed Israel of Saudi Arabia’s decision,” adding that the “Israeli leadership is confused about it” and that experts, politicians, and even the prime minister did not think that Riyadh would link normalization to the Palestinian issue. 

Recent reports have suggested that Saudi Arabia has been inching closer towards a deal that would see the kingdom normalize ties with Israel.

In recent months, officials have suggested that Riyadh has been privately demanding a US-sponsored civil nuclear program, the ability to purchase more advanced US weapons, and a firm defense and security pact between Washington and the kingdom in order for a deal to go through. 

Publicly, however, Saudi Arabia has maintained that any normalization agreement must depend on major concessions towards the Palestinians – based on the 2002 Arab Peace initiative, which calls for an independent Palestinian state with east Jerusalem as its capital and a just solution to the refugee issue. 

Last month, Netanyahu suggested in an interview that he would be open to making “gestures” to the Palestinians if normalization with the kingdom depended on it. He added that his coalition members would not block such an agreement. 

The prime minister also said at the time that “the Palestinian thing is brought in all the time, and it is sort of a check box. You have to check it to say that you’re doing it.” 

Netanyahu added that talk about concessions happens “a lot less than you think” behind closed doors. 

Members of Netanyahu’s government, including Itamar Ben-Gvir and Bezalel Smotrich, have taken a strong stance against making any sort of concessions towards the Palestinians.

“We will not make any concessions to the Palestinians. It’s a fiction … it has nothing to do with Judea and Samaria,” Smotrich said recently. The finance minister has been among the leading figures pushing for annexation of the West Bank through continued expansion of illegal settlements. 

Much of the West Bank’s administration was recently placed under Smotrich’s sole authority, dimming even further the prospects of Palestinian statehood. 

On September 13, an Emirati official said that the UAE was powerless to halt Israel’s plans for annexation of the West Bank, suggesting that it was now “up to future countries” involved in peace talks to attempt this. 

Earlier this month, Saudi officials told a visiting Palestinian Authority (PA) delegation that they “will not abandon” the Palestinian cause.