Biden effort to rehabilitate US-Saudi relations likely to include normalization with Israel

Khalid Amayreh

Mondoweiss  /  June 21, 2022

Joe Biden once vowed to make Saudi Arabia a “pariah,” but now he is looking to rebuild relations and many expect normalization with Israel to be on the agenda.

Political observers of the Middle East are predicting U.S. president Joe Biden will seek to strike a major deal with Saudi Crown Prince and de facto king Mohammed Bin Salman (MBS) during Biden’s upcoming visit to the kingdom, slated for mid-July, during which time he will also visit Israel and the occupied West Bank

Biden is reportedly scheduled to attend a summit in Riyadh on July 6th with a number of Arab leaders besides MBS and/or his aging father King Salman, including the Egyptian president, Iraqi Prime Minister, Jordan’s King and the Emir of Qatar. 

Last week, Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett said that integrating Israel into the region was the main goal of Biden’s upcoming visit to the region.

The Jewish state views normalization with Saudi Arabia as a strategic watershed which might lead to far-reaching changes in the political map of the Middle East. 

If the Israeli media is any indication, the Israeli establishment is quite enthusiastic that such a move would lead to a significant marginalization of the conflict with the Palestinians, which wouldn’t seem to deter Saudi leaders. MBS is widely known for his disillusionment with the Palestinian issue and is reputed to have told American Jewish leaders in 2018 that the Palestinians should take the proposals the Trump administration was offering at the time “or shut up and stop complaining.” This could be his chance to further that agenda.

A win-win deal for Israel

The Israeli apartheid regime, which occupies Islam’s third holiest sanctuary after the Sacred Mosque in Makka (Mecca) and the Prophet Mosque in Madina (Medina) must be hoping that a genuine normalization with the Saudis would significantly boost Israel’s standing in the region. 

“Israel would undoubtedly view normalization with Saudi Arabia, the native birthplace of Islam, as a great victory that is, more or less, equivalent, at least in its moral weight,  to the six-day war victory over the Arabs in 1967,” explained London-based Palestinian journalist Abdul Bari Atwan.

He said the Saudi “pendant” was the ultimate prize Israel has been dreaming of ever since former U.S. president Donald Trump started his “normalization frenzy” nearly four years ago.

Green light for normalization

Saudi King Salman affirms on every occasion the traditional position of the kingdom towards the Palestinian cause, namely that Saudi Arabia won’t recognize Israel or normalize relations as long as the Palestinian issue remains unresolved.

This traditional stance has been reiterated several times by the Saudi foreign minister Faisal Ibn Farhan Al-Saud.

However, MBS doesn’t seem to believe that the Palestinian issue ought to have a “veto impact” on Saudi freedom to pursue its national interests with other states, including Israel.

“Confronting the Iranian threat” is often cited by the thoroughly domesticated Saudi media as the ultimate justification for normalization, but this is merely obfuscation, even if we take the Iranian threat argument for granted.  Indeed, it is crystal clear that Saudi Arabia, in coordination with certain Muslim countries, could neutralize the Iranian threat, real or imagined, without normalizing with Israel and sacrificing the legitimate and inalienable rights of the Palestinian people.

Saudi Arabia is not just another country. It is looked at as the qibla of Muslims which ought to represent the collective conscience of the umma of Prophet Muhammed. In a nutshell, normalizing with Israel is simply incompatible with the sublime status of the Haram al-Sharif which remains under Israeli occupation, and would likely remain so following Saudi normalization.

More to the point, there are real fears that a de facto Saudi embrace of Israeli expansionism and lebensraum-like policies would encourage some “reluctant” Muslim states, as described in the Israeli media, such as Pakistan, Tunis and Indonesia, to embark hastily toward normalization with Israel.

Needless to say, such precipitous moves would effectively deal the Palestinian cause a fatal blow which could spell its liquidation, at least as far as Israel is concerned.

Moreover, crushing the Palestinians’ aspirations for liberty, equality, and justice could also embolden countries like India to emulate Israel by taking even more draconian measures against Indian Muslims.  India is already demolishing the homes of Muslim citizens who took part in demonstrations against insults towards the Prophet Muhammed by some Hindu officials. 

Greatest Arab betrayal of the Palestinians

From the Palestinian point of view, a full Israeli-Saudi normalization, especially in the absence of any genuine Israeli commitment to end the occupation of the West Bank, including al-Quds al-Sharif (Noble Jerusalem), would be the greatest Arab betrayal of the Palestinian cause since former Egyptian president Anwar Sadat visited Jerusalem and delivered a speech before the Israeli parliament in 1979. That visit, it is widely believed, eventually led to Sadat’s assassination several months later.

Western, including American media, generally ignore the all-too-obvious fact that all Arab states that have reached normalization agreements with Israel thus far are ruled by tyrannical despots and notorious human rights violators. Interestingly, Saudi Arabia happens to sit at the top of political despotism in the Arab world. This means that normalization with Israel is only formal in nature and can hardly be considered as reflecting the popular will in the normalizing countries, including Morocco, UAE, Bahrain, and Sudan.

No real Israeli concessions expected

It is very unlikely that Israel would promise either the Saudis or the Americans any genuine concessions with regard to East Jerusalem and the Haram al-Sharif.  That is apart from the symbolic “gestures of goodwill” which would mean very little, given Israel’s notorious parsimonious negotiating patterns and arrogance. However, any concession by Israel that might significantly mitigate her grip on the occupied territory, especially Islamic holy places in Jerusalem and Hebron, would be highly unlikely in light of the Israel’s history of recalcitrance on such issues.

Nonetheless, to help the Saudis keep face, the Biden administration might give them certain vague and loosely-worded “assurances” regarding the Palestinian problem. However, from experience, such assurances would be utterly  worthless and insignificant as the strong side, in this case Israel, would eventually adopt its own tendentious and skewed interpretation of these assurances, effectively  eviscerating them of any real content. 

The Biden administration might not object to selling Saudi Arabia advanced weapons including the F-35 fighters especially if MBS pledged to make the normalization, “full, comprehensive and irreversible” as the Emiratis have done. But such a high level of normalization with a state whose soldiers are seen routinely murdering innocent Palestinians, and demolishing Palestinian homes on a daily basis, could boomerang unexpectedly on the Saudi monarch, sooner or later.

No longer a “pariah”

MBS is now considered to be in as strong a position as ever. The Ukrainian crisis and its continuing ramifications have enabled him to refill the Saudi coffers with many billions of dollars. And Saudi Arabia is now a major central player in the vital international energy market. And the entire world has once again forsaken moral correctness in favor of political expediency as major world powers hasten to forget the Khashoggi affair and beseech MBS for forgiveness.

Joe Biden might seem careful not to seem to appear too close or too eager to “normalize” with MBS whom he had vowed to make a pariah, but this is occurring only in public. As to what goes on behind the curtain, this is quite a different matter.

Khalid Amayreh is a Palestinian journalist based in Dura, near Hebron/Al-Khalil