Mondoweiss / August 29, 2023
The White House push for Saudi-Israeli normalization is the tail wagging the dog yet again. The only ones who really want this deal are Israel and its lobby, to distract the world from apartheid in Palestine. So Joe Biden is taking it seriously.
A great puzzle is unfolding in Washington. Joe Biden is promoting Israel-Saudi normalization. He is dispatching his top aides to Saudi Arabia – a nation he once vowed to make a pariah – to work on this plan. And though the deal seems implausible, leading journalists and foreign policy experts are cheering on the idea: Tom Friedman, Aaron David Miller, Nick Schifrin of PBS. House minority leader Hakeem Jeffries praised the plan when he was in Israel lately.
The Wall Street Journal reports that the U.S. and Saudi Arabia have agreed on the “broad contours” of a deal and hope to work out the details over the next 9 to 12 months. Yes, just ahead of the 2024 election.
The U.S. government appears to be bending policy, proffering Saudi civil nuclear enrichment and overlooking murderous Saudi policies in Yemen and against Ethiopian migrants.
Missing from this story has been a frank discussion of the real push for normalization. The only country with a strong interest in Israeli-Saudi normalization is Israel. Therefore, its American lobby is touting the deal in Washington. And though the agreement would require lavish U.S. bribes to Saudi Arabia, there is no U.S. interest in Saudi normalization. No, the only interest is Israel’s interest.
Benjamin Netanyahu wants a Saudi deal so that the U.S. media and Democrats stop talking about his fascistic government’s moves against the judiciary and Palestinians. So earlier this month, Netanyahu promoted the deal with Hakeem Jeffries at his side and next to Jeffries one of the leaders of the Israel lobby, Michael Tuchin of AIPAC.
Joe Biden is keen on Saudi normalization because of domestic politics. Aaron David Miller and Steven Simon acknowledged the political urgency of the project in passing in Foreign Policy:
Brokering a Saudi-Israel normalization accord would also be politically advantageous for Biden domestically, especially heading into an election year. And it would clearly trump his predecessor’s Abraham Accord achievements. Indeed, administration officials reportedly believe that it’s important to get the deal done before Biden is consumed with the 2024 presidential election campaign,
Normalization has been “politicized” in the U.S., Aziz Alghashian, a Saudi foreign policy analyst, explained in a discussion with Israel Policy Forum: The Saudis see that Israel wants normalization, and that U.S. leaders have no political ability to resist it.
Alghashian said this gives the Saudis an incentive to drag the process out:
“We know that Israel is a bipartisan issue in the United States, and Israel wants to normalize relations, and this will get bipartisan support. If we don’t get it in Biden, American bipartisan support for Israel to normalize relations with Saudi isn’t going to go anywhere. This isn’t connected to Biden. This is now politicized, and the Saudis are the ones in the seat where they could accept the offers or not. So I anticipate this continuing. Why would Saudi want to remove this kind of power that they have now?”
No, the pressure is on Biden to offer terms.
Biden knows Netanyahu needs the Saudi normalization narrative to distract the world from Palestinian apartheid. Biden knows that AIPAC — and the American Jewish Committee and the Anti-Defamation League too — are behind it for the same reason. And that Tom Friedman is booming the plan as a win-win-win. Just as he promoted the Iraq war.
So Hakeem Jeffries went to Israel for the second time this year to praise normalization, and 22 first-term House Democrats were there promoting it, too. And Antony Blinken and Jake Sullivan have to take time out of their busy schedules to go to a Gulf dictatorship and talk up a deal.
Biden fears that if he does not toe the Israeli line, large Democratic donors will abandon the party, and some of the pundit class too. Biden is matching Donald Trump stride for stride in Israel policy – as he matches Trump in no other policy – because he fears that the Republicans will politicize the issue effectively, taking rightwing Jewish supporters from the Democratic Party. That’s why Biden has done nothing to restore the Iran deal after promising he would.
Sure enough, at last week’s debate, Republican presidential candidates were vociferous for Israel. Nikki Haley led the charge. They see an advantage in the issue, and donors. Biden wants to take the issue off the table.
Saudi normalization is just the latest device Israel has come up with to rationalize the West’s blinding itself to the Palestinian plight. There is always one reason or another.
First, it was, Israel is the U.S. aircraft carrier against the Soviet Union during the Cold War. Then the Cold War ended and Israel became the U.S. proxy in the war of civilizations against “radical Islam.” Then Israel was the startup nation so useful in the U.S. economic battle with China – though Israel plays footsie with China.
Now it’s the Trump plan of normalizing Israeli relations with Arab monarchies that is presented as being somehow in the strategic American interest.
There is no American interest in spreading nuclear capacity in the Middle East and ignoring human rights atrocities and sidestepping Palestinian apartheid. The tail is wagging the dog once again. A lot like the U.S. planning for the Iraq war, which Israel and its lobby pushed.
Read the description of normalization by J Street’s Dylan Williams as a push by hawks with influence in the Democratic Party:
Advocates aligned with the Trump Administration’s aspirations for the normalization agreements as both an end-run around the Palestinians and a regional military alliance against threats posed by Iran have pushed the US government to take steps that could harm US interests. These include massive advanced arms sales and… even greenlighting and enabling nuclear weapons-threshold activities for Saudi Arabia..
[T]he Biden Administration risks allowing such hawkish voices to continue to shape the trajectory of the Accords into one that makes increased regional instability and conflict more likely, instead of one that advances US interests.
Excellent analysis. But WHY do hawkish voices aligned with the Trump administration have influence over Biden?
The answer is simple. Those voices have access to the White House because they are the Israel lobby.
As Obama’s top foreign policy aide Ben Rhodes told us, the Israel lobby walks in and out of the White House when it wants to.
You meet more with outside, organized constituency groups on Israel than any other foreign policy issue…You just have this incredibly organized pro-Israel community that is very accustomed to having access in the White House, in Congress, at the State Department. . It’s taken for granted, as given, that that’s the way things are going to be done…
It’s kind of like 10 to 20 people that you find yourself meeting with all the time…
Shocking. And unreported by the mainstream press.
But that’s the group that Trump pandered to and that Biden is pandering too as well. Because the lobby’s power is underpinned by financial contributions.
No wonder Tom Friedman is bombastically promoting Saudi normalization as something “huge.”
if Biden decides to try for it and the U.S. could put on the table a deal that is hugely in America’s strategic interest, hugely in Israel’s strategic interest, hugely in Saudi Arabia’s strategic interest (admitting it into a very exclusive club of countries with a U.S. security umbrella) and revive Palestinian hopes for a two-state solution, that would be a very, very big deal.
This is absurdity. There is no U.S. strategic advantage in becoming Saudi Arabia’s backer in a cold/hot war with Iran.
And any deal would sabotage the Democratic Party base’s avowed and growing interest: It would throw Palestinians under the bus. “Revive Palestinian hopes for a two-state solution,” says Friedman. Yes, give them Oslo and Camp David warmed over – pure trickery for the Palestinian dream of political rights.
It is clear why Friedman (“Israel had me at hello”) is so excited by the deal. He imagines that Netanyahu will then form a government with the center-right, and lose the fascistic racists in his coalition who are so bad for business. The Israel lobby wants to go back to promoting Israel as a great democracy.
Biden has no such delusions. He surely doesn’t believe that a Saudi deal is even possible. But that hardly matters. He is focused on U.S. politics. He is frightened by the prospect of a third party that will draw off Israel supporters from the Democrats. He is frightened of Nikki Haley and Ron DeSantis and Donald Trump reaching out to rightwing Democratic donors.
So Biden is determined to be slavish toward Netanyahu. Expect lots more talk of a big Saudi-Israeli-American deal right through 2024.
Philip Weiss is senior editor of Mondoweiss.net and founded the site in 2005-2006