Normalization of Saudi Arabia-Israel relations remains hindered and protracted

China Military Online
Lin Congyi
2023-09-15 19:26:14

By Niu Song

Israeli security personnel perform guard duty on the scene of a conflict in the Jordan Valley region on September 5. (Xinhua/French News Agency)

The US has been actively engaging in meditation between Saudi Arabia and Israel to drive the normalization of their relations in recent months. However, the condition did not evolve as envisaged by the US. The reason is that Saudi Arabia insists on resolving the Palestinian issue before negotiating the bilateral relations, while Israel says the future development of their relationship has nothing to do with the West Bank affairs and that it will not make any concessions on the Palestinian issue. The statements of both sides have cooled the US enthusiasm with wishful plot, and also reflect that the normalization of Saudi Arabia-Israel relations remains hindered and protracted.

The relations between these Israel and Arab countries have been strained subject to the Palestinian issue. In 2020, Israel signed the Abraham Accords and agreed to establish normal relations with Bahrain and the UAE, ushering in a new breakthrough for the Arab-Israeli political relationship and a positive shift in the dynamics of the relationship between Israeli and Saudi Arabia.

Both Israel and Saudi Arabia are the US key allies in the Middle East. The US had earlier cajoled the two sides to form a coalition against Iran, creating favorable external conditions for a thaw in their contradictions. During the Trump administration, the US unilaterally withdrew from the Iranian nuclear deal and relaunched economic sanctions against Iran, leading to a sharp deterioration of US-Iran relations and somewhat the stability of the anti-Iran alliance among the three countries.

However, the Biden government that came into power later tried to show a difference from the previous administration in domestic and foreign policies, and the US policies towards Iran changed accordingly. Although still reserving sanctions against Iran, the country has launched multiple rounds of negotiations with Iran on the nuclear issue, and made compromises on the exchange of prisoners between the two parties and partial unfreezing of Iranian assets in ROK. US change of attitude towards Iran has reduced the possibility of promoting a breakthrough in Saudi Arabia-Israel relations by playing the Iran card. Meanwhile, Saudi Arabia and Iran have started a reconciliation process on all fronts, fundamentally shaking Saudi Arabia and Israel's alignment on the anti-Iran front and enlarging the differences between them.

Under such circumstances, a huge backlash has inevitably been provoked from Israel as a result of the US' attempt to achieve a fundamental breakthrough in Saudi Arabia-Israel relations by pressuring Israel on the Palestinian issue.

For Israel, restoring relations with Saudi Arabia could change the political landscape of the Middle East, so it needs to ensure its own security, stability and military advantages not to be affected. Since the future is unclear, Israel is reluctant to compromise on the Palestinian issue.

As for Saudi Arabia, the development of relations with Israel is an integral part of its regional strategy, but the Palestinian issue is also a key part relevant to its political and national interests, so it insists on resolving this issue as a prerequisite for improving the relations with Israel. Saudi Arabia and Israel have no room for maneuver on the Palestinian issue.

In a word, in the complicated contexts of the regional pattern restructuring in the Middle East, the strengthening of the Middle East countries' strategic autonomy and the increasingly disadvantageous position of the US in the Middle East, the attempt by US to lead the normalization of Saudi-Israeli relations is still far from success.

(The author is a researcher at the Middle East Studies Institute of Shanghai International Studies University)

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