Winds of Change

After UAE and Bahrain, Saudi Arabia is all set to establish full ties with Israel. The Uncle Sam seems to be winning in the Middle East theatre by further isolating Iran. This is precisely the area where America's interests coincide with those of the Saudis. If Saudi Arabia recognises Israel with all round diplomatic relations and refuses to hold its old position on the Palestinian question political atmosphere will change in the Middle East drastically. For one thing the plight of Palestinians no longer causes concerns in Arab countries. The Palestinians may lose even Arafat era status if Gulf nations firmly decide to make economic deals with Israel. No doubt these days the Saudis, particularly the crown prince, are more interested in Israeli economy, not Palestinians, though they still officially insist on a full-fledged Palestinian state and Israel's withdrawal from the occupied territory. The prospects of booming business with Israel are going to cloud Palestinian future.

Gulf capitals have been increasingly looking to Israel as an ally to defend against common 'enemy' Iran amid quiet concerns about the possibility of change in US foreign policy and uncertainty around the upcoming presidential election. Many blame it on Iran for forcing Arab countries closer to Israel in recent years. Many analysts and observers in America and Europe say Saudi Arabia is unlikely to formalise ties with Israel as long as king Salman wields power. The King is reportedly sticking to his commitment to the Arab Initiative. The Initiative offers Israel normal ties with Arab states in return for Palestinian statehood on territory Israel occupied in 1967 war—a deal which starkly contradicts America's plan of permanent peace in the Middle East.
When the news became public last month that the United Arab Emirates and Israel agreed to establish full diplomatic ties—a move matched by Bahrain weeks later—Saudi Arabia didn't react or hosting summits condemning the unexpected development, despite Palestinian requests to do so.

While the Palestinians dubbed the agreements as a betrayal of the Palestinian cause, government controlled Saudi media hailed them as historic and good for regional peace. Historic it is no doubt but it is detrimental to Palestinians' interests.

Prince Mohammed, during his visit to the US in April 2018, said in no uncertain terms that "there are a lot of interests we share with Israel".

The hard fact is that more than 90 per cent of the people of Saudi Arabia support the official position of the kingdom that there must be a Palestinian state with east Jerusalem as its capital. But clerics in Saudi Arabia are now busy to deliver sermons about the importance of obeying the ruler to preserve unity and peace. They are not against showing kindness to non-Muslims either, specifically mentioning Jews. It remains to be seen how the international community responds to the winds of change in the Middle East.

Come what may the Saudis are going to normalise relations with Israel. It is now a question of 'when' despite simmering Palestinian anger.

Vol. 53, No. 16, Oct 18 - 124, 2020