Saudi Arabia shows signs of opening up

Saudi Arabia shows signs of opening up

2023-06-10 20:00:09

Established as a priority file by the administration of Joe Biden, normalization between Saudi Arabia and Israel was at the heart of the visit to Riyadh by the American Secretary of State, Antony Blinken, from June 6 to 8. The Americans are giving themselves until the end of the year, before being overtaken by the 2024 presidential campaign, to advance this file, which is also a priority for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. The Saudi monarchy, which in return is negotiating increased military cooperation with Washington and support for its civilian nuclear program, is showing signs of openness.

“Normalization with Israel is in the interest of the regionsaid the head of Saudi diplomacy, Prince Fayçal Ben Farhan, on Thursday. It can bring significant benefits for everyone, but without a path to peace for the Palestinian people, without addressing this challenge, normalization will have limited benefits. We must continue to focus on how to find a path to a two-state solution that gives Palestinians dignity and justice.”added Mr. Farhan.

The choice of words is not trivial. Speaking of a simple “path to peace”, the head of Saudi diplomacy seems to indicate that Riyadh is ready to lower its demands: the creation of a Palestinian state within the 1967 borders would no longer be a prerequisite for normalization with Israel. This formula was enshrined in the peace initiative of Saudi Crown Prince Abdullah, endorsed by the countries of the Arab League in 2002.

The United Arab Emirates and Bahrain have de facto renounced it, establishing diplomatic relations with Israel in 2020, within the framework of the Abraham Accords signed with the previous Netanyahu government, under the aegis of the Trump administration. Morocco followed suit in 2021. In turn, the Saudi kingdom seems to signal that a relaunch of the peace process could be enough for it. The coming to power of a far-right coalition led by Mr. Netanyahu in December 2022 does not make his task any easier. This coalition opposes the creation of a Palestinian state and multiplies actions that fuel violence between Palestinians and Israelis.

Fear of a nuclear arms race

The Biden administration is arguing to the Saudi crown that it is in its interest to strike a deal with Israel while it is in power. In Congress, many Democrats oppose increased cooperation with the monarchy, criticizing its human rights abuses and the war it has been waging in Yemen since 2015. The Biden team, which hopes to claim that success before the presidential election, assures that the elected officials will rally more easily to an agreement carried by his administration. But the concessions demanded by the Saudis divide the Biden administration, which fears a nuclear arms race in the Middle East, between Riyadh and Tehran.

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