Saudi Arabia is trying to revive its 18-year-old plan to normalise ties with Israel, supported by a host of Arab countries.
Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and a coterie of other Gulf states are set to meet Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu after his March 2 election, according to a statement by American Rabbi Marc Schneier to the Jerusalem Post.
The meeting comes with backing from the United States, as it seeks to bring together Israel, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Oman and Sudan in a high-level summit that would consider Trump’s ‘deal-of-the-century’.
According to Stratton Consulting Group Analyst Mark Jefferson, who spoke to TRT World, the meeting is an exercise in smoke and mirrors as it's being exploited for political gain and survival.
“Saudi Arabia has gotten a lot of bad press with the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, and the war on Yemen. Trump is facing reelection. Netanyahu is facing criminal charges and elections too. The deal is guaranteed to incite violence and tensions, but pushing for it now could mean Trump enjoying the continued support of the AIPAC [American Israel Public Affairs Committee] lobby, while Netanyahu stands to gain more popular support ahead of March 2 elections,” he says.
“And Saudi Arabia? They’re essentially telling the US we’re here for you, and we’re still great friends in spite of everything that happened. Reviving their role as a great US ally in the region means stability, protection and possibly more business down the line.”
Jordan also received an invitation, which it declined unless Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas was included in the proceedings.
Rabbi Schneier also stated that Saudi Arabia needs to “lead the way” for other Arab states to reach a consensus on the Trump Mideast peace plan, following the Arab League’s unanimous rejection of the proposal.
The hamster wheel
Schneier believes it’s “only natural” for Saudi Arabia to lead the peace initiative with Israel, affirming that they are “pleased that the process has been resurrected by the Americans”.
The entire affair seems to be made up of rehashed ideas and recycled words.
Trump’s peace plan is nearly identical to a 40-year-old plan published by the World Zionist Organization, titled the ‘Master Plan for the Development of Settlements in Judea and Samaria’.
Saudi Arabia itself is pushing for the ‘Arab Peace Initiative’, a peace plan it pioneered amid burgeoning relations with Israel as far back as 2002.
Arab states meeting Israeli officials in the quoted manner is inconceivable to Arab demographics, yet the quotes provided by Schneier seem to suggest a strong Saudi initiative at sitting across the table with Israel officials, without Palestinians.
How did it come to this?
The move comes as a surprise to many, given that most Arab states are quick to deny any official or covert ties with Israel in spite of long-standing dealings with Tel Aviv for too long.
Netanyahu himself has gone on the record revealing that his country maintains unofficial ties with a broad range of Arab states.
But the winds of change may be blowing in Saudi Arabia.
The bold moves made by Saudi Arabia’s crown prince are already being propagated by state-controlled media. Popular Saudi columnist Ahmad Adnan railed at the PA in a widely read piece published by ‘Okaz: “The P.A. has made negative statements against the deal. I maintain that at this stage it needs a friend to be honest with it, telling it and advising it: Sign the deal and then curse it as much as you want, day and night.”
Only a few decades past, the Arab League as a whole maintained a policy of non-recognition of Israel, often referring to it only as the ‘Zionist Entity’, or ‘Occupation’.
But it’s all out of the shadows now. The Arab Peace Initiative of 2002 that Saudi Arabia seeks to revive directly called for normalisation and peace, even finding endorsement among 22 Arab League member states.
While underhanded ties to Israel have become increasingly commonplace, why are Saudi Arabia and the US boldly moving into the spotlight with evident ties now, after years of Trump’s promised impending ‘deal of the century’?
The answer may be more cynical than some are prepared to admit.
More and more Arab states have de facto normalised ties with Israel, with Sudan being the latest in a long succession of Arab states to do so.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu held a secret meeting in Uganda with Sudanese leader Abdel Fattah al Burhan a week ago, marking a dramatic shift in ties only days after Sudan initially rejected the proposed US peace plan for the region which Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas denounced.
Abbas warned that the plan would result in “fragmented residential encampments” leaving a future state of Palestine like “Swiss cheese”.
Commenting on Sudan’s normalisation of ties with Israel, Saeb Erekat, secretary general of the Palestine Liberation Organization described it as “a stab in the back”.
But this isn’t the first time it’s happened, irrespective of age-old conventions, resolutions and Arab stands of solidarity. More critically, if political convenience has anything to say, it’s unlikely to be the last.