How much more throat-clearing do the Saudis have to do before the message gets delivered in Ramallah? A little over a week ago, Prince Bandar bin Sultan bin Abdulaziz appeared on Saudi state television outlet al-Arabiya to air a lot of the Palestinians’ dirty laundry to a nation who’d been fed a steady diet of pro-PLO propaganda for decades. Bandar laid out not just how the Palestinians had rejected multiple opportunities to get a state on their own terms, but had also stabbed the Saudis and other Arab nations in the back all along the way.
While the Saudis haven’t committed one way or the other publicly yet to normalizing ties with Israel, the steps taken by their Arab allies clearly has had their tacit approval, at least. That may be getting a lot less tacit, as remarks yesterday from Saudi Arabia’s foreign minister explicitly acknowledged a desire for normalizing relations with Israel, as long as the Palestinian question gets resolved:
Saudi Arabia has always envisioned that normalization with Israel would happen, but the current focus should be on bringing Palestinians and Israelis back to the negotiating table, Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan said yesterday.
“We have always envisioned that normalization [with Israel] would happen, but we also need to have a Palestinian state and a Palestinian-Israeli peace plan,” the Saudi FM said during a webinar with the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.
“In the end, the only thing that can deliver lasting peace and lasting stability is an agreement between the Palestinians and the Israelis. The process of peace is a strategic necessity to the region, he added.
Asked if the recent peace deal signed between the UAE and Bahrain with Israel helped the process, Prince Faisal said it “does help lay the groundwork” to get the Palestinians and Israelis back to the negotiating table.
Faisal also explained why the Saudis aren’t nearly as concerned about the Palestinians as they once were. Iran is now the security focus for the Gulf states, and Israel is an ally rather than an enemy in that conflict:
“Iran maintains a single-minded focus on undermining the health and safety of nations and communities, openly supporting terrorist groups, terrorist proxies, armed militias and terrorist regimes, interjecting itself wherever it can to create chaos and instability, as it has done is so many places like Lebanon, Iraq, Yemen and as far away as South America,” Faisal said. “It seems wherever you find struggles in the region, you find Iran.”
He placed the blame for the humanitarian crisis in Yemen squarely on Iran and its “terrorist proxy,” the Houthi rebels, who have launched “more than 300 ballistic missile attacks” against cities, airports and civilian targets throughout Saudi Arabia.
Faisal warned of the “threat of an Iran armed with nuclear weapons and the continued exports of its revolutionary agenda through hostile and terrorist behavior.”
“Our partnership with the U.S. is critical in addressing Iran’s malignant behavior,” he stressed. “We are committed to working with the U.S. so that Iran does not obtain a nuclear bomb – ever.”
Before Bandar’s blunt exposure of decades of double-dealing by the Palestinians, Faisal’s comment about “good faith” would have been assumed to be aimed at Israel. Now, however, it’s pretty clear that it’s at least aimed at both sides, and the footsie-playing by both Hamas and Fatah with Iran almost certainly is part of the betrayals the Saudis feel from the Palestinians. (Bandar mentioned this explicitly in his interview.)
Aren’t the Saudis worried about a domestic backlash? Not as much as you’d think. Bandar might have been preparing Saudi subjects for a sea change in foreign policy, but a Zogby poll taken over the summer and just released this week shows they’re already prepared for it. Fifty-eight percent of Saudis favor the Trump plan to achieve it as well (KSA is Kingdom of Saudi Arabia):
A stunning new poll conducted by an Arab-American pollster has found that the people of Saudi Arabia are increasingly receptive to “normalization” of relations with Israel.
It also found that a strong majority of Saudis view President Trump’s “Deal of the Century” plan for Middle East Peace favorably.
What’s more, ALL ARAB NEWS can also report that the poll found that more than 7-in-10 Arabs in Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Egypt and Jordan believe that the Arab world is heading for “normalization” deals with Israel, even if Palestinian leaders continue to resist all international efforts to make peace.
Such findings would have seemed preposterous 5 or 10 years ago.
Faisal’s timing in ratcheting up pressure seems interesting, too. Earlier this week, Palestinian leadership seemed to indicate that they wanted to kick this can down the road past the US election. They seem convinced they can get a better deal from Joe Biden:
The Palestinian prime minister has said it will be disastrous for his people and the world at large if President Donald Trump wins reelection next month.
Speaking remotely to European lawmakers, Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh said the last four years of the Trump administration have greatly harmed the Palestinians.
“If we are going to live another four years with President Trump,” he said, God help us and the whole world, Shtayyeh said Monday. The comments were posted on his Facebook page.
The Saudis, remembering how Biden and Barack Obama went soft on Iran, clearly don’t share that point of view. Faisal’s comments seem calibrated as a response to Shtayyeh that the calculations won’t change if Trump leaves office, except perhaps to get even harsher on the Palestinians. If Trump loses the election, the Arab states will have to consolidate even more quickly against the threat from Tehran, at which point they might throw the Palestinians under the bus entirely. That would leave Shtayyeh with no leverage at all in further negotiations with Israel, as the Europeans aren’t going to stand in the way of a rapprochement between Arabs and Israel.
In other words, as Bandar made clear, time is running out on Ramallah. If Palestinians don’t start negotiating a two-state solution in good faith, the Saudis will step over them to shake hands with Israel instead. Tick tock, tick tock.