Saudi Arabia and Israel have been cautiously improving their relations in the lead-up to the signing of the normalization agreement.
Minister of Tourism Haim Katz embarked on an official visit to Saudi Arabia, followed by Communications Minister Shlomo Karai and Knesset member David Bitan.
Behind-the-scenes discussions between the Biden administration, Saudi Arabia’s royal house, and Israel continue in an effort to forge an understanding that would facilitate the agreement’s signing.
Foreign Minister Eli Cohen has estimated that the target date for signing the agreement is the first quarter of 2024.
Nevertheless, there remain significant political and security hurdles obstructing the historic Middle East agreement between Israel, the Jewish state, and Saudi Arabia, a prominent leader in the Arab and Muslim world.
This is in spite of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s remarks to the American “Fox News” network, suggesting ongoing progress in the negotiations.
In a speech at the United Nations, Prime Minister Netanyahu declared, “Israel and Saudi Arabia stand on the precipice of a historic peace agreement.” President Biden is equally eager to secure an agreement prior to the upcoming U.S. presidential elections.
Saudi Arabia has outlined several demands for the Biden administration as part of the agreement, including:
- Establishing a defense alliance between Saudi Arabia and the U.S. to counter the Iranian threat, similar to those with Japan and South Korea.
- The delivery of advanced weapons systems from the U.S. to Saudi Arabia, including F-35 aircraft.
- The construction of a nuclear reactor on Saudi soil for “peaceful purposes,” including uranium enrichment similar to Iran’s activities.
- Requiring concrete steps from Israel to advance the creation of an independent Palestinian state and bolster the Palestinian Authority.
President Biden regards this trilateral deal as crucial for enhancing Middle East stability, mitigating the Iranian threat, and achieving a significant political accomplishment during his presidential campaign.
This is particularly relevant as China has been actively expanding its presence in the Middle East, filling the void left by the U.S. administration.
President Biden faces two primary challenges:
- Reaching a compromise between Israeli and Saudi positions on the Palestinian issue.
- Securing congressional approval for the trilateral deal involving the U.S., Saudi Arabia, and Israel.
To gain congressional approval, President Biden requires a two-thirds majority, which is expected to be a formidable challenge due to opposition.
Critics in Congress cite human rights violations in Saudi Arabia and the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, as U.S. intelligence unequivocally implicates Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in the assassination.
Moreover, the Israeli security establishment strongly opposes the idea of Saudi Arabia enriching uranium on its territory, fearing it could eventually be used for military purposes, potentially leading to nuclear weapon development, echoing Iran’s intentions.
As for the Palestinian issue, Saudi Arabia maintains a longstanding position that normalization with Israel hinges on Israel’s commitment to establishing an independent Palestinian state with East Jerusalem as its capital.
While Saudi Arabia has appointed a special ambassador to the Palestinian Authority and Jerusalem, signaling support for the Palestinians, it remains unclear whether the normalization agreement will be contingent upon Israel’s actual commitment to a Palestinian state.
Prime Minister Netanyahu hesitates to make such a commitment, fearing it could destabilize his coalition.
Despite the optimism following Crown Prince Bin Salman’s Fox News interview and Prime Minister Netanyahu’s UN speech, there is currently no breakthrough in the negotiations for this intricate tripartite agreement.
Israeli political sources emphasize the complexity of the deal, noting that “the devil is in the details.”
The “axis of evil,” led by Iran, will likely attempt to derail the agreement.
Iranian President Ibrahim Raisi has condemned the normalization agreement between Israel and Saudi Arabia as a “betrayal of the Palestinians.”
Predicting the agreement’s timeline is challenging.
The intricate and multifaceted nature of the problems at hand may lead to a protracted negotiation process, potentially extending beyond the U.S. presidential elections.