Saudi-Israeli normalization: A consequential shift in Middle Eastern politics

Saudi Arabia and Israel are making historic moves towards establishing diplomatic relations, with high-level delegations visiting each other’s territories. This breakthrough comes after positive comments from Saudi and Israeli leaders regarding the progress in normalizing ties. The United States has been instrumental in brokering negotiations between these two regional allies, aiming to achieve a major foreign policy victory for President Joe Biden. If successful, a Saudi-Israeli agreement would mark a significant shift in Middle Eastern politics.

On Tuesday morning, Nayef al-Sudairi, Saudi Arabia’s first official envoy to the Palestinians, drove into the occupied West Bank for a two-day visit. This marks the first time a high-level Saudi delegation has visited the territory since Israel captured it from Jordan in the 1967 war. The Palestinian Foreign Ministry celebrated this visit as a “historic milestone” in relations with Riyadh. Al-Sudairi was warmly received in Ramallah, where he met with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and participated in official ceremonies.

Simultaneously, Israel’s Tourism Minister, Haim Katz, landed in Saudi Arabia for a UN event, becoming the first Israeli minister to lead an official delegation to the Gulf country. Katz emphasized the potential of tourism as a bridge between nations and expressed his commitment to promoting collaborations that would enhance tourism and Israel’s foreign relations.

However, while Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu expressed optimism about a potential deal with Saudi Arabia, US officials caution that the negotiations still have a long way to go. If an agreement is reached in the coming months, it is expected to include a defense agreement between Riyadh and Washington and support for Saudi Arabia’s civilian nuclear program. Both the US and Saudi Arabia share an interest in resolving the Palestinian question and reviving the peace process, which has been stagnant since 2014.

This development comes at a time of heightened tensions between Israel and the Palestinians, particularly in the West Bank. Palestinian President Abbas addressed the UN General Assembly, emphasizing the importance of Palestinians being granted full rights in any future Middle East peace agreement. The Saudi foreign minister also called for the revival of the two-state solution, aligning with Abbas’ stance.

A Saudi-Israeli normalization agreement would have far-reaching implications for the region. It would reshape Middle Eastern politics and potentially lead to greater stability and security. Additionally, it would be a significant achievement for President Biden’s foreign policy agenda, as he seeks to reestablish strong alliances and promote peace in the region.

While this development is promising, caution must be exercised. The complex nature of the negotiations requires careful attention to the concerns and interests of all parties involved. The impact on the wider Middle East and its geopolitical dynamics should also be considered. Furthermore, the potential backlash from other regional actors who may view this normalization as a betrayal to the Palestinian cause should not be overlooked. Therefore, diplomatic efforts should be aimed at ensuring that the agreement is comprehensive, fair, and takes into account the aspirations and rights of all parties involved.