Would Netanyahu’s Bait Lure Saudi Arabia into Normalization?
The Saudi approach to normalization with Israeli regime is like a fish moving around a bait on the hook but is still doubtful if it wants to grab it, and Tel Aviv is like a fisherman who is trying to lure the Riyadh into catching the bait.
Twenty years after Saudi Arabia proposed the Arab peace plan to end the Israeli-Palestinian dispute, the Israeli PM-designate Benjamin Netanyahu in an unprecedented interview with a state-run Saudi network made a new proposal to Riyadh with an aim to lure the kingdom into normalization.
Last Thursday, in an interview with Al Arabiya, Netanyahu held that he intends to present a new initiative for what he called peace with the Saudis, which would eventually lead to a solution to the Palestinian conflict.
Restoring normalization atmosphere
Netanyahu, who by a parliamentary win both secured another premiership term and distanced himself from judicial process for corruption, is slated to form the most hard-line and far-right cabinet in two decades in the Israeli regime; a cabinet that contains such hardliners as Itmar Ben-Gvir, Bezalel Smotrich , and Aryeh Deri and makes the Palestinian developments outlook even more gloomy and strained.
Now and amid expectations of more tensions in the occupied Palestinian territories in the near future and consequently slimmer chances of peace and negotiations, Netanyahu’s efforts for portraying this reality the opposite way are worth considering.
An important point to discern the nature of Netanyahu’s proposal, which he did not elaborate on, lies in his words: “I believe that peace with Saudi Arabia serves two purposes, because it is also a quantum leap for comprehensive peace between Israel and the Arab world, and it will change our region in unimaginable ways.”
Given the fact that years before the UAE and Bahrain normalization with the Israeli regime in 2020, the behind-the-scenes Arab-Israeli relations were clear to all, at home, Netanyahu has always saw himself the architect of the Israeli relations with the Arabs. This comes while the normalization process is on hold for two years now and with the escalating tensions and crisis in the West Bank and Arab public’s show of totally negative view of normalization during Qatar World Cup, the normalization achievements risk being undone. Therefore, it seems that Netanyahu’s first and most important goal behind recent proposal is to use the propaganda and media atmosphere of Riyadh’s tendency under the leadership of Mohammed bin Salman towards normalization and walking back from the Arab peace plan —which addresses the minimum demands of the Palestinians and the Muslim world’s public— to change the toxic atmosphere that has formed against the advocates of normalization.
Mahmoud al-Helmi, an author and political expert, believes that “Netanyahu knows very well that without Saudi Arabia signing the normalization agreement, this agreement will not succeed and will not penetrate the Islamic world.” Therefore, naturally, Netanyahu is aware of the important fact that if he succeeds in bringing Saudi Arabia, which carries the title of the cradle of Islam and claims to be the leader of the Arab world, to the circle of normalizers, he will take credit for a big achievement and at the same time break the state of stagnation overshadowing the normalization.
Instilling the notion that Arab peace plan is history now
For years and even while Saudi Arabia by such moves as opening its airspace to Israeli flights and turning a blind eye to the Israeli crimes in the West Bank sympathized with normalization, Riyadh’s official statements about the ultimate solution for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict have always contained emphasis on the 2002 peace initiative proposed by King Abdullah.
Among the most important provisions of this agreement, which the Israelis have never allowed to be implemented, is the return of Palestinian refugees and the establishment of an independent Palestinian state in the occupied territories of 1967 with East Jerusalem as its capital.
This comes while the Israelis have proven in practice that nothing less than occupation of all Palestinian territories, migration of Palestinians to other countries, and eliminating the Arab and Islamic identity of Palestine satisfies them. Even in his recent interview with the Saudi broadcaster Netanyahu implied that Arab peace initiative is obsolete and must be left behind, signaling that in the viewpoint of the Israelis, the normalization is a one-way process to change the security map of the region based on the common threats seen to be deriving from regional developments especially Iran-led Axis of Resistance’s power gain. And the Saudis look to find it inevitable to move past their peace initiative to form the so-called regional coalition. Actually, the Israeli thought is that the Saudis, and particularly the Crown Prince bin Salman, have accepted the very deal and the remaining sticking point is the price which Riyadh does not accept it cheap.
By such initiative, Netanyahu practically reduces Saudi Arabia from the position it defined for itself in the Palestine cause and Arab world to a trivial and ineffective actor like Bahrain. Now it remains to see if Saudi Arabia catches the hooked bait of Netanyahu.