For decades, Saudi Arabia has been an advocate of Palestinian statehood rights and a critic of the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza. Saudi Arabia’s commitment to Palestine has defined the geopolitical contours of the Middle East for decades. But now that the Iran nuclear deal has been struck and as the war in Syria ravages on, those political lines are being redrawn, bringing together unexpected bedfellows: Saudi Arabia and Israel.
Marketed as a “pathbreaking public dialogue between senior national security leaders from two old adversaries,” May 5, 2016 will feature a high-profile public meeting in Washington DC between officials from Saudi Arabia and Israel. Prince Turki bin Faisal, Saudi Arabia’s former intelligence chief and one-time ambassador to Washington, and retired Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) Major General Yaakov Amidror, former national security advisor to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, will be speaking together at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, a pro-Israel organization funded by AIPAC donors, staffed by AIPAC employees, and located down the hall from AIPAC headquarters.
Saudi Arabia has never engaged in diplomatic relations with Israel since the Nakba in 1948, and at one point even led efforts to boycott of the state of Israel. And although this is not the first meeting of its kind (Saudi Arabia and Israel had a former official speak at a Council on Foreign Relations panel last year), it is definitely the highest profile meeting and it is taking place.
While having like-minded human rights abusers such as Saudi Arabia and Israel mingle and meet publicly might come as no surprise to most of us, this event is still bad news: it signals a new era of normalization by the official sponsor of the Arab Peace Initiative.
The Arab Peace initiative, also known as the “Saudi Initiative”, is a 10-sentence proposal for an end to the Arab–Israeli conflict. It was endorsed by the Arab League in 2002 and re-endorsed at the 2007, and it is supported by all Palestinian factions, including Hamas. The initiative calls for normalizing relations between the Arab world and Israel in exchange for a complete withdrawal by Israel from the occupied territories (including East Jerusalem). Until now, it has been the most viable blueprint for a two-state solution. The deal also addressed the issue of Palestinian refugees and called for a “just settlement” based on UN Resolution 194.
So, at this political moment when Netanyahu is not showing any willingness to withdraw from the Occupied Palestinian Territory and some of his ministers are calling for the official annexation of the West Bank, Saudi Arabia seems to be giving up on its historic commitments. By normalizing relations with Israel without demanding a just solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Saudi Arabia is diminishing its leverage in negotiating a two-state solution.
In a way this meeting marks the official demise of the Arab Peace Initiative, but more importantly, as the last standing mechanism for a regionally negotiated resolution, it is yet another indicator that a two-state solution is officially dead.