Mohammed bin Salman’s High-Stakes Gamble to Create a New Saudi Arabia

Nov. 14 2017

Since being named heir to his father’s throne, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman has assumed significant power within the Saudi government and used it to position himself as a reformer. His boldest move so far came on November 4, when he ordered the arrest of over 40 princes and government ministers while playing a role in the resignation of Prime Minister Saad Hariri of Lebanon. Hussein Ibish describe what he sees as the prince’s three-pronged effort to wipe the slate clean and “create a new Saudi Arabia for a new era”:

The first [prong] is the consolidation of political power. To all appearances, last weekend’s arrests pretty well conclude that chapter: there are no more viable, independent power centers in the country, or at least none that are not on existential notice. However, it’s possible the crown prince and his father have overreached and that there will be a backlash because they have jettisoned decades of carefully calibrated power-sharing within the royal family and other elements of the power structure. . . .

The second part of the project, economic and social reform, is a taller order, but still doable. . . . Mohammed has certainly shown a determination to lead this transition from the top down and a due appreciation of the social changes, particularly with regard to the role of women, that will be necessary for a globally competitive post-petroleum economy. His attempt to forge an alliance with the general public, especially the youth, so far appears relatively successful and could be a key basis for long-term success. There is evidence of an emerging new dynamism in parts of Saudi society.

It is the third front that is likely to be most challenging: the assertion and defense of Saudi interests throughout the Middle East, particularly with regard to an ever-more-powerful Iran. . . . Hariri’s resignation is likely tied to significant gains made by Iran and its key ally, Lebanese Hizballah, in securing, along with their Iraqi allies and clients, key areas in northern and western Iraq (in the aftermath of the Kurdish independence referendum and the battle against Islamic State) and in eastern Syria. . . . These developments are a potential strategic game-changer in the Middle East, and the Saudi response, apparently, is to go after Iran and Hizballah in their central and original locus of power in the Arab world: Lebanon. . . .

By positioning himself as an all-powerful incoming monarch, . . . Mohammed is gambling everything on relative success on all three registers: political power, socioeconomic reform, and foreign policy. While most Saudis seem to understand the pressing need for radical change, and many may currently support the crown prince’s measures, the danger is that a perceived significant failure on any of these fronts could produce a crisis of legitimacy in an environment of such personalized authority. . . . Mohammed bin Salman—and therefore almost certainly Saudi Arabia as a whole—will either win or lose spectacularly.

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More about: Lebanon, Middle East, Politics & Current Affairs, Saudi Arabia

Palestinian Acceptance of Israel as the Jewish State Must Be a Prerequisite to Further Negotiations

Oct. 19 2018

In 1993, in the early days of the Oslo peace process, the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) under Yasir Arafat accepted the “right of the state of Israel to exist in peace and security.” But neither it nor its heir, the Palestinians Authority, has ever accepted Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state, or the right of the Jewish people to self-determination. Robert Barnidge explains why this distinction matters:

A Jewish state for the Jewish people, after all, was exactly what the [UN] General Assembly intended in November 1947 when it called for the partition of the Palestine Mandate into “the Arab state, the Jewish state, and the city of Jerusalem.”

Although the legitimacy of Israel as a Jewish state does not stand or fall on this resolution—in declaring the independence of Israel on the eve of the Sabbath on May 14, 1948, the Jewish People’s Council, [the precursor to the Israeli government], also stressed the Jewish people’s natural and historic rights—it reaffirms the legitimacy of Jewish national rights in (what was to become) the state of Israel.

The Palestinians have steadfastly refused to recognize Jewish self-determination. [Instead], the PLO [has been] playing a double game. . . . It is not simply that the PLO supported the General Assembly’s determination in 1975, rescinded in 1991, that “Zionism is a form of racism and racial discrimination.” It is that that the PLO leadership continues to speak of Jews as a religious community rather than a people, and of Zionism as a colonial usurper rather than the national liberation movement that it is.

The U.S. government, Barnidge concludes, “should demand that the Palestinians recognize Israel’s right to exist in peace and security as a Jewish state” and refuse to “press Israel to negotiate with the Palestinians unless and until that happens.”

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More about: Israel & Zionism, Peace Process, PLO, US-Israel relations, Yasir Arafat