Saudi Arabia Is Already Laying the Groundwork for Peace with Israel

December 29, 2022 | Chelsi Mueller
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In multiple recent public statements, Benjamin Netanyahu—who will be sworn in today as prime minister—has emphasized his hope of securing a normalization agreement with Riyadh, which has been at a formal state of war with the Jewish state since 1948. Chelsi Mueller examines the obstacles to such an agreement and, more importantly, the signs that Riyadh is already laying the groundwork for one:

One indication is the appointment of a cleric, known for having visited Auschwitz and for promoting interfaith dialogue, to an influential role as secretary of the Muslim World League, headquartered in Jeddah. . . . Another indication of the slow preparation for formal peace is the scrubbing of some anti-Semitic content from national school textbooks. Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman’s many public statements have also been used to signal his intent. He reportedly told a group of Jewish leaders in Washington, D.C. that the Palestinians were not a top priority for Saudi Arabia and that his patience with them was running out. . . . Most recently he described Israel as a “potential ally.”

These kinds of statements can serve multiple purposes: they can serve as a trial balloon, a means of gauging the reaction of Saudi citizens; as a sermon about the moderate and pro-American attributes of Saudi foreign policy; as a warning to Iran about the pain that Saudi Arabia could inflict if the Islamic Republic doesn’t modify its behavior; and as a carrot, to remind Israel of the rewards it stands to gain by making certain concessions.

Saudi Arabia continues to reaffirm its support for the “Arab peace plan” in official statements. Saudi Arabia’s proposal was unveiled in 2002 by the late King Abdullah; it offered normalization with Israel in exchange for full withdrawal to the pre-1967 armistice lines, a Palestinian state with eastern Jerusalem as its capital, and a “just” solution for Palestinian refugees. . . . [B]ut there are hints that Saudi Arabia may be flexible about some of its specific stipulations. Recent Saudi statements have been less detailed about thorny issues, such as borders and the return of refugees, suggesting that there may be room for compromise.

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