Patience Is the Key to Bringing Saudi Arabia into the Abraham Accords

There is little doubt that Riyadh and Jerusalem have been strengthening their relationship behind the scenes for many years, and 2022 and 2023 saw much speculation in the Israeli press about the possibility of diplomatic normalization. While Eran Lerman is sanguine about the prospects in the long run, he also cautions against inflated expectations:

Israel must take into account that the diplomatic, political (i.e., intra-dynastic), and social dynamics in the Saudi kingdom are highly complex—and not easy to discern for observers from the outside or even from within. As the Saudis themselves are ready to admit, it will not be easy to remove overnight the legacy of decades of the Saudi population being fed a poisonous flow of anti-Israel and anti-Semitic incitement. [Excessive] Israeli pressure—let alone dragging the issue down into the stormy Israeli partisan political arena—would do more harm than good. . . . The Arab saying, al-‘ajalah min al-shaytan—haste is from the devil—is an excellent guide to the insights necessary for conducting Israeli policy toward the Saudis at present.

It is clear to the Saudis, as well as to the Abraham Accords nations and the Biden administration, that the present Israeli government—like its predecessor—cannot find a zone of any possible agreement with Palestinian demands in the foreseeable future. However, unlike the UAE, the Saudis are not ready to take the issue off the table; and the Palestinians welcomed their position.

Expectations in Israel should therefore be modified. Even slow and measured progress with the Saudis could run into severe difficulties if Israel comes to be perceived as moving from “conflict management” toward a decisive situational transformation. . . . Caution and sound judgment are needed on issues that may have a bearing on the prospects for (measured) progress with the Saudis—and equally important, on the ability to persuade Washington to lend a hand in this effort.

Read more at Jerusalem Institute for Strategy and Security

More about: Abraham Accords, Israel diplomacy, Saudi Arabia

Why Arab Jerusalem Has Stayed Quiet

One of Hamas’s most notable failures since October 7 is that it has not succeeded in inspiring a violent uprising either among the Palestinians of the West Bank or the Arab citizens of Israel. The latter seem horrified by Hamas’s actions and tend to sympathize with their own country. In the former case, quiet has been maintained by the IDF and Shin Bet, which have carried out a steady stream of arrests, raids, and even airstrikes.

But there is a third category of Arab living in Israel, namely the Arabs of Jerusalem, whose intermediate legal status gives them access to Israeli social services and the right to vote in municipal elections. They may also apply for Israeli citizenship if they so desire, although most do not.

On Wednesday, off-duty Israeli soldiers in the Old City of Jerusalem shot at a Palestinian who, it seems, was attempting to attack them. But this incident is a rare exception to the quiet that has prevailed in Arab Jerusalem since the war began. Eytan Laub asked a friend in an Arab neighborhood why:

Listen, he said, we . . . have much to lose. We already fear that any confrontation would have consequences. Making trouble may put our residence rights at risk. Furthermore, he added, not a few in the neighborhood, including his own family, have applied for Israeli citizenship and participating in disturbances would hardly help with that.

Such an attitude reflects a general trend since the end of the second intifada:

In recent years, the numbers of [Arab] Jerusalemites applying for Israeli citizenship has risen, as the social stigma of becoming Israeli has begun to erode and despite an Israeli naturalization process that can take years and result in denial (because of the requirement to show Jerusalem residence or the need to pass a Hebrew language test). The number of east Jerusalemites granted citizenship has also risen, from 827 in 2009 to over 1,600 in 2020.

Oddly enough, Laub goes on to argue, the construction of the West Bank separation fence in the early 2000s, which cuts through the Arab-majority parts of Jerusalem, has helped to encouraged better relations.

Read more at Jerusalem Strategic Tribune

More about: East Jerusalem, Israeli Arabs, Jerusalem