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

February 20, 2023 | Eran Lerman
About the author: Eran Lerman is vice-president of the Jerusalem Institute for Strategic Studies and teaches Middle Eastern and Islamic Studies at Shalem College.

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 on Jerusalem Institute for Strategy and Security: