Recent Israeli Legislation Could Pave the Way to Normalization with Saudi Arabia

August 2, 2023 | Michael Oren
About the author: Michael Oren, formerly Israel’s ambassador to the United States, a member of the Knesset, and a deputy minister for diplomacy, is the author of the forthcoming Swann’s War.

In 1993, the Israeli Supreme Court demanded that the Shas-party politician Aryeh Deri be fired from his cabinet post because he was about to be indicted on corruption charges—on the grounds that doing otherwise would be “unreasonable.” Deri is now once again the leader of Shas and, thanks to the bill passed by the Knesset last week that removes the Court’s authority to cancel ministerial appointments on “reasonableness” grounds, is poised to join the cabinet once again. While much attention has been paid to the implications of this development for Israel’s internal affairs, Michael Oren observes that it might profoundly affect foreign policy:

The U.S. national security advisor Jake Sullivan visited the Saudi kingdom last week and offered Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman security guarantees and U.S. weapon systems in exchange for a normalization deal with Israel. The prince responded favorably, so long as Israel makes a gesture toward the Palestinians.

The focus on Deri’s criminal past has all but obscured his rather moderate views on foreign policy. By having the bill passed and bringing him back, [the Knesset has made it possible for] Deri to serve as a counterweight to Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich and National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir, paving the way for the gesture toward the Palestinians. If Smotrich or Ben-Gvir threaten to leave the coalition, they would be replaced by Benny Gantz and his National Unity Party—a maneuver that is [possibly] already in the works.

Connecting these three components into one big puzzle will allow President Biden to preside over a peace-signing ceremony on the White House lawn—an optic that he so desperately needs. The Saudis will get the weapons and guarantees they have long asked for, but the big winner will be Israel: not only will it finally see an end to the conflict with the Sunni world, but it will also get access to the massive Saudi economy, and from there to the markets in Indonesia, Malaysia, and Pakistan. Israel’s diplomatic, economic, and strategic standing will improve manyfold.

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