REPORTS that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu made a clandestine visit to the northern Saudi city of Neom to meet Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman on Sunday have sparked a firestorm of rumours. The Saudis have flatly denied that the Israeli leader set foot on their soil; however, officials in Tel Aviv — in typically Israeli fashion — have adopted a more ambiguous tone. Several media outlets in Israel say the visit indeed took place, while a member of the state’s security cabinet has said on record that “the meeting happened”.

Whatever the truth of the matter, it is clear that fervent moves are being made in the shadows to bring the Arabs and Israel closer to each other, with the Trump administration very publicly calling for recognition of the Jewish state, particularly by Saudi Arabia.

While over the past few months the UAE, Bahrain and Sudan have struck peace deals with Israel, it would be a game changer were Saudi Arabia to do so. Officially, Riyadh sticks to the position that there would be no peace with Israel unless the Palestine question is resolved. But it is difficult to believe that the Gulf states would have gone ahead without Saudi Arabia’s blessing. Moreover, because Islam’s holiest sites are on Saudi soil, Riyadh’s recognition of Tel Aviv would have a great impact on the Muslim world. There have also been indications that Pakistan faces pressure from some of its powerful foreign friends to embrace Israel.

As this paper has stated before, there is nothing wrong with Muslim states pursuing ties with Israel as long as the Palestine issue is resolved to the Arab side’s satisfaction. Unfortunately, that doesn’t seem to be a possibility as the Palestinians have rejected the recent peace deals between Arab states and Israel. The reason remains clear; those who rule Israel have no intention of going back to the 1967 borders and living in harmony with the Palestinians by giving them back the land that was stolen from them. In fact, the Palestinians are being offered a so-called ‘deal of the century’, which is in fact an instrument of surrender designed to declare a clear victory for Israel, and perpetual humiliation for the Arabs.

The Palestinians continue to resist because they are denied basic human rights and dignity. Going back to the Arabs’ dealings with Israel, it is apparent that these moves are being made to please the Trump administration, which is soon to exit Washington. However, if the new Arab-Israeli alliance is being cemented to confront Iran and its regional allies, then instead of peace more instability can be expected, as Tehran’s arch-nemesis Israel now has a foothold in the Gulf. The weeks ahead may unravel new surprises in this regard and states, including Pakistan, will have to mould their policies accordingly.

Published in Dawn, November 25th, 2020

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