WHEN a number of Arab countries — led by the UAE — established ties with Israel last year under the so-called Abraham Accords, the million-dollar question was (and remains) when Riyadh would establish links with Tel Aviv.

There has been speculation in the media regarding secret meetings, with one report saying that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu met Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in the northern Saudi region of Neom last November. Riyadh flatly denied the meeting took place, though Saudi officials, including the all-powerful crown prince, have softened their tone towards the Jewish state. In the latest indication that attitudes are changing, Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan recently told CNN that normalisation with Israel would bring “tremendous benefit to the region”. In the same breath he added that Saudi-Israel ties depended on the establishment of a Palestinian state — Riyadh’s standard line.

Clearly, efforts are afoot to establish ties, yet the ‘thorny’ question of Palestine and its people stands in the way. The fact is that there are quite a few common denominators between Saudi Arabia and Israel. Primarily, they are both members of the US-led geopolitical bloc, while both states share great animus towards Iran — a feeling reciprocated by the Islamic Republic. However, while it was relatively easy for the UAE and Bahrain to make public their ties with Israel, Saudi Arabia faces a tougher challenge, as it hosts Islam’s holiest sites. Therefore, if it openly courts Israel, it will be seen as ‘betraying’ the Palestine cause.

The fact is that the Arab states that have rushed to establish ties with Israel had already ditched Palestine. The peace process is practically dead while the two-state solution is in intensive care, repeatedly battered by a rapacious and unforgiving Israeli establishment that is unwilling to see a viable Palestinian state, non-starters like Donald Trump’s ‘deal of the century’ notwithstanding. In such a scenario, any Muslim state that establishes relations with Israel has pretty much abandoned Palestine.

Published in Dawn, April 5th, 2021

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