THE Saudi position not to recognise Israel until there is a two-state solution to the Palestine question is a welcome one. The kingdom’s foreign minister restated his government’s stance while talking to a media outlet in Davos. Though the Saudis have said so several times, the latest remarks are significant considering the speculation that Riyadh was on the cusp of recognising Tel Aviv, especially after its Gulf allies — the UAE and Bahrain — established ties with Israel through the so-called Abraham Accords. “True normalisation and true stability will only come through … giving the Palestinians a state,” Prince Faisal bin Farhan told Bloomberg. In this regard Pakistan had also recently stated at the UN Security Council that the two-state formula was the “only viable solution” to the Arab-Israeli dispute, while its ambassador to the UN reiterated the need to protect Al Aqsa’s ‘status quo’.
While ties with other Muslim states may be important for Israel, Saudi Arabia is the big prize. After all, as the kingdom hosts Islam’s holiest cities, the day Riyadh recognises Tel Aviv, other Muslim states may line up to do so as well. That is why it is important to maintain a consensus within the Islamic bloc: unless the Palestinians have a viable and functional state, there can be no normalisation with Israel. The right-wing government of Benjamin Netanyahu is aware of the Saudis’ significance; while holding discussions with the US national security adviser, Mr Netanyahu discussed measures that could lead to “a breakthrough with Saudi Arabia”. However, as things stand, normalisation is difficult, as the extremist members of Mr Netanyahu’s cabinet, as well as the Israeli leader himself, are bent upon expanding illegal settlements in the occupied territories. Moreover, many Israeli ministers have openly racist views on the Palestinians, and to expect a fair deal from them for the Arabs is to delude oneself. Until the Palestinians can breathe freely, normalisation should be off the table.
Published in Dawn, January 23rd, 2023