OVER the past few weeks, there have been many reports prophesising the impending normalisation of ties between Saudi Arabia and Israel. If this development comes to pass, it would be a monumental shift in global geopolitics: the keeper of Islam’s holiest sites would be establishing ties with a state widely viewed across the Muslim world as an occupying power that has smothered the Palestinian people for decades. The Americans are certainly working overtime to make it happen, as President Joe Biden would love to use a peace deal as a trophy in international statesmanship he can flaunt come election time in the US next year. While covert Saudi-Israeli relations were reportedly being cultivated for years — apparently due to a common enemy in the shape of Iran — today normalisation efforts are very much in the open. Mohammed bin Salman, the de facto Saudi ruler, told a US network that normalisation was moving forward “every day”, while Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said at the UN General Assembly that Tel Aviv was “at the cusp” of peace with the Saudis. Moreover, Israel’s tourism minister landed in Saudi Arabia on Tuesday to attend a UN event — the first time an Israeli minister has led an official delegation to the kingdom. At the same time, a Saudi delegation was in Ramallah to assure the Palestinians they had not been abandoned.
Proponents of Saudi-Israeli peace say a deal will result in a new age of brotherhood where Arab and Jews will live in amity, and that critics of the move are merely malcontents frozen in time. However, a cursory glance at Arab-Israeli relations over the past three decades paints a different picture. The Oslo Accords of 1993 were supposed to spell the beginning of the end of the conflict, paving the way for Palestinian statehood. But today, the Oslo framework lies in tatters, with the occupation strengthened, and the Palestinian people still chafing under the Israeli stranglehold. Will a Saudi-Israeli deal promise a viable Palestinian state, with a guaranteed right of return, no more settlements and East Jerusalem as its capital? This would be nothing less than a diplomatic miracle. If the Saudis can pull it off, hats off to them. But history points to a darker reality — that the Palestinian nightmare will likely continue, as their Arab ‘brothers’ make peace with their tormentors.
Published in Dawn, September 28th, 2023