Israel Seen More Favourably

Arab leaders are not exactly rushing to normalise relationships with the State of Israel but there are positive statements coming from surprising directions.

Twenty years ago, following the 9/11 attacks on the United States, scholars of Middle East affairs were surprised to discover that most of the terrorists who flew hijacked aircraft into the World Trade Centre and the Pentagon came from Saudi Arabia rather than countries like Libya and Syria.

Probing further, some found that there were large multinational charities in Saudi Arabia spreading Wahhabism – a fundamentalist form of Islam – and that those charities were moving enormous sums of funding to jihadist organisations around the world.

The Saudi capital, RiyadhRiyadh, capital of Saudi Arabia (photo: Wikipedia)

At that time, Saudi Arabia’s leaders were strongly opposed to Israel. But now things have changed.

Prince Faisal bin Farhan Al Saud, Saudi Arabia’s Foreign Minister, recently had a meeting with US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken at which he told reporters that, from Riyadh’s perspective, Israel has “contributed to regional stability and the path toward peace.”

That is the opposite of what senior Saudis have said about the Palestinian Authority in recent years. However, Prince Faisal still emphasised that Saudi Arabia believes the only path to long-term peace in the region is for Israel and the Palestinians to reach a final peace agreement, saying:

“We are convinced that the only way to achieve lasting stability is to address the
 Palestinian issue and the issue of the Palestinian state … with Jerusalem as its capital.”

That last point about Jerusalem might be the key to Saudi reasoning.

Their reasoning has been consistent this year, with a similar point being made by the prince in August when he took part in a virtual conference and said:

“We think, overall, the Abraham Accords have worked positively to spur engagement in the region,
so in that sense, the decision by those countries can be viewed positively.”

Probably the most important aspect of this is that the Saudi Foreign Minister is talking about engagement in political processes as being the key to progressing towards peaceful solutions to the region’s problems.

And it was noticeable that Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman did not completely reject the idea of normalising ties with Israel when the idea was raised by Jake Sullivan, a US national security advisor, during a visit to Saudi Arabia late in September.

The Crown Prince was reported as saying that establishing full diplomatic ties with Israel would take time and require additional steps, such as improving relations between Washington and Riyadh.