analysisMiddle East

Don’t be fooled by peace with Saudi Arabia

Peace with Riyadh? Definitely yes, but not at any price, and without creating false expectations like those kindled by the Abraham Accords.

Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. Source: Wikimedia Commons.
Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. Source: Wikimedia Commons.
Eyal Zisser
Eyal Zisser is a lecturer in the Middle East History Department at Tel Aviv University.

It looks like U.S. President Joe Biden is jealous of his predecessors and wants to have his own peace plan—a plan that will magically end the longest and most complex conflict the world has known since World War II, the Arab-Israeli conflict.

Leaks from Washington indicate the plan includes the following components—ending the war in Gaza and establishing a Palestinian state, in return for peace with all Arab states—chief among them Saudi Arabia, the cherry on top.

There is actually nothing new in his “plan.” Even before Hamas’s terrorist attack and massacre on Oct. 7, Biden pursued such a plan with the exact same components. Namely, one in which Saudi Arabia will serve as bait laid out before Israel. Biden hoped such a plan would usher in a new era in Middle East history and bring him to a safe harbor for winning the 2024 U.S. presidential election.

The dustbin of history

One should not be impressed or excited by Biden’s plan, just like all the other plans manufactured for us daily in Washington. Even if Biden manages to present such a plan given his schedule and the domestic American issues preoccupying him—there is no reason to assume this plan, too, will not end up in the dustbin of history, just like all preceding plans: Operation Alpha forged by the Americans after the state’s establishment, whose crux was the refugees’ return and Israel conceding the Negev in exchange for peace with the Arabs; the Reagan plan; Barack Obama’s initiatives; and Donald Trump’s peace plan. As the saying goes: The road to hell is paved with good intentions.

But it’s not only the Americans who get excited about the prospect of Israeli-Saudi peace and see it as the be-all and end-all, an award so great Israel will not be able to resist the temptation. We, too, have those who tried, and still try, to leverage a possible agreement with Saudi Arabia, and before that the Abraham Accords with Gulf states, to portray these agreements as a historic breakthrough, one that fundamentally changes our regional reality and strengthens and cements Israel’s might.

Speaking of which—does anyone still remember the Abraham Accords? Yes, without a doubt they were a positive and important development, which politically and economically boosted Israel, and opened Abu Dhabi’s and Dubai’s gates to Israeli tourists. But these accords did not impact one iota the security situation and the threats and challenges we face and they certainly did not put us in a better security position ahead of the events of Oct. 7 and thereafter.

Unlike the picture some tried to paint here after signing the Abraham Accords, we must recall it was not some quarrel with the Emirates or Bahrain, even Morocco, that posed a threat to Israel’s security, but rather entirely different issues: Hamas, Hezbollah and Iran.

Unfortunately, these were obscured amid the peace celebrations. And what holds true for the Abraham Accords would also apply to an agreement with Saudi Arabia.

Such an agreement would serve Israel and strengthen its regional and global standing, certainly its economy, and so merits and requires active pursuit. But unlike what the Americans, and perhaps even Israel’s government, think, such an agreement does not address the existential dangers we currently face.

We must therefore avoid taking risks or agreeing to concessions that would jeopardize our security. In any event, such an agreement is only relevant to a strong Israel, and when we display weakness, such as in the immediate aftermath of Oct. 7, it loses significance.

Peace with Saudi Arabia? Definitely yes, but not at any price, and most importantly, without creating false expectations like those kindled here after the Abraham Accords, which made it seem as if they were going to herald a new era of peace on earth that resolves all our problems.

Originally published by Israel Hayom.

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