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Riyadh wants declaration on Palestinian state for Israel ties

The kingdom is seeking to forge a defense pact with Washington amid intensifying threats from Iran, and is reportedly mulling a deal before the U.S. election.

Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in Riyadh, March 7, 2022. Credit: Murathakan Art/Shutterstock.
Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in Riyadh, March 7, 2022. Credit: Murathakan Art/Shutterstock.

Saudi Arabia would suffice with a declared Israeli commitment to the two-state solution in order to normalize ties with Jerusalem as part of a broad agreement including a defense pact with the United States.

Citing three unnamed sources, Reuters reported that the Saudis are eyeing a deal before the U.S. presidential election in November, and that Israel’s war against Hamas had not entirely derailed diplomatic efforts.

The Saudis froze U.S.-backed normalization negotiations shortly after Hamas’s Oct. 7 massacre sparked the war.

According to the report, Riyadh’s primary goals are to shore up its security due to intensifying threats from Iran and forge ahead with diversifying its oil-based economy by attracting foreign investment.

In order to achieve this goal, the Saudi monarchy is willing to accept a political commitment by Jerusalem to the two-state solution. To this end, Riyadh has been urging Washington to apply pressure on Israel to end the war against Hamas and agree to a “political horizon” for establishing a Palestinian state.

While the Saudis have not defined what an acceptable “pathway” to a Palestinian state would entail, the report said one step could be for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to drop his opposition to the Palestinian Authority playing a significant role in post-war Gaza.

Earlier this month, NBC News reported that Netanyahu had rejected a Saudi offer to normalize relations in exchange for a Palestinian state. U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken reportedly delivered the proposal to the Israeli leader during his trip to the Jewish state in January.

Blinken had visited several Arab countries, including Saudi Arabia, before arriving in Israel, and officials said that he secured a commitment from Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and four other Arab leaders to help rebuild Gaza after the Israel-Hamas war. The Arab leaders also agreed to support “a new, reformed Palestinian government to secure Gaza.” MBS also agreed to normalize relations with Israel as part of the Gaza reconstruction agreement, but only if a path to Palestinian statehood was provided.

Prior to Hamas’s bloody Oct. 7, 2023 assault on southern Israel, the Biden administration was working on brokering a deal for Riyadh to join the Abraham Accords. The Trump administration-brokered accords normalized relations between Israel and four Arab nations without the requirement of a Palestinian state: The United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Morocco and Sudan.

In an hour-long September interview with Fox News chief political correspondent Bret Baier—MBS’s first ever interview completely in English and the first with a major American network since 2019—the crown prince said that peace with Jerusalem was “getting closer every day.”

A week and a day before the Oct. 7 massacre, U.S. National Security Council spokesman John Kirby announced that Jerusalem and Riyadh had “hammered out” the contours of a possible American-mediated normalization agreement.

“All sides have hammered out, I think, a basic framework for what, you know, what we might be able to drive at,” he said.

Reuters reported at the time that Saudi Arabia was not conditioning a peace deal with Israel on the establishment of a Palestinian state.

In December, Netanyahu presented three conditions for peace between Israel and the Palestinians: The destruction of Hamas, the demilitarization of Gaza and the deradicalization of Palestinian society.

“These are the three prerequisites for peace between Israel and its Palestinian neighbors in Gaza,” he wrote in an op-ed in The Wall Street Journal.

He argued that because Hamas has promised to repeat Oct. 7 “again and again” the only proportional response was to completely eliminate it.

He warned that “unjustly blaming” Israel for civilian casualties “will only encourage Hamas and other terror organizations around the world to use human shields. To render this cruel and cynical strategy ineffective, the international community must place the blame for these casualties squarely on Hamas. It must recognize that Israel is fighting the bigger battle of the civilized world against barbarism.”

Secondly, Gaza must be demilitarized so that it can’t again become a terror base from which to attack Israel, he said, calling for the establishment of a temporary security zone between Israel and Gaza and an inspection mechanism between Gaza and Egypt.

The Palestinian Authority, he said, could not accomplish this goal.

“The expectation that the Palestinian Authority will demilitarize Gaza is a pipe dream. It currently funds and glorifies terrorism in Judea and Samaria and educates Palestinian children to seek the destruction of Israel,” he wrote. “Not surprisingly it has shown neither the capability nor the will to demilitarize Gaza. It failed to do so before Hamas booted it out of the territory in 2007, and it has failed to do so in the territories under its control today. For the foreseeable future Israel will have to retain overriding security responsibility over Gaza.”

Third, Gaza will have to be deradicalized, he said, noting that the school system will have to be reformed so that children are taught to “cherish life rather than death.” Preaching death to Jews from mosques must cease and Palestinian civil society transformed, he continued.

“Successful deradicalization took place in Germany and Japan after the Allied victory in World War II. Today, both nations are great allies of the United States and promote peace, stability and prosperity in Europe and Asia,” wrote Netanyahu.

Also in December, Israeli President Isaac Herzog added his name to the ranks of officials speaking out against a two-state solution following the war in Gaza.

“What I want to urge is against just saying two-state solution. Why? Because there is an emotional chapter here that must be dealt with. My nation is grieving. My nation is in trauma,” Herzog told the Associated Press in an interview.

“In order to get back to the idea of dividing the land, of negotiating peace or talking to the Palestinians, etc., one has to deal first and foremost with the emotional trauma that we are going through and the need and demand for [a] full sense of security for all people,” he said.

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