Notwithstanding Saudi Arabia’s philo-Palestinian talk, Riyadh considers the Palestinian issue a low priority. It ranks significantly lower than the clear and present lethal threat posed by Iran’s ayatollahs; the potential tectonic eruption in Iraq; the lethal threat from volcanic Yemen; and the domestic powder keg in the oil-rich and Shi’ite-dominated Qatif and al-Hasa areas.
It is also a much lower priority than the imminent threats of Islamic State and the Muslim Brotherhood; the potential threat of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan; the regional implications of the domestic upheaval in Syria and Lebanon; the vulnerability of all pro-US Arab regimes (e.g., Bahrain, Jordan and Egypt), etc.
The House of Saud does not forget, or forgive, the Palestinian track record of intra-Arab terrorism and treachery, most notably the 1990 Palestinian collaboration with Saddam Hussein’s invasion of Kuwait, which was the Palestinians’ most generous Arab host.
Riyadh is convinced based on the Palestinian track record that a Palestinian state would constitute another rogue anti-Saudi regime. They consider the Palestinians (the Palestinian Authority and Hamas) a role model of subversion and treachery, and active and potential allies of Turkey’s Erdoğan, Iran’s ayatollahs, Hezbollah and the Muslim Brotherhood, as well as rogue elements in Syria, Iraq, Algeria, Libya and Yemen which aim to topple the House of Saud.
At the same time, Saudi ties with Israel (as has been the case with all pro-U.S. Arab countries) have expanded substantially—militarily, commercially, technologically, medically and agriculturally—despite the lack of progress on the Palestinian issue and in the face of mutual threats and challenges.
Irrespective of the warm pro-Palestinian Saudi talk, which welcomes every Western dignitary to Saudi Arabia, the Saudi walk on the issue has always been cold.
Saudi Arabia has never flexed its military muscle on behalf of the Palestinians (nor has any other Arab country), while flexing very limited diplomatic muscle.
While it has generously showered the Palestinians with words, Saudi Arabia’s financial contribution has been meager. While appropriating for Egypt ($15 billion), Jordan ($3 billion with Kuwait and the UAE) and Yemen ($8 billion) mega-billions of dollars in foreign aid, the peak of Saudi foreign aid to the PLO and P.A. was $100 million to $150 million. To put it in perspective, the leading Saudi princes acquired a Da Vinci painting for $450 million, a flashy French palace for $300 million and a royal yacht for $500 million.
Moreover, recently Saudi Arabia began to change its talk on the Palestinian issue as well:
On May 10, Saudi writer Abdulhameed al-Ghobain, a political activist who shares the state of mind of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin-Salman, told the pro-Palestinian London-based BBC Arabic radio: “There is a deluge of opinions against the Palestinian cause. Our public has turned against the Palestinians, in general … If you came to Saudi Arabia and conducted a survey—even among middle and high school students—they will tell you that they are indifferent to the Palestinian cause.”
Al-Ghobain continued: “These opinions have been voiced very loudly in Saudi Arabia for the past two years. At first it was said quietly, but now this voice is very loud. People say out in the open that they do not care about the Palestinian cause … and that we must steer our relations in keeping with our interests. It is in our strategic interest, and in keeping with our future economic interests, to maintain real relations with Israel. Israel is an advanced country and we can benefit from it. Turkey established relations with Israel and experienced great progress … We should deal with reality. The relations with Israel have become warm. It is no longer just about normalization.”
In addition, two Saudi TV drama series aired during the Islamic holy month of Ramadan—”Umm Haroun” and “Exit 7,” broadcast by the Dubai-based Saudi MBC—promote normalization with the Jewish people and Israel, while criticizing the Palestinians. According to Morocco World News, the Saudi TV series cozy up to Israel, and are considered by Palestinians to be a blow to the support of the Palestinian cause. The New York-based Moroccan online newspaper claims that the TV series reflect the policy of the Saudi crown prince. According to “Exit 7,” the Palestinians are Saudi Arabia’s enemy.
The Saudis are not philo-Israel; they are philo-Saudi Arabia, acting in the best interests of their country, notwithstanding their adherence to the fundamentals of Islam.
While the House of Saud associates Palestinians with regional threats, it considers Israel an essential, reliable and effective ally in the face of these threats. While the United States is, by far, a more significant ally of Saudi Arabia, its reliability was deeply eroded in Riyadh during the 2009-2016 U.S.-Iran honeymoon.
Israel’s posture of deterrence is based—to a large extent—on topographic high grounds (the Golan Heights and the Judea and Samaria mountain ridges), which have transformed Israel into a key regional force-multiplier, bolstering the national security of Jordan, Saudi Arabia and other pro-U.S. Arab regimes. A retreat from these high grounds would demolish Israel’s posture of deterrence, denying Saudi Arabia and all other pro-U.S. Arab regimes a critical line of defense.
Yoram Ettinger is a former ambassador and head of Second Thought: A U.S.-Israel Initiative.
This article was first published by the Ettinger Report.