In the wake of Israel's launch of diplomatic relations with the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain in 2020, negotiations to reach a normalization agreement between the Jewish state and the kingdom of Saudi Arabia, home to major religious sites, have intensified in recent months of Sunni Islam. The agreement, mediated by the United States, could restore a new and unprecedented structure to the Middle East, limit Beijing's influence in the region and stem Iran's nuclear development. Among the aspects that have so far slowed down the finalization of the agreement have undoubtedly been Riyadh's requests to guarantee the creation of a Palestinian state, which at the moment seems unlikely to be shared by the far-right Israeli government.
What is certain is the declared desire of the leaders of the two countries to reach an agreement, unthinkable at least until ten years ago. L'Saudi Arabia is getting closer to normalizing relations with Israel, but the Palestinian issue remains important for negotiations, Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman said in an interview broadcast by Fox News. “Every day we are getting closer,” the crown prince added, responding to a question about talks aimed at opening diplomatic relations between Saudi Arabia and Israel. On the same day, in New York, the Prime Minister of Israel, Benjamin Netanyahu, during the meeting with the President of the United States, Joe Biden, said: “I think that under your leadership we can establish a relationship between Israel and Saudi Arabia , end the Arab-Israeli conflict, promote peace between Israel and the Palestinians and achieve reconciliation between the Islamic world and the Jewish state." For his part, Biden stated that the US has long been working towards a "better reality", which includes "building a more stable and prosperous Middle East". Biden noted that just ten years ago the idea of normalizing relations between Israel and Saudi Arabia would have been unthinkable. “If you and I, 10 years ago, had talked about normalization with Saudi Arabia, I think we would have looked at each other and said 'who drank what?'”
“Agenzia Nova” spoke with the expert about the normalization talks between Riyadh and Tel Aviv Roberta La Fortezza. “For several months now, Saudi Arabia and Israel have been discussing an agreement for the normalization of their bilateral relations, also under pressure from the US administration. Although, in fact, Israel and Saudi Arabia are among Washington's main allies in the Middle Eastern region", in recent years relations between the United States and both Middle Eastern countries "have not always been easy", he declared. According to the expert, "especially on the Saudi front, therefore, a direct Israel-Saudi Arabia agreement, with the USA not even too much in the background, could bring as an advantage, from Washington's point of view, a more cautious and considered policy by Riyadh in the comparisons with Beijing and more generally a less daring strategic approach" on the Saudi side.
As mentioned, there are some internal obstacles within Israel that could block the negotiations. Over the weekend, an Israeli official from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's office told the London-based Saudi-owned electronic newspaper Elaph that Riyadh would let the United States know that the "extremist" nature of Israel's right-wing government led by Netanyahu would be "torpedoing any possibility of rapprochement with the Palestinians, and therefore with the Saudis". Saudi Arabia was reportedly discouraged from a potential peace deal due to Netanyahu's "acceptance" of demands made by some members of the government, such as the Minister of National Security, Itamar Ben-Gvir, and the Minister of Finance , Bezalel Smotrich. The Israeli far right, in fact, opposes any concession to the Palestinians. In this regard, analyst La Fortezza stated: “Despite a general optimism on both sides, Israeli and Saudi, about reaching an agreement, the numerous news regarding the ongoing negotiations continue to often be conflicting. On the Israeli front, in fact, this potential agreement has increasingly emerged not only as a regional political game, but also as a fundamental piece in the management of the complex and difficult internal relations within the Israeli government itself".
“The positions regarding the future architecture of relations with Riyadh differ, in fact, quite clearly within the composite government majority: if the prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, following the same approach of political realism typical of the Abrahamic process already designed with Morocco, Bahrain and Sudan, said he was available to evaluate Riyadh's requests relating to some concessions to the Palestinians - continued La Fortezza -, on the other hand, the parties far-right groups integrated into the government coalition, in particular Bezalel Smotrich's Religious Zionism and Itamar Ben Gvir's Jewish National Front, have widely highlighted their absolute unavailability for any concession to the Palestinians".
Also for Riad “The normalization of relations with Israel is a game to be played with a cautious balancing act. Saudi Arabia, custodian of the holiest places of Islam, in fact, risks being accused by the Arab and Muslim world as having abandoned the common cause of a free Jerusalem. Precisely for this reason - stated La Fortezza -, Mohammed bin Salman himself, while appearing confident in reaching an agreement with Israel, did not fail to underline the centrality of the Palestinian issue in the ongoing negotiations. In fact, Riyadh has set as a condition for an agreement with Israel new concrete steps towards the creation of a Palestinian state and the search for a fair solution for millions of Palestinian refugees and their descendants hosted in refugee camps”. Riyadh's interests, however, "are not limited to protecting the interests of the Palestinian people. Alongside these conditions, Riyadh has also presented other wishes, this time to its overseas ally, sponsor and promoter of the agreement with Israel: the creation of a US defense pact for the region, fewer restrictions on the sale of arms and assistance in development of its own civil nuclear program,” he added.
It is also worth remembering that the issue of normalization between Israel and Saudi Arabia is linked to Iran's role in the region. If it is true that last March Beijing mediated the rapprochement between Riyadh and Tehran, it is also true that the two countries compete for the role of power within the Muslim world. Saudi Arabia, in fact, is the emblem of Sunni Islam, while Iran of Shiite Islam. In New York, Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi said an agreement between Israel and Saudi Arabia to normalize relations would be "a stab in the back to the Palestinian people and their resistance." Furthermore, the Iranian president reiterated that Tehran will not give up its rights in nuclear energy, adding that he expects "concrete steps" from the signatory countries of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (Jcpoa, the agreement on Iranian nuclear power concluded between Iran, China, France, the United Kingdom, Russia, the United States and Germany) to comply with the terms of the agreement. Fortress called Iran “a fourth key non-player in these negotiations for a bilateral pact between Saudi Arabia and Israel.” “The balancing act that Riyadh will have to carry out, in fact, is not only expressed with reference to its role within the Muslim world, but also to its relations with Tehran. Also thanks to the regional realignment between the two countries, following the March agreement, Riyadh has seen an improvement in its national security situation, especially due to the positive effects it has had on the Yemeni theatre. A possible agreement of Riad with Israel could undermine the structure of regional relations as outlined, at least in its initial aspects, in Beijing last March", concluded the analyst.