Saudi Arabia has expressed openness to normalizing relations with Israel, but has conditioned it on “finding a settlement for the Palestinian cause.” This position, reiterated by Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan Al Saud at the World Economic Forum summit in Davos, suggests Riyadh seeks substantial progress on resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict before agreeing to establish formal diplomatic ties with Israel.
Netanyahu said to reject US plan linking Saudi ties to Palestinian state
According to Israeli media reports, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu recently rejected a US-backed plan to normalize Israeli-Saudi relations in exchange for concessions on Palestinian statehood.
The US plan reportedly entailed:
- Saudi Arabia normalizing diplomatic ties with Israel
- Simultaneously, Israel agreeing to the establishment of a demilitarized Palestinian state in parts of the West Bank
- This Palestinian state would not include all settlements and Israel would maintain overall security control
Netanyahu allegedly turned down this proposal during his recent visit to Washington. His reasoning was said to be that a return to 1967 territorial lines and Palestinian statehood threatens Israel’s security.
The reports have not been officially confirmed by Israeli, US or Saudi officials. But Netanyahu’s alleged rejection demonstrates his unwillingness to link Saudi ties to significant compromises on the Palestinian issues. It also shows the gaps between Israel and Saudi’s positions – Riyadh appears to see concrete progress on the Palestinian front as a prerequisite.
Saudi FM calls for immediate Gaza ceasefire
In his most recent comments, the Saudi Foreign Minister called for an “immediate ceasefire” between Israel and Hamas to halt ongoing clashes in Gaza. He warned that persisting violence threatens wider regional stability.
Prince Faisal called on “all parties to exercise restraint, abide by international law and international norms, and give priority to the humanitarian situation.” He reiterated Saudi support for a “just and comprehensive solution” resulting in an independent Palestinian state based on 1967 boundaries.
These statements indicate Saudi Arabia is deeply concerned by the current escalation between Israel and Hamas. Riyadh places high importance on defusing tensions given worries about potential spillover effects in the region.
Differing perspectives on path to normalization
Recent developments highlight key differences between how Israel and Saudi Arabia view potential normalization of bilateral ties:
- Seeks to decouple normalization from Palestinian conflict
- Wants increased cooperation now, negotiations can continue separately
- Emphasizes shared threats from Iran
- Links normalization to concrete progress on Palestinian issue first
- Supports two-state solution based on 1967 lines
- Concerned about regional instability from unresolved conflict
These competing perspectives will be difficult to reconcile. Israel wants to deepen cooperation with Saudi immediately to counter Iran, while Riyadh does not want to alienate regional partners by embracing Israel without meaningful concessions to Palestinians.
Unless serious efforts are made to restart substantive peace talks, normalization remains a distant prospect.
Saudi concerns over Middle East security
Underpinning Saudi Arabia’s position is deep anxiety about wider Middle East stability and security challenges.
Besides alarmed by the Israel-Hamas clashes in Gaza possibly spilling over, Riyadh is also unnerved by other recent incidents like Houthi drone and missile attacks targeting Saudi airports, infrastructure, and energy facilities:
|Attacks in Saudi
|Drone attack on Jizan airport (Jan 2023)
|Iran-backed Houthi rebels
|Missile strike on Aramco facility (Nov 2022)
|Iran-backed Houthi rebels
Saudi is frustrated and feels increasingly vulnerable to aerial attacks that expose the limits of its expensive military defenses. There are also worries of ships being targeted in Red Sea shipping lanes near Saudi’s western coast.
Ensuring trade flows and energy exports through the vital Red Sea corridor is a top priority. Any threats to freedom of navigation or facilities in the region poses huge risks to Saudi and global economic stability.
This challenging regional security environment is shaping Saudi threat perceptions and policy priorities, including its stance on Israel ties. Reducing tensions and stabilizing conflicts in Yemen, Gaza and elsewhere could create space for Riyadh to reassess normalization. But with attacks continuing periodically, they remain a roadblock.
US pushes regional integration agenda
The US is actively encouraging more cooperation between its Arab allies and Israel to counter Iran’s influence and stick together against common threats.
US National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan stressed at the Davos summit that deeper Israeli integration economically and on security issues serves American interests and Middle East stability.
But these US efforts have struggled due to reluctance among Arab states to embrace Israel without meaningful progress on Palestinian statehood. As long as that remains elusive, the regional integration agenda stalls.
In the near term, expect calls to continue for an urgent Gaza ceasefire and aid for civilians. But bridging the divide between Israel and Saudi Arabia on the parameters for future normalization talks will be far more difficult.
With Netanyahu skeptical of concessions and Saudi Arabia unlikely to abandon its stance backing Palestinian rights, a diplomatic impasse looks set to persist. Unless unexpected progress happens reviving peace negotiations, formal Israel-Saudi ties will likely remain out of reach for now.
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