Unraveling the Trio: Understanding the Complexities of Saudi Arabia’s Relationship with Israel, and the United StatesTuesday 27/06/2023

When the Abraham Accords were signed in 2020, a key country was missing from the deal: the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. By not signing the Accords, Saudi Arabia has kept its point of leverage in its negotiations with the United States and with the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict. Saudi Arabia recognizes the power they hold in the Middle East, and they want to get the most from both the United States and Israel before they agree to normalize relations with the Jewish state.

Each combination of the three-sided relationship between Israel, the United States, and Saudi Arabia must be understood to grasp what it will take for Saudi Arabia to normalize relations with Israel.

First, it is important to understand the relationship between Israel and Saudi Arabia. Historically, the two states have been enemies. The Saudis voted against the United Nations Resolution 181, also known as the Partition Plan for Palestine, they have sent troops to fight the Israelis in several wars, and they have consistently supported the Palestinians in their efforts against Israel.

For one, the Saudis support the Palestinians in their fight for the land that currently belongs to Israel. In order for Saudi Arabia to make peace with Israel, the Saudis want Israel to adopt the Arab Peace Initiative (API). The API calls for Israel to pull out of territories gained in the 1967 war, for Israel to recognize a sovereign Palestinian state with its capital in East Jerusalem, and for Israel to solve the Palestinian refugee issue (“Arab Peace Initiative”). In this regard, “solving” the Palestinian refugee issue would mean losing Israel’s identity as the only Jewish state.

If Israel agrees to these conditions, then Saudi Arabia may move to normalize relations with them. But Israel cannot adopt these conditions, for they would be ceding valuable defensive holdings and giving too much to the Palestinians. Saudi Arabia is using the Palestinians as leverage in the negotiations because they want an Arab-controlled Israel, and “the API regards the Arab-Israel normalization as the reward for solving the Israel-Palestinian dispute (Teller Abraham Accords: Saudi Arabia is still not budging).

Next, it is important to understand the relationship between the United States and Saudi Arabia. The Abraham Accords were mediated by the United States, and Saudi Arabia has not signed the peace treaty because they wanted more from the Americans. In order to achieve peace, Prince Mohammed bin Salman “has told both Israeli and American officials that he wants Washington to treat Saudi Arabia as the major regional force he believes it is by resuming arms sales halted last fall and by offering the kind of security commitment it extends to close allies” (Traub, Netanyahu Has Drawn a Saudi-U.S Road Map).

Saudi Arabia wants to be on the good side of the American military, and the Americans have their priorities as well. The United States is intent on preventing Iran from creating its own nuclear weapons, and it would also prefer Saudi Arabia to be the dominant Middle Eastern state over Iran. With this, Saudi Arabia laid their claims on the table in recent talks with America. They want the U.S to support Saudi Arabia’s goal of building their own nuclear weapons; they want an American promise to defend Saudi Arabia in times of war, and they want the U.S to grant them special status as a major non-NATO ally (Nissenbaum, et al., Saudi Arabia Seeks U.S Security Pledges).

Again, these are steep demands by the Saudis. The United States does not want to support a nuclear Saudi Arabia, as this would lead to a nuclear arms race between them and Iran, which would turn into a disastrous situation. They also do not want to formally recognize Saudi Arabia as an ally, which would rope them into any future Middle Eastern conflicts.

The last relationship to understand in this trio is between the United States and Israel. Israel wants the United States to create peace with Saudi Arabia to further protect its position as a stable state in the Middle East. Saudi Arabia is one of the most important countries not at peace with Israel, and an agreement between the two states would further solidify Israel’s place in the Middle East.

While the relationship between Saudi Arabia and Iran is not part of the trio negotiating peace, it is equally important as the others. For decades, the two states have battled over dominance in the Middle East. This has resulted in proxy warfare between the states, as in the Syrian Civil War and in the Yemeni Civil War. After years of tension, diplomacy between the states has become a recent possibility. In March, the leaders of the two states agreed to restore ties in agreement mediated by China. In this agreement, they said they will affirm “the respect for the sovereignty of states and the on-interference in internal affairs of states” (Gadzo, “Changing Global Order”). In a statement released by Saudi Arabia, Saudi Arabia and Iran reached “an agreement to resume diplomatic relations between them and re-open their embassies and missions” (“Joint Trilateral Statement”). While Saudi Arabia and Iran are still battling for Middle Eastern dominance, tensions between the two are softening while diplomacy is rising.

Despite Israel’s hope that the United States will strike peace with Saudi Arabia, the Saudi demands are too much for the Americans. The United States would not want to be forced to protect Saudi Arabia in times of war, and they certainly do not want the Saudis to have nuclear weapons. Israel and Saudi Arabia cannot achieve peace themselves, as well, because the Saudi claims for a sovereign Palestine are impossible for Israel to accept. As of now, the demands by the Saudis are too high, and unless they cede some of them, official peace will not be achieved.

By Ethan Wenger – JIJ Intern

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