With Saudi Arabia and Israel eyeing a breakthrough deal to normalise ties, key questions remain especially what it would mean for the Palestinians and will it encourage more Muslim countries to follow suit?
TRT World asked three Middle East experts to weigh in on the possible rapprochement between the two regional heavyweights and if there is an opportunity to see Israel ending its decades-long occupation of Palestine.
John Quigley — American jurist, author and professor of law at Ohio State University
I think that a Saudi-Israel deal would, yes, encourage others, but I think that each Arab state looks at the possibility of a rapprochement with Israel from its own perspective. I don’t think that others would take a Saudi-Israel deal as green light to do the same.
Tunisia, for example, seems firmly against doing so. Lebanon the same. Qatar as well. For Israel, the advantage would be mainly political — to add a major Arab state to those willing to have relations with it.
For Saudi Arabia, I think the reasons are financial, but the advantages are less obvious. This may be why it has apparently backed off the deal, at least for now, after seeing that the right-wing elements in Israel’s government are unwilling to make significant concessions to the Palestine government.
I don’t see Israel as willing to make sufficiently substantial concessions to the Palestine government. At the moment, [illegal] Israeli settlers can assault Palestinians, almost at will, without fear of interference by the Israeli authorities. Palestinians need protection. I don’t think Israel is willing to provide protection.
The right-wing Israeli elements are even suggesting as part of a Saudi-Israel deal that the Palestine government would have to agree to forgo resort to the International Court of Justice and the International Criminal Court. So Palestine would be asked to make concessions.
The Palestine government is in a difficult position in relation to a Saudi-Israel deal. They don’t want such a deal, but they are trying to ensure that if there is one, they would get something out of it.
But they are not likely to get much out of it. I do not see Israel willing to give up its efforts to establish more [illegal] settlements. In short, the best outcome is if Saudi Arabia puts the deal on a back burner, which may be happening just now.
Khaled Elgindy — Senior Fellow at Middle East Institute, Washington DC
To clarify, what Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman said was that Saudi-Israel normalisation was “getting closer” everyday — not that they were close. There is a difference.
If and when such a deal happens, it is unlikely to include any meaningful gestures toward the Palestinians, mainly because this would never be tolerated by the current extreme-right government in Israel that is totally opposed to any notion of Palestinian statehood or even the idea of a Palestinian nation.
It is also clear that the Biden administration does not see the Palestinian issue as a priority or as an impediment to such a deal and would most likely be content with some symbolic or minimal gestures toward the Palestinians.
That said, the Saudis will face some pressure both from the Saudi public and from broader Arab/Muslim public opinion not to abandon the Palestinian issue or occupied Jerusalem or settle for symbolic gestures.
Saudi normalisation with Israel would be an enormous step that would potentially open the door for other Muslim countries to normalise, though this would also depend to some extent on what it included on and for the Palestinians.
Atalia Omer — Professor of religion, conflict and peace studies at University of Notre Dame
The deal is designed to bypass Palestinian grievances in ways consistent with other initiatives involving regional powers who benefited militarily and economically from such deals.
Israel has demonstrated over the decades, including during the 30-year Oslo “peace process,” a move toward annexation de facto and now there are growing voices for annexation de jure.
Again, “normalistion” bypasses the grievances of Palestinians and their ongoing occupation and life under an apartheid regime [as per recent human rights reports by B’Tselem, Human Rights Watch, Amnesty etc].
These countries bypass Palestinian struggles and there is a long history of such approach that is deeply orientalist — why would peace with Saudi and other countries should be a mechanism to solve an occupation of another national group? One needs to interrogate the logic that leads to such conflations.
[The interviews have been edited and condensed for length and clarity]
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