Future of Arab-Israel Relations

There have been worries expressed regarding the possible collapse of regional peace initiatives involving Israel and its Arab neighbors, especially Saudi Arabia.

There have been worries expressed regarding the possible collapse of regional peace initiatives involving Israel and its Arab neighbors, especially Saudi Arabia, following the recent hostilities between Israeli forces and Hamas. The dominant discourse posits that the prolonged hostilities in Gaza may ultimately lead to the collapse of Israel’s efforts toward normalization, which include the historic Abrahamic Accords. A closer look at the historical background, however, reveals a more complex reality. It may not be appropriate to write off Arab-Israeli peace efforts too soon, despite the unquestionably terrible nature of the current carnage in Gaza. A deeper understanding can be obtained by revisiting the historic 1945 meeting between King Abdul-Aziz of Saudi Arabia and US President Franklin D. Roosevelt, which is sometimes misreported as an oil trade for security cooperation. The conversation took place on board the USS Quincy in the Suez Canal, and oil was surprisingly a side topic. The main topic of discussion was Palestine.

Therefore, the prospect of a historic peace agreement between Saudi Arabia and Israel is not completely gone, despite the seeming setback brought on by the recent violence in Gaza. A clear “immediate halt to Israeli military operations in Gaza” has been demanded by Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS). The hostilities have caused a pause in peace talks, which highlights how delicate diplomatic relations are in the area. So, when looking back over the last few years, the advantages of Saudi Arabia seeking peace with Israel have gotten bigger, and the perceived costs have gotten smaller. Stable support for Palestine is still associated with Arab identity due to political considerations, especially among older Saudis whose views have been shaped by Nasser’s Arab nationalism. The Saudis are obligated by their custodianship of Mecca to recognize the widespread support for Palestine among Muslims worldwide and to stay aware of the status of Muslim holy sites in Jerusalem.

Simultaneously, economic interests, above ideological differences, bring the two countries together. The success of MBS’s ambitious Vision 2030, which seeks to diversify Saudi Arabia’s economy, depends on stability in the region. Arab and Israeli entities continue to share interests in real stability and prosperous societies driven by trade and an expanding middle class in a more integrated Middle East. The fact that the ongoing conflict puts these reforms at risk highlights how crucial it is from a strategic standpoint to support a durable peace with Israel. But, by October 7, peace was quietly gathering steam because of the mutual benefits of this kind of regional cooperation. Notwithstanding the recent upheavals, these core interests remain, highlighting the long-term potential for Arab-Israeli cooperation.

Meanwhile, the need for a two-state solution to resolve the long-lasting Palestinian-Israeli conflict has become more urgent than ever in the current geopolitical environment, especially in light of the devastating effects of continuing hostilities. All parties, including the US, the Arab countries, and Israel, must work together in light of the urgency. A coordinated response is now required as the conflict, which was previously kept on the diplomatic back burner, has surged to the top of the international agenda. Whereas, in order to manage its geopolitical difficulties, Saudi Arabia has deliberately refocused its attention on reducing perceived threats to its two main enemies, Iran and the political opposition of Sunni Islamists. Interestingly, there is a unique convergence of interests between these two threats and Israel’s security concerns. Raising ties with Israel has come to be seen as an effective tactic for Arab governments seeking to win over the United States and other Western powers by presenting an image of tolerance, openness, and moderation—elements that are highly prized by regimes struggling to survive and overcome internal obstacles.

Even with the ongoing conflict and Hamas attacks, MBS believes there is a long-term chance to increase Saudi influence in the area. In spite of Hamas’s decline, Saudi Arabia is able to both solidify its position and restrain Iranian aggression due to this generational opening. This paradoxical shift is caused by a number of factors, including the growing threats that Iran poses through groups such as the Houthis in Yemen. The realization that a possible decrease in U.S. attention to the region requires a closer alignment with Israel has been brought about by changes in Riyadh over the last ten years.

Although MBS is criticized in certain American circles for his alleged role in Jamal Khashoggi’s murder, others recognize his critical contribution to Saudi Arabia’s strategic realignment. It is impossible to overestimate the role that MBS has played in guiding this revolutionary agenda for the kingdom. The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia should not be forced into a corner by U.S. policies that are critical of it; instead, its position on Iranian threats should be taken seriously. The United States’ withdrawal of support for offensive operations in Yemen highlights a changing dynamic, as Washington has signaled a reevaluation of its relationship with Riyadh and a more assertive stance on Egypt’s human rights issues. The complexity of these geopolitical developments highlights the need for a sophisticated comprehension of the changing terrain of the region.

Nadir Ali
Nadir Ali
Nadir Ali is associated with the Institute of Strategic Studies Islamabad (ISSI). He has written for Pakistan Today, Pakistan Observer, Global Affairs, and numerous other publishers. He tweets at @hafiznadirali7 and can be reached at hafiznadirali7[at]gmail.com