In a rare interview with Fox News, Saudi Arabia’s de facto leader Mohammed bin Salman said that the prospects of establishing diplomatic ties with Israel are getting closer every day, but stressed that the Palestinian issue is still very important.
A Historic Shift in the Middle East
The Saudi crown prince, widely known as MBS, spoke to Fox News anchor Bret Baier in an interview that aired on Wednesday, September 20, 2023. He was asked what it would take for his country to normalize relations with Israel, following the footsteps of other Arab states such as the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Morocco and Sudan.
MBS said that the Biden administration supports the normalization process and that there have been “good negotiations” so far. “We got to see where we go,” he said. “We hope that will reach a place, that it will ease the life of the Palestinians, get Israel as a player in the Middle East.”
He denied reports that the talks had been suspended, saying “every day, we get closer.”
The interview came shortly after President Joe Biden met with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in New York, where they attended the U.N. General Assembly. Biden raised concerns about the far-right Israeli government’s treatment of the Palestinians, urging Netanyahu to take steps to improve conditions in the West Bank at a time of heightened violence in the occupied territory.
A Potential Deal With the US
Saudi Arabia is reportedly discussing a major agreement with the United States in which it would normalize relations with Israel in exchange for a U.S. defense pact and aid in developing its own civilian nuclear program. The Saudis have said any deal would require major progress toward the creation of a Palestinian state, which is a hard sell for the most religious and nationalist government in Israel’s history.
The U.S. and Saudi Arabia have been longtime allies, but their relationship has been strained by several issues, such as the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi by Saudi agents in 2018, the Saudi-led war in Yemen that has caused a humanitarian crisis, and the Saudi rivalry with Iran that has fueled regional instability.
The Biden administration has vowed to recalibrate its ties with Riyadh, ending U.S. support for the Yemen war and releasing an intelligence report that implicated MBS in Khashoggi’s killing. However, it has also maintained its strategic partnership with the kingdom and its security interests in the Middle East.
National Security Council spokesman John Kirby told reporters on Wednesday that it was best for the leaders of Israel and Saudi Arabia “to speak to how close they think they are, and where they think they are on the process,” noting that each country has to make “sovereign decisions” and “we respect that.”
“Now, obviously, we encourage normalization. We think it’s good not just for Israel and Saudi Arabia, we think it’s good for the whole region,” Kirby added. “And so we’re going to continue to talk with both parties on this process and try to move it forward just as solemnly as we can.”
A Controversial Issue Among Arabs and Muslims
The normalization of relations between Israel and some Arab countries has been hailed by some as a historic breakthrough for peace and stability in the Middle East, but criticized by others as a betrayal of the Palestinian cause and a violation of Arab and Islamic solidarity.
The Palestinians have rejected the normalization deals as a stab in the back that undermines their struggle for independence and statehood. They have called for a comprehensive solution based on international law and U.N. resolutions that would end the Israeli occupation of their lands and grant them their rights.
Some Arab and Muslim countries, such as Iran, Turkey, Qatar and Algeria, have also condemned the normalization moves as a sellout to Israel and a surrender to U.S. pressure. They have accused the countries that normalized ties with Israel of abandoning their principles and interests for short-term gains.
However, some analysts have argued that the normalization trend reflects a changing reality in the Middle East, where many Arab states have grown weary of the Palestinian issue and more concerned about their own security and economic challenges. They have also seen an opportunity to cooperate with Israel on common threats such as Iran’s nuclear ambitions and regional influence.