US officials are currently in Saudi Arabia meeting with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and Palestinian Authority officials putting the final touches on a normalization agreement with Israel. The Saudis need Palestinian approval of the deal as “cover” to protect its reputation among its own citizens and other Muslim states:
…As home to two of the most important holy sites in Islam, Saudi Arabia is looking to secure a meaningful concession from Israel to fend off criticism from rivals in Iran and Turkey looking to accuse the kingdom of quashing Palestinian dreams of an independent state. The Palestinian issue also remains important for activists in Saudi Arabia and around the world.
Other Arab states which normalized have faced protests and even violence in response to such efforts. This occurred in Libya, where the foreign minister was sacked and forced into exile after meeting with her Israeli counterpart, who urged her country to normalize relations.
The PA, known for its rampant corruption enriching its top officials, sees something in it for themselves. They have decided there is no hope of realizing the national aspiration which inspired Palestinians for decades.
We have all been here before. In 2017, I wrote about a similar situation in which MBS summoned Mahmoud Abbbas to Riyadh to persuade him to go along with the then-Trump administration’s plan for normalization. Then, the joint enemy was Iran, and the US and Saudis wanted to forge a common front against it. That effort failed.
Back then, MBS held out the promise of a Palestinian state as part of the bargain. By now, the PA’s stock has plummeted. And a proto-fascist Israeli government isn’t going to offer the Palestinians bupkis. My how time changes things.
So apparently a rich payday for them is the next best thing. Though the Saudis cut off financial support in 2016, due to claims of PA corruption, before then it was giving $200-million per year. The price has undoubtedly risen considerably, since the Saudis need Palestinian support to legitimize the deal.
Will they build a single school? A hospital? A sewage treatment plant? The answer is obvious. It will build villas, buy fancy cars, send their children to schools abroad. But nothing for the rest of the people.
The PA banks on its own citizens not putting up much of a fight, assuming they are too exhausted by Israel’s crushing and incessant attacks on Palestinian towns and villages to do so. It also banks on its security services to put down any such protest.
If the PA enters into such a corrupt bargain it likely will mark the end of one current iteration of the Palestinian national movement. Certainly, it will mark the end, or the beginning of the end of the PA and Fatah’s leadership of it. After this, only Hamas and Islamic Jihad will truly represent ordinary Palestinians: the ones who don’t have their hands in the till. The ones facing nightly raids by IDF thugs. The ones whose children are being murdered every night. Because the PA sold them out and left them with nowhere else to turn. They had such hopes. But they died long ago and this kiss-of-death betrayal is the final nail in the casket.
Even Tom Friedman, like a clock, is right twice a day
Even a solidly pro-Israel commentator like Tom Friedman raised a warning to the Biden administration about how problematic normalization will be with the Israeli partner:
You cannot have normalization with an Israeli government that is not normal. It will never be a stable U.S. ally or Saudi partner. And right now, Israel’s government is not normal.
As usual, I disagree with much of the rest of his column, including the claim that the US should save Israel from itself:
It is hard for U.S. diplomats, the U.S. military, U.S. citizens and U.S. Jewish organizations to grasp that their role now is to save Israel from an internal Israeli Jewish threat, manifested by the government itself.
No. Not only can the US NOT do so, even if it could it would mean us imposing our own interests and viewpoint on a foreign country. We’ve seen how well that’s worked in various Middle East forays. The only way to truly normalize Israel is via coordinated, forceful international intervention. And the prospect of that currently is nil.
Here, Friedman essentially offers the Palestinian demands for their agreement with the deal:
The deal…should stipulate that in return for normalizing relations between Israel and Saudi Arabia, Israel must freeze all settlement building in the West Bank in the areas earmarked for a Palestinian state, if it can one day be negotiated; not legalize any more illegal wildcat Israeli settlements; and, most important, insist that Israel transfer territory from Area C in the West Bank, as defined by the Oslo accords, to Areas B and A under more Palestinian control.
The United States and Saudi Arabia must also declare that the goal of the diplomatic process will be a two-state solution in the West Bank.
All of these provisions are meaningless. If Friedman and the Palestinians don’t know this, they are deluding themselves. If they do know (as they should) they are engaging in cynical manipulation of their readers (in Friedman’s case) and their constituency (in the PA’s case).
Israel: never missing an opportunity to break its promises
Whether Israel agrees to any or all of this is beside the point. Abba Eban used to famously say: the Arabs never miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity. Of course it was bullshit, as most of the favorite quotes of Israeli leaders have been. But in reality, it is Israel that never misses an opportunity to break every agreement it’s ever made–when it’s convenient to do so.
Settlement freeze? Sure, for a few months. Until it restarts them. Transferring territory to the Palestinians? Israel currently doesn’t honor the territorial areas assigned to the PA. It invades them and arrests or murders Palestinian militants and civilians at will. Who will guarantee that this behavior will change and Israel will honor its commitments?
As for the goal of a two-state solution: as I’ve often said here, this is a long-dead option. There can be no such chimera. Friedman implicitly concedes this when he writes that territory for a Palestinian state should be “earmarked, if it can one day be negotiated.” It can’t. And maintaining such an illusion is damaging to the only real solution: a single state from the river to the sea.
I’ve mentioned everything above to reinforce the problematic nature of a normalization deal. In effect, what they’re normalizing is a status quo in which a repressive, cruel Saudi dictatorship aligns itself with a fascist, theocratic Israeli state. Israel gets a green light to continue its march toward Judeo-fascism, while MBS gets the international recognition he craves. Such legitimation flatters his ego and is priceless to him. Meanwhile, both countries will reinforce their respective regional interests, none of which are in the interest of the peoples of the region.
I wrote in The New Arab that such a deal is bad for US interests. Even if you leave aside the moral issue of aligning ourselves with one country which is a violent dictatorship and another which is on the road to becoming one–there is the issue of the mutual defense pact the Saudis are demanding. After Biden deliberately reduced US military involvement in the Middle East, he would tie us to defending a bloodthirsty regime which pursued its interests recklessly, heedless of all consequences. Its long-running war against Yemen proves this point.
The other Saudi demand is a nuclear deal which offers the Kingdom a nuclear reactor. Though they may swear up and down that it is for civilian use, that too is almost meaningless. We saw this with Israel’s nuclear program, which Israel said was for non-military use. Now it has over 200 nuclear warheads. Despite guarantees of US supervision of the Saudi program, Israel had the same provision. It managed to deceive the US inspectors and went nuclear. When the Kennedy administration had to decide how to approach this deception it gave Israel a pass. Giving the Saudis what they want adds yet another destabilizing element into the Middle East, which is already a powder keg of terror and internecine warfare.
The president appears to have adopted a troubling plan for gaining domestic political support for the deal. It dispatched Trump-sycophant Lindsey Graham to the ex-president’s lair in Mar-a-Lago in an attempt to entice him to say a few nice words about a normalization deal:
“I told President Trump, listen, this is the natural extension of the Abraham Accords and if we can do it, let’s do it. It doesn’t matter how it gets done, on whose watch it gets done. It’d be a good thing for the stability of the Middle East and our own national security and President Trump deserves his fair share of credit,” Graham said.
Graham added that he told Trump it’s “the highest sign of flattery” when a president replicates his predecessor’s policy, and said Trump appreciated the message.
They’ve even enlisted Jared Kushner, who has a $2-billion Saudi investment at stake:
Kushner’s private equity fund Affinity is backed by $2 billion from Saudi Arabia’s sovereign wealth fund and just secured what is believed to be the first Saudi-sponsored investment in an Israeli company.
The arguments they’re whispering in his ear involve fawning flattery, the only language the narcissistic Trump understands.
The attempt to draw Trump into the process suggests a hint of desperation. Why would you need to turn to such an odious figure to advance such a deal? Because Biden is afraid this will become an issue he could be hammered with during the 2024 election campaign. If Trump is the candidate, he could pick apart the deal on the campaign trail. It wouldn’t even matter if he mischaracterized or lied about its provisions. Trump thrives on lies. The truth will never set him free. All he has to do is hammer the negatives home and his half of the electorate will eat it up.