04:44 GMT02 December 2020
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    Having been hostile to Israel for decades, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia seems to be changing its policy, thinks an official with close ties to Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman. Although full diplomatic relations are not yet possible, he believes it is only a matter of time until the ice between the two states thaws.

    Speaking on the sidelines of the Munich Security Conference that took place in mid February, Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Faisal Bin Farhan said his country would be willing to develop relations with Israel once the Jewish state strikes a deal with the Palestinians.

    While officially objecting to the creation of the State of Israel in 1948 and having no diplomatic relations with the Jewish state, Saudi Arabia has been allegedly developing ties with Tel Aviv despite the unresolved, decades-long Israeli-Palestinian conflict, reports suggest.

    Eyeing Cooperation?

    In January, for example, Israel's interior ministry gave the green light for Israelis to visit Saudi Arabia for "religious and business purposes", an unprecedented move that Riyadh rushed to denounce, with Prince Faisal issuing a statement saying his country was not ready to accept Israelis just yet.

    Later, Israeli media suggested that the Saudis were willing to buy Israel's Iron Dome aerial defence systems, which would be aimed at protecting the kingdom from Iran and its Houthi allies in Yemen.

    Just like Israel, the kingdom eyes Iran's nuclear programme with suspicion, fearing that Tehran is developing weapons of mass destruction that one day will be used against Saudi Arabia. The Islamic Republic rejects these claims, saying the programme is intended for peaceful purposes only. 

    It was this shared perception of an "Iranian threat" that led Saudi leaders to start tilting towards Israel, but it wasn't the only factor.

    A Saudi official, who agreed to speak on condition of anonymity, says Riyadh had come to acknowledge "the positive part Israel has played in the region" and started to realise that "cooperation needs to replace the constant clashing" so typical of the Middle East.

    The Palestinian Issue As a Prime Concern

    But cooperation between Israel and the Arabs hasn't been easy. In fact, out of the 13 Arab countries, only two have signed peace treaties with Israel: Egypt in 1979 and Jordan in 1994. 

    Others are reluctant to follow suit as long as the Palestinian issue is not resolved. Although the Oslo Accords signed in 1993 between Israel and the Palestinian leadership stipulated a move forward in that direction, nearly three decades down the line, the State of Palestine claiming the West Bank and Gaza remains unrecognised by Israel, the US and many European countries, with peace talks nowhere in sight.

    US President Donald Trump tried to change that equation. In the end of January, standing by Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, he rolled out his 'deal of the century' peace plan, designed to put an end to the conflict.

    The initiative presupposed the Israeli and US recognition of the State of Palestine under the condition that the Palestinians drop their armed struggle and disarm Hamas, an Islamic group that controls the Gaza Strip which has been designated as a terrorist organisation by Israel.

    As part of the deal, Washington also vowed to inject billions of dollars into the Palestinian economy and promised to invest in its infrastructure. However, the Palestinians would lose the Jordan Valley, which is in the West Bank and home to many Jewish settlements. The proposal has caused an uproar among Palestinians, who have rejected it and have staged multiple protests against it.

    Similar demonstrations have also taken place in other Middle Eastern countries. Shortly after the announcement was made, thousands took to the streets in Morocco, Jordan and Lebanon, denouncing the American peace plan and burning US and Israeli flags.

    Riyadh, however, was quite supportive of the initiative, with Saudi Foreign Minister Adel Al Jubeir praising the deal saying it contained positive elements for negotiations.

    The source in Riyadh, who is connected to the highest echelons in the government, including the crown-prince himself, confirmed the Saudis' satisfaction with the plan.

    Palestinians Never Miss an Opportunity to Lose An Opportunity?

    "Mohammed Bin Salman [the de-facto ruler of the kingdom - ed.] thinks the Palestinians have wasted too many opportunities thrown their way," he states, referring to a number of initiatives that have been offered to the Palestinians throughout the years.

    The first such initiative was offered to the Palestinians in 1947, when the United Nations decided to partition Palestine between the Jews and the Arabs with Jerusalem becoming an international city -- a plan that was swiftly rejected by the Palestinian leadership.

    Another proposal was given to them years later, in 2008, when then-prime minister Ehud Olmert offered to evacuate major Israeli settlements and divide Jerusalem. But that offer was turned down too.

    "The problem is that Palestinians are hard to please. We also have a tendency to believe that some elements of their leadership are interested in keeping the conflict alive to continue to get our generous donations," the anonymous Saudi official said over the phone.

    Since 2000 and up until 2018, the Kingdom has granted Palestinians over $6 billion in humanitarian aid. Other Gulf countries have also injected significant sums of money into assistance for the Palestinians.

    Now, however, to obtain the money, Palestinians will need to show true intentions to reach a deal with Israel.

    "When the Coronavirus is behind us, Mohammed Bin Salman plans on telling the Palestinians to either take the plan or leave it. If they push it away, future opportunities -- if they ever show up -- will certainly be less profitable," the official reassured. 
    Ties with Riyadh Won't Come Easily

    Israel will need to make serious concessions too, believes the official, "to give a Palestinians a way out without losing their dignity" but that doesn't mean it will be enough for Riyadh to establish full diplomatic relations with the Jewish state.

    The primary reason for this, he believes, is the Saudi public opinion that's "brainwashed by Al Jazeera" and that it doesn't want to see the normalisation of ties with Tel Aviv.

    A recent Twitter poll that was answered by thousands of users revealed that 47 percent of Saudis didn't support the idea of establishing relations with Israel. Only 33 percent believed ties could be set up.

    The Saudi monarch King Salman might also pose an obstacle for the establishment of ties, "as the Palestinian issue in general and Jerusalem in particular are dear to his heart" but the potential threat of Iran and the growing interest of the Gulf's business leaders might change his mind.

    Before the eruption of COVID-19 that has claimed hundreds of thousands of lives, the United Arab Emirates were planning to open the doors to its Dubai expo in October 2020 for Israeli participants. The outbreak of the pandemic changed those plans.

    "Israel is a small boat but an advanced and a powerful one. That's why more and more Arab states want to cooperate with it. But Saudi Arabia will not take the first step. Rather, it will be Bahrain and Riyadh will follow suit shortly after," the official concluded.

    The views and opinions expressed in the article do not necessarily reflect those of Sputnik.

    Tags:
    Mideast peace plan, peace plan, Palestinian Authority, Palestinians, Israel, Saudi Arabia
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