Israel’s Foreign Ministry directed a message to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia on the International Day for Tolerance − celebrated each year on November 16 − which raised questions regarding possible rapprochement between the two countries following Israel’s recent peace agreements with the UAE, Bahrain and Sudan.
“On the occasion of the International Day for Tolerance, we urge Saudi Arabia to confront extremism under the mantle of the Islamic religion…, an important step to spread intimacy and forgiveness under one roof,” the ministry’s IsraelinArabic Twitter account posted.
“One hand can’t clap…. Yes to tolerance,” the tweet continued.
Gilead Sher, a fellow at both Rice University’s Baker Institute for Public Policy in Houston and at the Institute for National Security Studies (INSS) at Tel Aviv University, and a chief of staff and peace negotiator under former Prime Minister Ehud Barak, told The Media Line that several processes were going on related to the regional trend of normalization agreements between Israel and the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Sudan, “all brokered by the outgoing Trump Administration.”
Sher pointed out that these processes were obviously affected by myriad factors, primarily the domestic political timelines within all the parties concerned, particularly in Jerusalem and Washington.
“Saudi Arabia was often mentioned by analysts and commentators as potentially the most important pivot in the regional normalization process and the countering of Iran’s aggressions via a Sunni axis to be eventually formed,” he said.
Sher added that a component concerned the characters of the leaders involved, first and foremost US President Donald Trump, Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. “Consequently I do not rule out the likelihood of a hastily promoted deal in the next couple of months,” before President Trump leaves office on January 20.
Nevertheless, Khaled M. Batarfi, a Saudi analyst and professor at Alfaisal University in Riyadh, told The Media Line the kingdom’s position was fixed regarding peace with Israel, where the latter had to first accept the Arab Peace Initiative.
The 2002 Arab Peace Initiative was based on international laws and resolutions, under the principle of land for peace.
“The Palestinians can choose what they want; it’s their business, their land and cause. Let us choose for ourselves what we want. This is our business and our right,” Batarfi said.
He stressed, however, that if there were countries that had decided their interests would be served by normalization, and at the same time they were keen to obtain concessions for the Palestinians, “then this is their sovereign right. And they are thanked for what they have achieved for the Palestinian cause.”
Batarfi explained that Saudi Arabia, by virtue of its international stature, chooses to stick to the Arab initiative launched by the Arab states, as by virtue of its Islamic stature, “there will be no normalization before liberating Al-Aqsa Mosque from the Zionists.”
This will hold true “even at the expense of its political and economic interests with the countries that support Israel; this is its sovereign right as well,” he said.
The Israeli message came one day after it welcomed a fatwa of the Council of Senior Scholars, Saudi Arabia’s highest religious body, declaring the Muslim Brotherhood movement a terrorist group that does not represent Islam and warning against belonging to it.
The Brotherhood has also been officially designated a terrorist group in the UAE, Bahrain and Egypt, among other nations.
Oded Eran, a senior researcher at INSS who led the negotiations with the Palestinians in 1999-2000, told The Media Line that Israel has been using the new atmosphere created by the Abraham Accords − the peace agreements with the UAE and Bahrain − to direct messages to Saudi Arabia.
“However, I don’t think that anything is cooking on a diplomatic level between Israel and the Saudi kingdom,” Eran said.
He explained that since there was a new coalition between Israel and various Arab states, Israel was trying to expand understandings with Riyadh, “especially since the two countries face the same terrorism, while there’s a common threat, which is Iran.”
On September 2, Saudi Arabia announced that flights to the UAE “from all countries” would be allowed to use Saudi airspace, thus shortening travel times between Israel and countries to the east.
Eran confirmed that the main purpose of Israel’s outreach was to highlight the common interests of the two countries, and not necessarily to pave the way for a peace agreement.
The Israeli Foreign Ministry’s spokesperson, when reached by The Media Line, declined to comment on the matter.
Dr. Fowziyah Abu Khaled, a Saudi writer and academic in the Department of Social Studies at King Saud University in Riyadh, told The Media Line that Israel, with its state that was based on “settlement occupation” and which continued to deny their rights to the Palestinians, who were displaced from their homes by force of arms, was not qualified to talk about forgiveness, “let alone talk about peace within the land of Palestine with any Arab country.”
Israel has refused to establish a democratic state that accommodated all customs and religions, including those of the Palestinian people, while insisting on establishing a Jewish state “based on the mythology of God’s chosen people for the Jews only,” Abu Khaled said.
“I think that a party which lacks something is unable to provide it. A state based on aggression cannot, by the nature of its political and military structure, establish relations of forgiveness or peace,” she said.