The New York Times published an article recently by noted columnist Thomas Friedman, who said that the Biden administration is considering an Arabian end-run around the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
The idea is that the US and Saudi Arabia would strike a security deal that would give the oil-rich kingdom a high-level, permanent security guarantee, akin to the commitments that NATO countries give one another. In this instance, an attack on Saudi Arabia would be considered an attack on the US, obliging US military forces to intervene.
This deal would be aimed chiefly at Iran, Saudi Arabia's chief rival for hegemony in the Persian/Arabian Gulf.
In addition, Saudi Arabia would get various weapons systems that it hasn't received to date, partly because they would threaten Israel's qualitative military edge. And, it would receive US dispensation to create a civilian nuclear energy program, which would presumably wean it off its total dependence on domestic oil.
Saudi Arabia, in return, would settle the Yemen war, and commit to not building further political, military, or economic ties with Iran or China. Saudi Arabia has already signed a peace deal with Iran, but nothing else we know of between the two countries has happened. It's also flirting with Chinese investors, seeking access to their bountiful infrastructure investment funds.
Saudi Arabia would also sign a peace deal with Israel under the new understanding. Although Israel signed an agreement recently with the United Arab Emirates, Morocco, and Bahrain and has long-standing treaties with Jordan and Egypt, a deal with Saudi Arabia, the Muslim world's wealthy guardian of the holy places, would be a significant breakthrough.
The Saudis would reportedly demand concessions from the Israelis, including a halt to further settlement construction and expansion in the West Bank and a commitment not to annex that territory. This would upset the political right in Israel, and Benjamin Netanyahu, the current Israeli prime minister, might have to dump his current allies and build a new governing coalition with centrist parties.
The US would get what it wants: a secure link to Saudi Arabia that would stop flirting with Iran and China, a halt to Israel's creeping annexation of the West Bank, and, possibly, the groundwork for a future two-state deal between Israel and Palestine.
I find it hard to believe that the current Israeli government will go for this. The ultra-nationalists and their allies are keen to annex Area C in the West Bank, and they know that Saudi Arabia can't touch Israel militarily. Having a peace deal with the Saudis would be nice, but the political right isn't overly concerned with diplomacy.
If Netanyahu pivots to the center and dumps the political right, he'll lose his ability to shape his own future in court. He's facing multiple indictments, and the only way he will wriggle free is if he pushes ahead with his "judicial reform." The centrist parties won't buy that, so he's stuck with the right-wingers.
But who knows? It's an interesting alternative, and even if it doesn't work now, it may reappear in a few years.
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