Saudi normalization with Israel could be a breakthrough: opinion

On October 20, under the dramatic headline “Scoop,” online news provider Axios published an exclusive story: details of a September 27 conversation between US National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan and Prince heir of Saudi Arabia, Mohammed bin Salman (MBS).

The information, he told his excited readers, had come from no less than “three American and Arab sources.”

The crux of the story was that, during their discussion, Sullivan had raised the issue of Saudi Arabia normalizing relations with Israel, and that MBS had not rejected the idea outright.

Their meeting took place in Neom, the futuristic planned city being built on the Red Sea coast of Saudi Arabia. Neom is an integral element in MBS ‘Saudi Vision 2030 – its ambitious plan to reposition Saudi Arabia away from its current dependence on oil in time to celebrate the kingdom’s centenary in September 2032. Sullivan may well have wondered if the aspirations of MBS for the future of Saudi Arabia included signing of the Abrahamic Accords.

This is an issue of some importance for the region. If Saudi Arabia decides to open normalization with Israel, as opposed to the covert liaison they currently enjoy, or when Saudi Arabia decides, it would be seen as a breakthrough in Arab-Israeli relations, and a step that other Muslim nations would feel able to follow. .

Saudi Arabia’s Foreign Minister Faisal bin Farhan Al-Saud arrives to attend the G20 Foreign and Development Ministers Meeting in Matera, Italy on June 29, 2021 (Credit: REUTERS / YARA NARDI ).

Some practical obstacles would have to be overcome. The basic Muslim position vis-à-vis Israel remains the Arab Peace Initiative, proposed to the Arab League in 2002 by MBS’s uncle, then-Crown Prince Abdullah. He was adopted and subsequently endorsed twice by the league. Normalizing relations with Israel without reference to the plan would require a justification, which is why Saudi Arabia has so far insisted that moving forward on the Israeli-Palestinian issue would be an essential prerequisite for any normalization deal.

However, the step, if taken, could certainly be defended and explained.

Standardization under the Abraham Accords addresses the pragmatic issues of economic, security, trade and social cooperation for the benefit of the citizens of their respective countries. Adhering to them in no way implies a abandonment of Palestinian aspirations. In fact, all current signatories have expressed continued support for Palestinian sovereignty within something similar to the pre-1967 borders. They see the burgeoning cooperation between the Arab states and Israel as an important precursor to peace negotiations and an eventual settlement. between Israel and Palestine.

A VERY pragmatic consideration may also lead Saudi Arabia to normalization – the plans announced by MBS ahead of this year’s COP26 climate change conference, now being held in Glasgow, Scotland, during the first two weeks of November.

On March 27, it unveiled its Middle East and Saudi Arabia Green Initiatives, an ambitious effort to lead a large-scale environmental process in the Middle East by reducing greenhouse gas emissions. The initiative fits perfectly within the compass of its Saudi Vision 2030, which involves replacing oil-based power generation with renewable energy sources.

In 2018, the Saudi electricity supply from renewable sources amounted to approximately 0.05% of the total. MBS has committed that by 2030 no less than 50% of the kingdom’s energy consumption will come from renewable energy, and that it will achieve net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2060.

Those are extremely ambitious goals, and the nation will need all the help it can muster to achieve them. Israel, a recognized world leader in high-tech development on a wide range of energy and environmental issues, would be an invaluable partner in helping Saudi Arabia achieve its goals. Perhaps it was this consideration that led MBS not to reject the idea of ​​standardization “outright”.

Israel’s commitment to addressing the problem of climate change is tremendously serious. Life and Environment, the official umbrella organization of the environmental movement in Israel, brings together more than 130 environmental organizations.

On October 17, Israeli media reported that the government is preparing a national climate emergency declaration that would force all state bodies to coordinate their preparations to combat climate change.

In addition, it was reported, a climate law is being prepared, the draft of which is gaining ministerial support. Together, the declaration and the new bill would require all public agencies to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, establish monitoring and reporting systems, and prepare for weather emergencies.

These initiatives are in line with the statements made by President Isaac Herzog upon taking office. In his keynote address in July, he said that it is his personal mission to tackle the climate crisis. It is intended to raise public and national awareness and cooperate with all sectors of Israeli society to respond to the crisis.

On October 20, Herzog announced the establishment of the Israel Climate Forum, which will lead deliberations on the climate crisis and Israel’s role in fighting it.

The forum, which will include representatives from across Israeli society, will operate under the auspices of the Office of the President and will meet several times a year.

This development, the president said, will underscore Israel’s commitment to being at the forefront of the global debate on the climate crisis, raise awareness among all parts of Israel’s leadership of its severity, promote collaboration among all sectors of Israeli society. and promote international collaboration to drive a response.

It is clear that the coalition government of Israel and its president share the same opinion and are fully committed to addressing this existential problem. The Israeli delegation currently at COP26 in Glasgow is second in size only to the US.

Israel’s serious and focused approach can help persuade other less committed countries to take more urgent action.

In the case of Saudi Arabia, and perhaps several other Gulf nations, it can provide the final push to enter into a working relationship with the partner most capable of helping them achieve the goals they have set for themselves to address the issues that affect the future. by Planet. The land itself.

The writer is the Middle East correspondent for Eurasia Review. His latest book is: Trump and the Holy Land: 2016-2020. Follow him on:

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