The more I learn about the complex peace and security deal that the Biden team is trying to hammer out between the United States, Saudi Arabia, Israel and Palestine, the more convinced I become that if they succeed, they will win both the Nobel Peace Prize and that of Physics. Because finding a way to balance the different interests of these four parties makes quantum mechanics seem as easy as playing tic-tac-toe.
But to make things simpler for you, dear reader, given the many changes this agreement could take, let me focus here on the only one that is in the interest of the United States and that I would support.
This is an agreement that would normalize relations between Israel and Saudi Arabia, forge a deeper security relationship between the United States and Saudi Arabia, and move concretely toward a two-state solution between Israelis and Palestinians, but all on terms that almost any security would cause the breakup of the current Israeli ruling coalition, led by far-right Jewish supremacists who have never before had national security powers in Israel.
But unfortunately, this is not the version that the Prime Minister of Israel, Benjamin Netanyahu, tries to sell us. So I want to make a direct appeal to President Joe Biden and Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman: don’t let Netanyahu turn you into his useful idiots. They cannot have a normalization with an Israeli government that is not normal. It will never be a stable US ally or a Saudi partner. And right now, the government of Israel is not normal.
Consider just two facts: Former Mossad chief Tamir Pardo recently warned that this Israeli coalition, no doubt assembled by Netanyahu to stay out of jail on corruption charges, includes “horrible racist parties.” How racist? “Someone took the Ku Klux Klan and brought it into the government,” Pardo said.
And then this: Last week, Netanyahu’s Foreign Minister Eli Cohen instructed Israel’s ambassador to Romania, Reuven Azar, and a senior settler leader, Yossi Dagan, to meet with the leader of a far-right Romanian party in Bucharest, a party that Israel had long boycotted due to its history of anti-Semitic and Holocaust denialist statements.
Because? As the Haaretz newspaper explained, it is part of an effort that Dagan is behind “to promote ties between Israel and far-right European parties in order to convince them to support Israeli settlements in the West Bank.” Yes, Netanyahu and his allies are trying to build an alternative to US diplomatic support with xenophobic and extremist parties in Europe, who don’t care about settlements.
Benjamin Netanyahu, at the head of a far-right coalition. Photo: Reuters
Are you shocked? It’s understandable. The 75-year structure of US-Israel relations was built around saving Israel from external Arab and Iranian threats. So it’s hard for American diplomats, American military, American citizens and American Jewish organizations to understand that their role now is to save Israel from an internal Jewish-Israeli threat, manifested by the government itself.
Many people deny this, especially AIPAC, the most powerful pro-Israel lobby, which continues to support Netanyahu in Washington and ignore defenders of Israel’s democracy. Haaretz recently described AIPAC as the “pro-Netanyahu, anti-Israel lobby” in Congress.
Goodbye to a reliable ally
But they better wake up, because four years of that Israeli coalition in power and we can now say goodbye to the idea of Israel once again being a reliable ally of the United States.
And that brings us back to the Saudi agreement. It was designed to join two components. The first is an enhanced US-Saudi alliance, whereby the US agrees to some kind of mutual defense treaty while the Saudis get to develop a civilian nuclear program and also have access to America’s most advanced weapons. In return, Saudi Arabia stands by the United States and curbs military, technological and economic ties with China.
The second part of the agreement was a normalization of relations between the Saudis and Israel, as long as Israel made concessions to the Palestinians to keep alive the hope of a two-state agreement.
I’ll get to the Saudi-American part later, when all the details are out. But, as I said, when it comes to the Israeli-Saudi-Palestinian component, there are two possible exchanges: one is in the interest of the United States and the other is definitely not.
Annex West Bank
The one we are definitely not interested in is the one Netanyahu will try to cajole the United States with. Netanyahu is trying to backfire by undermining the power of Israel’s Supreme Court to rein in his extremist government, while making himself a domestic hero by reaching a peace deal with Saudi Arabia without having to give the Palestinians nothing important, thus advancing his coalition’s dream of annexing the West Bank, all while getting Saudi Arabia to pay for it and getting blessed by Joe Biden.
That agreement Biden and Mohammed bin Salman must reject it outright.
The deal they must insist on must stipulate that, in exchange for normalizing relations between Israel and Saudi Arabia, Israel must freeze all settlement construction in the West Bank in the areas earmarked for a Palestinian state, if it can ever be negotiated; no more legalizing wild Israeli illegal settlements; and, most importantly, to insist that Israel transfer territory from Area C in the West Bank, as defined in the Oslo accords, to Areas B and A under greater 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. That is what every previous US president has committed to, and also what King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia insisted on in his 2002 interview with me announcing the Saudi peace initiative, which later became the Arab Peace Initiative. .
These requirements are vital because they are terms that the Jewish supremacists in Netanyahu’s Cabinet could not swallow and that Bibi could not rig. Thus, it would force the Bibi government and the Israeli people to choose: Do they want annexation or do they want normalization with the most important Muslim country, and the gateway to other large Muslim nations such as Indonesia and Malaysia?
If we could put that option on the table, it would almost certainly blow up this Israeli coalition. Netanyahu’s far-right Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich warned everyone last week that “we will not make any concessions to the Palestinians” to secure a normalization deal with Saudi Arabia. “It’s a fiction,” he declared.
Smotrich added that although Israel was interested in the United States mediating a deal with the Saudis, “it has nothing to do with Judea and Samaria,” referring to the West Bank by its biblical names.
Just to recall: since the British Peel Commission of 1936, the Zionist movement and Israel have accepted that the framework for resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has to be two states for two peoples, through the UN partition plan of 1947, UN resolutions 242 and 338, Camp David, Oslo and finally the Abraham Accords of 2020. This Israeli commitment was a key pillar of its alliance with the United States.
Netanyahu’s current coalition is the first Israeli government in eight decades that – as part of its coalition agreement – set as its stated objective the Israeli annexation of the West Bank, or, as it says, “apply sovereignty in Judea and Samaria”, rejecting any partition. .
The United States cannot allow it. Netanyahu unilaterally changed the principles of our relationship and put us to the test. It is time for the United States to test its government with a clear choice: annexation or normalization.
I make no predictions about what would happen if that blows up Netanyahu’s coalition. New Israeli elections? Or a government of national unity, with the Israeli center-left and center-right working together to restore sanity to the country?
For now, the only thing I am sure of is what needs to be stopped: this Israeli coalition needs to be stopped. And, more importantly, a bad deal – allowing Netanyahu to crush the Israeli Supreme Court and get Saudi Arabia normalized and pay the Palestinians such a small price that the right-wing fanatics in his Cabinet can continue to carry Israel off a precipice – absolutely has to be stopped.
That’s not a deal that Biden – one of the greatest US foreign policy presidents of all time – should want as part of his legacy, and it’s not a deal that would provide a stable foundation for the Saudi-Israeli strategic partnership that look for Mohammed bin Salman.
Just say no. The opposite would be shameful.