Normalization With Saudi Arabia Will Be a Lot More Complicated, and Risky

Saudi Arabia would be taking far greater risks than the UAE and Bahrain in establishing relations with Israel. It's up to Israel and the United States to reassure and incentivize Riyadh

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Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu(L), U.S. President Donald Trump, and UAE Foreign Minister Abdullah bin Zayed Al-Nahyan (R) smile at the White House in Washington, D.C., September 15, 2020.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu(L), U.S. President Donald Trump, and UAE Foreign Minister Abdullah bin Zayed Al-Nahyan (R) smile at the White House in Washington, D.C., September 15, 2020.Credit: SAUL LOEB / AFP
Hussein Ibish
Hussein Ibish

The agreements Israel has made with the UAE and Bahrain are a good thing, because states should have relations. It will strengthen the coalition that opposes regional chaos and the spread of Iranian hegemony.

But they are not peace agreements. They do not end a conflict or resolve a dispute. Nor will they help resolve the actual conflict between Israel and the Palestinians. Indeed, they may even complicate request for such an agreement by reducing the incentive for Israel to compromise.

This article is part of a series: Ten experts break down the Israel-UAE-Bahrain accords. Read them all here

Israel and the Palestinians must resolve their differences on their own terms. Gulf Arab countries were never a significant obstacle and will not be a major part of the solution. But, like Egypt and Jordan, they may be able to intercede with Israel on behalf of Palestinian quotidian, daily life issues.

The relationships being formalized are not new. But in public the partnerships can be taken a lot further, particularly between the UAE and Israel which are both technologically and militarily sophisticated states with ambitious research and commercial agendas.

This should encourage others to normalize with Israel. But the short list is also the long list, with one exception: Saudi Arabia.

Riyadh has a very complicated set of calculations to consider. It is up to Israel and the United States to make sure that this is seen as working well for the UAE and Bahrain in order to reassure and incentivize Saudi Arabia to take the far greater risks it would incur, both internationally and domestically.

Meanwhile, Israel and the Palestinians are no closer to resolving their mutually self-destructive impasse.

Hussein Ibish is a Senior Resident Scholar at the Arab Gulf States Institute in Washington (AGSIW). Twitter: @ibishblog

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