Eng. Saleem Al-Batayneh
In an era where the Arab region is experiencing an unprecedented and highly publicized wave of normalization with Israel, it begs the question: What is transpiring in our immediate neighbourhood? We find ourselves in a situation where the cards are being shuffled and dealt with in a manner that is increasingly perplexing. For months now, the U.S. administration has been racing against the clock to finalize normalization between Saudi Arabia and Israel before delving into the details of the upcoming 2024 presidential elections. The goal is to secure foreign policy objectives that preserve U.S. strategic interests in the Middle East and Israeli national security. It also aims to ensure that the Democrats have a window of opportunity in the next four years until 2028.
The current focus is on the impending relations between Saudi Arabia and Israel, and it is a development that warrants close observation. The groundwork for establishing public relations has reached an advanced stage within the corridors of American and Israeli decision-making. Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman himself confirmed this trajectory during an interview with prominent political broadcaster Bret Baier on Fox News. He stated that the agreement with Tel Aviv is drawing closer with each passing day, and Saudi Arabia is ready to collaborate with any Israeli leader to meet the Palestinians’ needs.
Israel has undeniably made significant inroads on the Arab front. It does not take a keen observer to see that relations between Saudi Arabia and Israel will soon emerge into the open, no later than March 2024. Initial assessments suggest that secret negotiations are moving toward a trilateral deal. In exchange for this, Israel is expected to relinquish its opposition to Saudi Arabia’s civilian atomic program while leaving the Palestinian issue unresolved. The specifics of Saudi demands related to the Palestinians remain shrouded in mystery, leaving many questions unanswered.
This shift can be attributed to the success of American and regional pressures in involving the Palestinian Authority in a security plan designed by American General Michael R. Fenzel, thus diverting attention from the broader Palestinian cause.
What remains puzzling is the timing of Saudi Arabia’s enthusiasm for this normalization, the motivations behind it, and why this approach was not communicated more transparently to regional counterparts. Has Saudi Arabia abandoned the Arab Peace Initiative presented by the late King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz in 2002? Is it still on the table for negotiation with Israel? Or has Saudi Arabia shifted its focus solely to its own interests, sidelining Arab, Islamic, and international stakeholders? The initiative, which called for the establishment of a recognized Palestinian state on 1967 borders with East Jerusalem as its capital and the cessation of settlement activities, remains a point of contention.
Jordan has also sensed the imminent dangers in the region and is changing its approach accordingly. The kingdom finds itself geopolitically exposed and needs to adapt to the multiple threats it faces, particularly political targeting. Jordan’s role has diminished, and its awareness of the magnitude of these threats is vital to navigating these turbulent times. Effective governance is imperative to address the crisis within the crisis.
King Abdullah II’s recent criticism of the Abraham Accords during an interview at the Global Middle East Summit reflects the urgency of resolving the Palestinian issue for sustainable peace. He cautioned against sidelining the Palestinians in dealings with Arab states. The king’s remarks, delivered with a mix of precision and sincerity, underscore the gravity of the situation.
Surprisingly, immediately after the interview, Anwar Gargash, an advisor to the President of the United Arab Emirates, asserted that the Abraham Accords are successful, ongoing, and will continue at the strategic level, despite not being designed to solve the Palestinian issue.
The completion of the normalization deal will enhance Israel’s acceptance in the Arab world, strengthen the U.S. presence in the region vis-à-vis China, and provide Israel with legitimacy in the Arab and Islamic world. Saudi Arabia’s strategic position makes it a linchpin in this geopolitical shift, which will have broader regional and political implications.
It is evident that Israel’s influence and presence extend to multiple corners of the region, and the Arab world must grapple with the repercussions of these developments. We are at the beginning of a complex and transformative era, and while challenges may diminish, the consequences of these changes will remain.
Our current predicament calls for a reassessment of our approach to regional dynamics. We must acknowledge that politics is unpredictable, and alliances can shift rapidly. Jordan, once a central player, has found itself marginalized. It is a crisis within a crisis, and our collective awareness of these challenges is essential. We must recognize that we are in a precarious situation, where our focus must align with our interests, and our actions should reflect a changing geopolitical landscape.
In this evolving landscape, we must ask: Where is Israel headed? What do Saudi Arabia, Israel, and the United States seek to achieve? And what will the Palestinians gain from these developments?
We find ourselves at a crossroads, and our response will shape the future of the region. Speech alone will not suffice, and silence is no longer an option. We must adapt to the new realities and navigate the shifting alliances. The Arab world must chart a course that safeguards its interests and ensures a future of stability and prosperity.
Engineer Al-Batayneh was a member of the Jordanian Parliament