The Biden Administration is ready to help facilitate normalization between Israel and Saudi Arabia, but only if Israel meets a couple of conditions first.
And one of them would effectively mean Israel surrendering sovereignty over internal political matters.
Israel’s Channel 12 News reported that the White House wants Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to shelve his controversial judicial reform plan if he wants peace with Riyadh.
The Biden Administration has been highly critical of Israel’s judicial reform, while government voices in Jerusalem suggest that Washington mind its own business.
In response to the ultimatum regarding peace talks with Saudi Arabia, Israeli lawmaker Danny Danon, who is former ambassador to the United Nations, issued a statement:
“We respect our friends in the US, but Israel’s policy will be determined by us. Normalizing relations between Israel and Saudi Arabia is a regional interest, but we must not advance our relations in the wake of an ultimatum.”
Not everyone agrees on the scope of Netanyahu’s judicial reform, and many are unhappy with how it’s been handled. But even widely-respected Israel President Isaac Herzog acknowledges that Israel needs judicial reform, and the matter was on the agenda of the previous short-lived left-leaning government. That’s why some argue that the Biden White House only now opposes it as a means of pressuring Netanyahu.
A Palestinian wrench in the gears
Both Washington and Riyadh say they also want Israel to restart peace negotiations with the Palestinians before Israel-Saudi talks can move forward.
The implication, as usual, is that Israel is to blame for those negotiations stalling.
Forgetting, of course, that it was the Palestinians who walked away from the table during the tenure of US President Donald Trump, and that they didn’t return to it even when dovish opposition leader Yair Lapid was in charge in Jerusalem.
The Palestinian leadership will no doubt exploit the US-Saudi ultimatum to squeeze more concessions out of Israel.
Whether or not the Netanyahu government plays along remains to be seen. As does whether or not the Saudis really care about the Palestinian issue, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s recent remarks notwithstanding.
Statements and actions by various Saudi officials in recent years, to say nothing of average Saudis, indicate that the Palestinian issue is in fact not very important to them. But MBS, to use the crown prince’s popular acronym, probably needs for the sake of wider Arab approval to look like he’s using warming relations with Israel to help the Palestinians. Once Israel-Palestinian talks begin, even if they’re going nowhere, he may feel free to move ahead with normalization.
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