By Daoud Kuttab
Even though the 2002 Arab Peace Plan provided a clear road map for Arab-Israeli peace and normalization, the Israelis have never responded seriously to it. The plan calls for total normalization of 56 Arab and majority Muslim countries with Israel once it withdraws from the Arab territories it occupied in 1967. It also provides the possibility of a joint Arab-Israeli agreement on the way to implement UN resolution 194 which upholds the right of return to Palestinian refugees.
A number of Arab countries (UAE, Bahrain, Sudan, and Morocco) broke this unified consensus not so much for Israel’s sake as it was for specific issues they were hoping to get from Washington.
Saudi Arabia which was the initiator of that Arab Peace Plan has held back in joining the four Arab countries in what has become known as the Abrahamic Accords. King Salman, a true Arab patriot refused all those temptations and on the eve of the last Arab summit in Jeddah reaffirmed “the centrality of the Palestinian issue” and Arab commitment to the Arab Peace Initiative.
Riyad has since made a number of symbolic moves to reiterate its genuine support for Palestinian statehood with Jerusalem being the capital of an independent Palestinian state that will live in peace alongside a safe Israel with clear borders. The Saudis added to their public profile by announcing an ambassador to the state of Palestine, temporarily based in Ramallah and a nonresident Consul general. Initial accreditation papers were submitted in Amman to Majdi Khalidi the senior diplomatic advisor to Presided Abbas by the Saudi Ambassador to Jordan, Naif bin Bandar Al-Sudairi. The brilliant move by the Saudis who had a consulate in Jerusalem’s Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood since 1941 move referencing Jerusalem to the Palestinian leadership has gone a long way in reassuring skeptical Palestinians of the Saudi’s intentions towards the two-state solution that will include East Jerusalem.
The restart of regular financial aid to Palestinians has followed the Saudi move. Of all Arab countries, Saudis had been the most consistent country in honoring commitments made in consecutive Arab summits. Relations, however, soured during the Trump years when Ramallah refused to engage with the botched-up US plan concocted by the former president’s inexperienced son-in-law Jered Kushner.
While the region is full of rumors about Saudi’s possible retraction from the Arab Peace Plan, there is no concrete evidence of such a move.
The current government in Israel is not worthy of any political rewards no matter what symbolic decisions they might make to sweeten the pie for the Saudis. Recent actions by the Netanyahu government endangering a Libyan official by leaking a secret meeting in Italy have not gone well in the Arab world. The criminally indicted Israeli leader called a liar by Israelis should not be trusted by any Arab leader, including Mohammad Ben Salman. The Netanyahu government and Jewish settlers have been acting brutally in the occupied territories causing the death of over 200 Palestinians including children just in 2023. UN Middle East envoy Tor Wennesland says deaths, including 30 Israelis “are the highest recorded in the conflict between Israel and Palestinians since 2005.” Palestinian villages of Huwara and Turmus Ayya witnessed pogroms by Jewish settlers. CNN reported that Israeli soldiers have done little to stop them. Those attacks occurred in areas that are under Israeli security control. What Palestinians want is to make sure that any peace plan should define clearly ending the 1967 occupation of Israel on the Palestinian State land including East Jerusalem as a goal within a specific period of time and that any peace process should start with a Security Council resolution that gives a full membership of the State of Palestine in the UN in addition to other elements that areas under Israeli security control be turned over to the Palestinian security, especially in areas B and C which compromise the majority of lands of the West Bank including the occupied East Jerusalem.
The level of attacks on Christians in Jerusalem and Haifa by Jewish extremists this year is unprecedented. Except for the Israeli president and foreign ministry, most Israeli officials have kept silent on these attacks.
Saudi Arabia’s crown prince has shown a sophisticated approach in his approach to both domestic and foreign policy issues. Saudi Arabia is a rising political power and it must be taken seriously by regional and international players. Their approach to the Palestinian issue so far has been positively received by Palestinian leaders from both the PLO and Hamas.
The Palestinian leadership has welcomed the recent Saudi moves and has agreed to send a senior delegation to coordinate policy issues including the need for Riyad not to lose sight of the Arab Peace plan. The Palestinian leadership would like talks to resume based on agreed to Jordan and Egyptian-sponsored commitments made recently in Aqaba and Sharm el Sheikh, this past spring but not respected by Israel who didn’t even publish the communique agreed to in those meetings. Israel has unilaterally suspended peace talks since April 2014.
At the same time Palestinians are aware of the Saudi defense needs most of which can only be addressed from Washington. Peace is made with enemies and in the same way Begin made peace with Israel and Nixon went to China, In theory, the Likud can be seen as part of a political breakthrough. But there is little expectation that the current untrustworthy Israeli Prime Minister can make that needed political leap especially when it comes to a major decision like accepting that Palestine is a state under occupation, but this might have to be done by the Americans with or without Israeli consent.
Daoud Kuttab is an award-winning Palestinian journalist and former Ferris professor of Journalism at Princeton University. Follow him on X at @daoudkuttab and on threads @daoud.kuttab