Saudi Arabia has agreed to recognize Israel in exchange for concessions to the Palestinians in the outline of a deal with the Biden administration. Challenges remain before an agreement can be finalized, ideally during the next nine to 12 months.
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Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman has told aides he’s not prepared to establish full diplomatic relations with Israel, according to Saudi officials. Mohammed has told advisers he’s in no rush to reach a deal with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s hard-line coalition government, which opposes the creation of an independent Palestinian state.
News that the U.S. and Saudi Arabia had agreed on the broad outline of a deal came after Mohammed met with Jake Sullivan, President Joe Biden’s national security adviser, in Jeddah two weeks ago. Among Saudi Arabia’s requests is that the U.S. help develop a civilian nuclear program and offer ironclad security guarantees, and concessions from Israel that would help promote the creation of a Palestinian state.
The U.S. wants Saudi Arabia to distance itself economically and militarily from China. “There’s a work plan to explore the elements of what this would be and test the boundaries of what’s possible,” a senior U.S. official said. U.S. officials say Biden believes the U.S. must remain a key player in the Middle East to contain Iran, isolate Russia for its war in Ukraine, and stymie China’s efforts in the region.
The U.S. could seek assurances that Saudi Arabia won’t allow China to build military bases in the kingdom — something that has been a point of contention between the Biden administration and United Arab Emirates. The Biden administration also could seek assurances that the Saudis will use U.S. dollars, not Chinese currency, to price oil sales. “It’s such a dangerous landscape,” Brian Katulis, vice president of policy at the Middle East Institute. Katulis then compared the U.S.–Saudi Arabia situation to mountain climbers trying to scale several Mount Everests in succession. “There are four or five things they need to do to make sure they don’t go into thin air and go off the mountain. To me, it seems highly improbable in the short run, but who knows?”