Abdulrahman Al-Rashed
Abdulrahman Al-Rashed is the former general manager of Al-Arabiya television. He is also the former editor-in-chief of Asharq Al-Awsat, and the leading Arabic weekly magazine Al-Majalla. He is also a senior columnist in the daily newspapers Al-Madina and Al-Bilad.

What Can Saudi Negotiations with Israel Achieve that Past Peace Agreements Couldn’t?

Collective peace processes between Arab states and Israel have failed.

The Madrid Conference of 1991 had but limited impact. The Fez Initiative announced by King Fahd in 1981 was rejected and withdrawn. The 2002 Arab Peace Initiative of King Abdullah was also rebuffed by Israel. Jared Kushner’s “Deal of the Century,” the latest of such collective peace endeavors, did not materialize.

On the other hand, nearly all bilateral agreements have fulfilled their declared objectives, and their signatories have upheld their obligations.

The string of successful bilateral agreements began four decades ago with the Camp David Accords between Egypt and Israel. In addition to the resolution of the war and the return of Sinai and the Suez Canal to Egypt, the agreement secured $1.5 billion in US aid to Egypt every year.

A few years later, Jordan would follow in the footsteps of Egypt. In 1994, Jordan signed a peace treaty with Israel that guaranteed Jordan the restoration of land as large in size as Gaza, as well as an equitable share of water and debt exemptions.

More recently, Morocco normalized ties with Israel after the latter’s official recognition of Moroccan sovereignty over the Western Sahara. Sudan had also normalized relations with Israel as part of a security and military cooperation and aid deal.
Lebanon signed a maritime border agreement with Israel to demarcate each country’s share of gas fields in the Mediterranean.

For their part, the UAE and Bahrain signed the Abraham Accords, which paved the way for several economic projects and other agreements with Israel. Other agreements of lesser calibers were reached with Qatar, Oman, and Tunisia.

The 1993 Oslo Accords remain an exception, in both their success and failure. The peace process led to the creation of an internationally recognized Palestinian Authority and a civil government for the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. The PLO, along with nearly 120,000 Fatah leaders and their families, returned from exile in Tunisia, with promises of US and European support.

Though suspended under US President Trump, US aid was reinstated after the change of guards at the White House. However, the Oslo Accords failed to deliver on the remaining promises.

Today, if the Saudi-Israeli negotiation process takes off, where does it aim to get?

All Arab-Israeli agreements, starting from Camp David to the latest deal with Bahrain, were based on a foundation of bilateral interests. The Saudi approach will likely take the same path. This time, the US proposal was met with specific Saudi demands that serve the Kingdom’s interests: defense cooperation (vital for Saudi Arabia’s security), arms, nuclear, and others, along with the revival of negotiations on the two-state solution. In an interview with a US media channel, Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman spoke of his wish to enable Palestinians to negotiate as part of the Saudi efforts.

Under this process, the Kingdom and Israel would negotiate agreements specific to their two countries, whereas the peace talks on the status of the Palestinian state and the resolution of outstanding issues such as refugees, settlements, the capital, and others would be left to the Palestinians alone on their separate negotiation track.

Palestinian diplomacy swiftly shifted into high gear, indicating a wish to take advantage of this new endeavor. The Palestinian Authority should have made use of the former negotiations that Israel held with Lebanon, the UAE, Morocco, and others.

Perhaps pursuing this path may improve the economic situation and the living conditions of Palestinians, allow them to enter Arab markets and push for a two-state solution.

The Saudi track might not lead to the establishment of a Palestinian state, but it might create the right political environment for its establishment. The Arab world and the whole region have seen many changes since those first negotiations started decades ago, and a deep understanding of these changes, both positive and negative, is needed today. Now is not the time to point fingers at the PA for missed opportunities or scold Arabs for their failure to support the Palestinian people. What we need now are opportunities to fix what’s broken, stitch back together Palestine’s political fabric, and mend the Palestinian divide.