Adjust size of text


Follow us and continue the conversation

Your saved articles

You haven't saved any articles

What are you looking for?

Israel-Saudi peace deal could reset future, if Netanyahu can correct course

Dror Doron
Print this
Israel-Saudi peace deal could reset future, if Netanyahu can correct course

Published: 4 August 2023

Last updated: 5 March 2024

US effort to broker an agreement could yield a win-win but first Netanyahu would have to bring centrist parties with more moderate policies to Palestinians into the coalition.

It was Henry Kissinger, president Nixon’s secretary of state during the ‘70s, who said that “Israel has no foreign policy, only a domestic one”. Now, 50 years after this famous quote, it seems Washington is trying to challenge this observation.

In recent weeks, a series of reports points to an ongoing effort by Biden administration officials trying to broker an historical peace agreement between Israel and Saudi Arabia. There are clear and obvious geo-strategic benefits that Jerusalem, Riyadh and Washington will gain from such a development.

From an Israeli perspective, a peace treaty with Saudi Arabia would be the implementation of a long-standing ambition for regional acceptance. Following it, more Arab/Muslims countries would be expected to sign similar agreements.

In addition, potential Saudi investments in the Israeli economy, as well as the export of Israeli technologies (both civilian and military) to Saudi Arabia, would boost Israel’s economy for years to come. Lastly, having Riyadh as an ally would send a strong message to Iran and set the ground for a formal regional defence architecture to deter and confront Tehran.

Netanyahu’s wish to be the one to sign the peace agreement with the Saudis is an open secret.

On a more personal level, Prime Minster Netanyahu’s wish to be the one to sign the peace agreement with the Saudis is an open secret. Such an achievement would be remembered as the signature legacy of his long tenure. The fact that Netanyahu referred this week to a possible rail line from Israel to Saudi Arabia reflects his personal affiliation to the matter. 

From the Saudi side, the decision-makers in Riyadh know their consent to upgrade the covert and low-key relationship with Israel to a formal peace agreement is a major bargaining token. Being a leading member of the Arab world and carrying the title of “the guardians of the holy sites”, a Saudi peace deal with Israel would practically mean the end of the Arab-Israeli conflict. Accordingly, Riyadh demands three significant compensations in return – two aimed at the US and one at Israel.

The first is an American commitment to defend the kingdom from any future Iranian attack and to supply it with advanced weapon systems, such as THAAD air defence system or F35 fighters, which the US has so far refused to sell to Saudi Arabia.

A Saudi peace deal with Israel would practically mean the end of the Arab-Israeli conflict. Accordingly, Riyadh demands three significant compensations in return – two aimed at the US and one at Israel.

The second is a full capability to produce and enrich uranium needed for a civilian nuclear program. This technology, which is held by Tehran, is critical if the Saudis ever wish to develop a military nuclear program. As the international community increasingly accepts the legitimacy of Iran’s civilian nuclear program, there is a strong Saudi point to demand one as well.

The third Saudi demand is an Israeli commitment, if not actual steps, to support the Palestinian Authority and recreate the needed “political horizon” for a two-state solution. This would give the Saudis the popular legitimacy they must secure to sign a peace treaty with Israel.

However, the most interesting question regards the American motivation to invest the diplomatic and political energy in brokering an Israeli-Saudi peace at the moment.

The obvious answer is that the US has a strategic interest in getting its regional allies working together to confront the Iranian threat. By achieving that, Washington could focus its military assets on the Pacific arena. The ongoing American effort to create a regional coordinated air defence system would be much more effective if Israel and Saudi Arabia are openly working as partners.

At the same time, another American goal is to make sure the Saudis will stay under their sphere of influence and not strengthen relations with China or Russia. Riyadh has already demonstrated its ability to diversify its international relations in relation to American interests through co-ordinating oil prices with Moscow and weapon deals with China (the Saudi ballistic missile capabilities and armed UAV are Chinese made).

The Saudis’ security and nuclear demands of the US are challenging but not unsolvable. Washington knows the Saudis can buy advanced weapon and/or nuclear civilian capabilities from China or Russia, and it would be only reasonable for the US to satisfy those demands itself. By doing that, it would retain a certain amount of influence and control over their use and enjoy the revenues of those significant contracts.

The Saudi demand from Israel regarding the Palestinian issue is of a different importance for Washington. Here I suggest going back to Kissinger’s famous observation about Israeli politics.

The US is challenging Netanyahu to answer one question: is he willing to pass over the opportunity to be the leader who signs a peace treaty with Riyadh?

It’s clear that Netanyahu’s right-wing coalition will not be able to answer the Saudi demand regarding the Palestinians. For any progress to be made, Netanyahu must reshuffle his government and replace the right-wing parties of the coalition with centrist parties which would support a more moderate policy towards the Palestinians.

By presenting Netanyahu with a possible peace treaty with Saudi Arabia at this time, the Biden administration is practically challenging him to answer one critical question: Is he willing to pass over the opportunity to be the Israeli leader who signs the historic peace treaty with the Riyadh and leave to future generations the heritage he is so desperate to achieve?

Israeli media has already reported that American officials are meeting with opposition leaders to hear their view regarding a possible new coalition with Netanyahu. The recent column by influential New York Times writer Thomas Friedman that speculated on the possibility of this future coalition is another indication this is already close to a reality behind the scenes.

It is often said President Biden is a true friend of Israel and an avid supporter of the Zionist vision. It is also not a secret that the acts carried out by Netanyahu and his radical right-wing government are seen in a very negative light in Washington. It might be the case that by taking a major diplomatic initiative involving Saudi Arabia, Washington is hoping Netanyahu will break free from the right-wing extremists and set Israel on a new course.

Now is the time to see whether Kissinger’s observation is also correct in reverse: can a foreign policy development influence Israel’s domestic political calculations?


Iran slams Saudi-Israeli normalisation process (Ynet)
Iranian Ministry of Foreign Affairs warns such a move would result in an upsurge of crimes by the “Zionist regime” against Palestinians and undermine regional stability.

Israeli solar firm enters rare venture with Saudi business (Al-Monitor)
Such partnerships are seldom seen, as Israel and Saudi Arabia do not recognise each other formally and the two countries have never established diplomatic relations,


For Israeli normalisation with Saudi Arabia, Netanyahu needs new coalition (Ben Caspit, Al-Monitor)
Israeli and US officials assess that Benjamin Netanyahu will have to get on board opposition leaders Yair Lapid and Benny Gantz if he wants to neutralise his coalition’s extreme members and reach a normalisation deal with Saudi Arabia.

US-Saudi Deal: Nuclearisation of the Middle East starts here (Yossi Melman, Haaretz)
The deal between the US and Saudi Arabia wasn't opposed by Netanyahu, but all countries aiming for a military nuclear program did so under the guise of a civilian program. Just look at Iran.

The US-Saudi-Israel deal: An unholy trinity of incompatible interests (Alon Pinkas, Haaretz)
A “win-win-win" deal for the US, Saudi Arabia and Israel will be far from simple. From Republican and Democratic hostility towards the Saudis to Riyadh's sky-high price for normalisation with Israel, it's not even clear it's feasible

Photo: Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman Al Saud receives US President Joe Biden in Jeddah in July 2022 (Balkis Press/ABACAPRESS.COM)

The Jewish Independent acknowledges Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples as the Traditional Owners and Custodians of Country throughout Australia. We pay our respects to Elders past and present, and strive to honour their rich history of storytelling in our work and mission.

Enter site