HomeNewsSaudi Arabia normalisation talks with Israel ‘hit snag’

Saudi Arabia normalisation talks with Israel ‘hit snag’

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Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman receives US President Joe Biden at Al Salman Palace upon his arrival in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, July 15, 2022. — Reuters
  • Saudi talks on normalisation with Israel to be delayed, sources say.
  • Saudi Arabia seeking to ease tensions elsewhere in Middle East.
  • Washington presses Riyadh to condemn Hamas attack.

Saudi Arabia has decided to pause US-supported plans to normalise relations with Israel, indicating a swift reassessment of its foreign policy priorities as the war between Israel and the Palestinian group Hamas intensifies, Reuters reported citing two sources familiar with Riyadh’s thinking,

The ongoing war has also compelled the kingdom to engage with Iran. As Riyadh seeks to prevent a broader escalation of violence across the region, Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS) received his first phone call from Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi.

Two sources have said that US-backed talks on normalisation with Israel will be delayed, as it is a crucial step for Saudi Arabia to secure a US defence pact in exchange.

Prior to Hamas’ attack on Israel, both Israeli and Saudi leaders were moving towards a deal that could have reshaped the Middle East.

Saudi Arabia has indicated it will not allow its pursuit of a US defence pact to be derailed if Israel doesn’t offer significant concessions to Palestinians in their bid for statehood. However, an approach that sidelines Palestinians could potentially anger Arabs.

Hamas fighters killed more than 1,300 Israelis in their October 7 attack and more than 2,000 Palestinians had been martyred by Saturday in Israel’s ongoing strikes on Gaza in response.

One of the sources familiar with Riyadh’s thinking said talks could not be continued for now and the issue of Israeli concessions for the Palestinians would need to be a bigger priority when discussions resumed — a comment that indicates Riyadh has not abandoned the idea.

However, the Saudi government did not respond to Reuters’ request for comment.

Has Saudi Arabia paused normalisation?

The Saudi rethink highlights challenges facing Washington’s efforts to deepen Israel’s integration in a region where the Palestinian cause remains a major Arab concern.

“Normalisation was already considered taboo (in the Arab world) … this war only amplifies that,” Saudi analyst Aziz Alghashian said.

Washington wants to build on the Abraham Accords when Gulf states, including the United Arab Emirates, normalised ties.

US National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan told a White House briefing this week that the normalisation effort was “not on hold” but said the focus was on other immediate challenges.

Washington pressed Riyadh to condemn the Hamas attack, but Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan pushed back.

The regional conflict has prompted the Saudi crown prince and Iran’s president to speak for the first time, following a Chinese-brokered initiative that re-established diplomatic ties in April.

A Saudi statement said the crown prince told Raisi “the kingdom is exerting maximum effort to engage with all international and regional parties to halt the ongoing escalation”, underling Riyadh’s move to contain the crisis.

A senior Iranian official said the call, made by Raisi to the crown prince, aimed to support “Palestine and prevent the spread of war in the region”.

“The call was good and promising,” the official said.

A second Iranian official said the call lasted 45 minutes and had the blessing of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

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