Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s reported trip to Saudi Arabia on Sunday follows the theme of unprecedented relations between Arab countries and Israel.
The second half of 2020 saw an accelerated pace of normalization of ties: the ‘Abraham Accords’ were signed with the United Arab Emirates (UAE) in August, Bahrain followed a month later and the transitional government of Sudan announced normalization of the relations with Israel. in October.
However, several Sudanese political parties have rejected normalization and Sudan’s acting foreign minister said the agreement should be approved by the yet to be established legislative council.
The agreements were brokered by the Trump administration and broke years of consensus among most Arab states that said any official recognition of Israel depends on the end of the occupation of Palestinian territories and the emergence of the 1967 two-state solution at the borders.
Before August, only two Arab countries had official ties with Israel: Egypt in 1979 and Jordan in 1994.
Palestinian leaders condemned the UAE, Bahrain and Sudan standardization agreements as a “treacherous stab to the Palestinian cause”.
The Palestinian Authority (PA), based in the occupied West Bank, withdrew from the Arab League in protest and recalled their ambassadors to the UAE and Bahrain.
However, following Joe Biden’s victory in the US presidential election, it reinstated both ambassadors and announced a return to security coordination with Israel – halted earlier this year in protest at President Donald Trump’s proposed Middle East plan that overwhelmingly favored Israel.
This move, analysts said, countered efforts for Palestinian reconciliation between the Hamas government in the Gaza Strip and the PA in the West Bank, which were forged in the face of growing regional isolation.
While Saudi Arabia has not yet formally recognized its ties with Israel, it has watered down its rhetoric and more than once expressed a desire to normalize relations.
At the same time, Riyadh continues to lead the official line of not recognizing Israel until a two-state solution is agreed, with occupied East Jerusalem as the capital of a future Palestinian state.
Bilateral Relations and US Arms
Netanyahu has been Israel’s prime minister for the past decade, marked by a lack of substantive peace talks between the Israeli government and the PA.
Instead, life has gotten worse for Palestinians, with several offensives in the besieged Gaza Strip killing thousands, and rampant construction of illegal settlements and land expropriations in the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem.
Instead, Netanyahu focused on building ties with regional states.
The agreement with the UAE, an oil-rich country with significant regional influence, is seen as a historic breakthrough that could transform the region. The two states have already agreed to waive visa requirements for each other’s citizens and have signed a number of bilateral agreements on investment, tourism, direct flights, security and telecommunications.
The UAE has its sights set on purchasing the US-made F-35 fighter jets, which could potentially shift the balance of power in the region.
Israel is the only country in the region to have F-35s, but dropped its opposition to the sale to the UAE after it said the US assured it Israeli military superiority would be maintained.