Is KSA Destined to be the Last Country to Normalize Relations with Israel?

By: LTC Dusan Borak, CZE Air Force, CSAG CCJ5
04 Aug 2021


In August 2020, news came from the US that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had agreed with his United Arab Emirates (UAE) counterpart Mohamed bin Said Al Nahjan to begin normalizing relations between the two countries. The following month, they signed the Abraham Accords together with Bahrain. Both the Americans and the Israelis were enthusiastic that about the prospect that additional Middle East nations were planning on normalizing relations with Israel in the near future. The Palestinians officially and vehemently rejected the agreement between Israel and the UAE as “normalization for which we will get nothing.” Many factions even spoke of a “knife blow to the back” by trusted Arab allies. Following the signing of the Abraham Accords by the UAE and Israel, then-US President Donald Trump announced the expectation that many Arab states, including the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA), would soon follow. While this was not the case for KSA, the Sudan and Morocco both agreed to normalize ties with Israel in 2020.

The KSA government stayed, that normalization of ties with Israel is possible under certain conditions related to the Palestinian issue. If Israel offers the Palestinians a peace agreement that will be accepted by the Arab countries, there will be nothing to prevent normalization. But, if there is no agreement between Israel and Palestine, will KSA remain the last country in the region not to join the Abraham Accords?

More Gulf States-Israel open trade relations will strengthen Israel’s position as a permanent economic partner. Such relationships are leading to greater cooperation between Israel and Arab countries that have not yet signed the Accords. This improvement of cooperation includes KSA. If successful, the Abraham Accords will change Israel from a rejected state to a state that has historical and lasting ties to the region.

The Abraham Accords could also be the result of the reluctance of Arab countries to help solve the Palestinian cause. This is mainly due to the persistent non-acceptance of peace offers by Palestine, and its inability to unite the Hamas and Fatah factions. Weakening Arab financial support to Palestine may be evidence of a growing reluctance.

Key Points:

  • The normalization of ties with Israel has started a new diplomatic era in the Middle East.
  • Consistent Palestinian refusal of peace offers could be the reason for the Abraham Accords.
  • Normalization of ties between Israel and KSA may be inevitable, but the degree of normalization is uncertain.
  • KSA is an established regional power whose voice weighs both within the Arab countries, and the broader Muslim community, as custodian of two of the three of the most holy Muslim sites.
  • KSA will prefer the protection of its people over historical hatred.
  • Normalization of ties between KSA and Israel, without any peace deal between Israel and Palestine, is a missed opportunity.

Read the complete paper here.

The opinions and conclusions expressed herein are those of a number of international officers within the Combined Strategic Analysis Group (CSAG) and do not necessarily reflect the views of United States Central Command, not of the nations represented within the CSAG or any other governmental agency.