Saudi Normalization with Israel Has Begun

(Washington Institute for Near East Policy) Robert Satloff - Will Saudi Arabia normalize relations with Israel soon? The mere fact that this is a reasonable question - discussed by diplomats, journalists, and experts - underscores the profound change in Arab receptivity to Israel in recent years. Saudi Arabia's all-powerful crown prince, Muhammad bin Salman, has personally raised the prospect of ties with Israel, a country he has termed a "potential ally." Around two-fifths of Saudis tell pollsters they approve of open ties with Israel in business and sports, even without official relations. This is essentially on par with the share of Emiratis who support such connections. In recent months, Saudi receptivity to people-to-people contact has been tested by the hosting inside the kingdom of a wide variety of Israelis. "Will Saudi Arabia normalize with Israel soon?" is actually the wrong question to pose. That is because it considers normalization with Israel as a binary issue - yes, no; now, not now; soon, not soon. In practice, normalization is not an act, it is a process, part of a larger set of policy choices defined by a government's assessment of its strategic priorities. Saudi Arabia has begun this process by issuing visas to allow nonofficial Israelis to enter the country for public purposes, such as speaking at conferences and competing in sporting events. Other aspects of this early phase of normalization include permitting former Saudi national security officials to appear alongside their Israeli counterparts in public events and raising no objection to having a major Saudi investment firm take large stakes in Israeli companies. The writer is Executive Director of The Washington Institute.

2023-05-01 00:00:00

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