A Major Security Deal Nears between Saudi Arabia and America — What Is Gaza's Position?

This deal confirms that Saudi Arabia is no longer interested in the issue of a Palestinian state or the Gaza conflict.

This deal confirms that Saudi Arabia is no longer interested in the issue of a Palestinian state or the Gaza conflict.

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In early April 2024, American media revealed that National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan intends to visit Saudi Arabia to discuss a "potential major deal" with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, including normalization with "Israel" and a defensive treaty between Washington and Riyadh.

Axios cited four American and Israeli officials, stating that Sullivan's visit comes as part of the White House's efforts to work on formulating a defense treaty between America and Saudi Arabia and understandings related to U.S. support for a Saudi civilian nuclear program.

It explained that following this "bilateral agreement" with Saudi Arabia, it will be presented to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, indicating linking this agreement to a deal regarding Gaza.

These leaks raised questions about the nature of this "major deal" and its relation to the conflict in Gaza, which Israeli Cabinet Minister Benny Gantz, close to the Joe Biden administration, interpreted.

Gantz, close to the Joe Biden administration, said on April 3 that establishing an "Abrahamic alliance" and striking a normalization deal with Saudi Arabia, including establishing an international administration for the Gaza Strip led by Arab countries, has become feasible.

The Story of the Big Deal

The essence of the deal, according to Axios, is America's acceptance of Saudi requests previously presented as conditions for accepting normalization with "Israel."

Saudi Arabia requested the formulation of a defense treaty with America to protect the kingdom from any future Iranian threats or the transformation of the conflict with the Houthis into a chronic security problem for the kingdom. It also requested American support for a civilian nuclear program.

After America hesitated due to a third Saudi condition regarding resolving the Palestinian state issue or American recognition of it unilaterally imposed on "Israel," Riyadh seemed to relax the third condition and focus on the goals of the defense treaty and the nuclear program.

America also began to speak — on the other hand — about a Saudi and Arab role in Gaza, either through an international force or administering the sector to keep Hamas rule away and involve Arab normalization partners in an internal conflict with resistance.

"There has been lot of progress in the talks between the U.S. and Saudi Arabia about their draft defense treaty. They want to have their side of the deal ready and then put it on our table and say, 'Take it or leave it,'" a senior Israeli official told Axios.

After the deal is proposed, "Netanyahu would then face a choice: If he agrees, he could break a historic peace deal with Saudi Arabia. If he says no, he could be exposed as a rejectionist and lose whatever U.S. support he still has left."

However, Axios also states that "many in the White House think the Saudi mega-deal is a pipe dream, citing the war in Gaza, Netanyahu's dependence on his radical right-wing coalition partners, and U.S. domestic politics."

Foreign Policy magazine previously spoke about Joe Biden's major deal to reshape the Middle East.

It explained that the Joe Biden administration lays the groundwork for a bold, ambitious deal that would link the rapprochement between "Israel" and Saudi Arabia with substantive steps toward establishing the Palestinian state, according to nine analysts and former officials in the American government familiar with the plans.

It said that this long-term diplomatic gamble could reshape the Middle East and define Joe Biden's foreign policy legacy, but it faces daunting challenges that many fear overcoming will be impossible.

In response to the leaks, an Arab diplomatic source clarified that this deal confirms Saudi Arabia's lack of interest in the Palestinian state issue or resolving the crisis in Gaza as much as its interest in fulfilling its own interests.

This was evident before the aggression on Gaza when Saudi Arabia was on the verge of signing a normalization agreement disrupted by Operation al-Aqsa Flood, according to Saudi and American confessions.

The source speculated to Al-Estiklal that this deal might be different this time and not linked to the Palestinian issue or making progress regarding the idea of a Palestinian state, as this was not a Saudi condition from the beginning but rather the talk revolved around "Saudi interests."

The source mentioned that what matters to Saudi Arabia is the formulation of a defense treaty with America and understandings related to the latter's support for a Saudi civilian nuclear program, but this was tied to a third request, which was reaching a declaration of solving the Palestinian issue, and now this condition has been abandoned.

It affirmed that the United States opposed two points: a defensive treaty for the kingdom because it burdens Washington militarily and drags it into regional conflicts, as well as the idea of supporting a peaceful Saudi nuclear program due to the Israeli Occupation's strong rejection of it.

President Joe Biden said at a fundraising event in New York with former Presidents Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton on March 28, 2024, that the massive Saudi deal could still be achieved despite the talks going off track due to Operation al-Aqsa Flood.

'Abrahamic Alliance Including Gaza'

The press conference held by Benny Gantz, the Israeli minister and member of the War Council, on April 3 to talk about the "Abrahamic Alliance governing Gaza" raised questions and doubts.

It came in the wake of the disclosure of the "deal" between Saudi Arabia and America and the repeated talk about an "international Arab force" governing Gaza.

Gantz claimed that "the normalization deal with Saudi Arabia will include establishing an international administration for the Gaza Strip, led by Arab countries, is now feasible," and spoke about forming an "Abrahamic Alliance" with Arab countries to manage Gaza and prevent Hamas attacks on Israel.

The Israeli minister did not suffice with talking about normalization with Saudi Arabia but also spoke about "building a broad alliance with countries in the region as part of a regional settlement to ensure ending Hamas' rule in Gaza and contribute to achieving Israel's goals in the strip."

He said at the press conference: "We have an opportunity to achieve a strategic change against Hamas and anyone seeking to harm us, foremost Iran, and anyone seeking to ignite a regional war must find themselves facing the Abrahamic alliance."

He identified this opportunity as "a normalization agreement with Saudi Arabia, including the formation of an administration from Arab countries for the Gaza Strip, which will be a central part of efforts to replace Hamas' authority," according to Arab48 website.

On March 20, 2024, during his meeting with the foreign ministers of Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Jordan, the UAE Minister of International Cooperation, and the Secretary-General of the Executive Committee of the Palestine Liberation Organization, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken proposed forming an international Arab force to govern Gaza instead of Hamas.

A senior U.S. official confirmed to American newspapers at the time that the idea of a multinational force was raised during Blinken's talks with several Arab foreign ministers in Cairo.

He explained that Egypt is the leading country studying the idea, but it requires an official invitation from the Palestinian Authority to send Arab forces to Gaza and comes in the political context of the two-state solution, according to Axios.

The Hebrew Walla website revealed that the Israeli minister of war, Yoav Gallant, suggested to Washington the establishment of a multinational military force with forces from Arab countries "to improve law and order in Gaza and accompany aid convoys," signaling alternatives to Hamas.

The Israeli and American plans were seemingly merged, and the story of Majed Faraj's security force in Gaza, which Hamas thwarted, began, especially after Israeli failure to create local collaboration with it to undermine Hamas's rule, whether from the clans or any other party.

Interests First

In this context, two prominent Arab sources told Reuters that Saudi Arabia's acceleration of talks on the security agreement with America relates to enhancing its security and warding off threats from its rival Iran so that it can proceed with its ambitious plan to transform its economy and attract massive foreign investments.

To create maneuvering space in negotiations regarding recognizing "Israel" and returning the American agreement to its track, Saudi officials informed their American counterparts that Riyadh would not insist on "Israel" taking tangible steps towards establishing a Palestinian state, according to Reuters.

One of the region's leading sources familiar with Saudi thinking told the agency that Saudi officials secretly urged Washington to meet their demands first and their interests, then pressure "Israel" to end the war in Gaza and commit to a "political horizon" for the Palestinian state.

They said that Riyadh would then normalize relations and assist in financing the reconstruction of Gaza.

An American source said that Washington believes Riyadh's strong desire for U.S. defense assurances means that the kingdom would be willing to show some flexibility regarding what could constitute an Israeli commitment to a path leading to the establishment of a Palestinian state.

Washington and Riyadh agreed to start discussions on a defense agreement and Israeli normalization during Joe Biden's visit to the kingdom in 2022 to repair strained relations over the killing of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

Joe Biden's and his aides' energy and security interests led to a reset of the 80-year-old U.S.-Saudi strategic partnership, founded on a simple equation: American demand for Saudi oil and Saudi demand for American arms.

If this deal is struck, regarding a nuclear agreement and a Saudi–American security agreement, the U.S. Senate would need to ratify the defense treaty with Saudi Arabia and the nuclear understandings.

However, American newspapers see this as nearly impossible given the current political climate in Washington and the partisan struggle ahead of the presidential elections in November 2024, along with the difficulty of ensuring a sufficient number of Democratic votes for the deal due to their rejection of both bin Salman's and Netanyahu's policies, as well as the possibility of Trump intervening to prevent his Republican congressmen from approving a deal that could be a political gain for his opponent Joe Biden.

Another obstacle to the deal is the increasing Saudi popular rejection of the anticipated normalization deal with the Israeli Occupation state.

The Financial Times pointed out on March 31, 2024, that the war on Gaza has brought the Palestinian issue back to the center of Saudi public awareness, and support for the normalization deal with "Israel" is at its lowest ever.

The magazine expected that this would complicate the ability of bin Salman's regime to promote the deal to its citizens and the Arab and Islamic world.