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Biden’s Push for Israel-Saudi Normalization: Complex Motivations and Uncertain Outcomes

President Joe Biden’s administration has been actively working towards a diplomatic breakthrough: normalizing relations between Israel and Saudi Arabia. Despite the historical lack of formal ties between the two countries, recent years have seen them growing closer, mainly due to their shared concerns about Iran’s influence in the Middle East and collaborative efforts in technology and the military. While other Arab states have normalized relations with Israel under the Trump administration’s Abraham Accords, securing a similar deal with Saudi Arabia proves to be a challenging endeavor.

However, this push for normalization raises questions about its potential impact on the Palestinian situation. Unlike the 2002 Arab Peace Initiative, which aimed for a comprehensive peace agreement in exchange for Arab states’ recognition of Israel, the proposed deal with Saudi Arabia is expected to be more limited and bilateral, potentially leaving out critical issues like Gaza and the West Bank annexation.

The motivations behind the normalization efforts are multifaceted. One of them seems to be the desire to counter China’s growing influence in the Middle East, with Israel standing to gain from closer ties with Saudi Arabia and winning buy-in from the Muslim world. However, formalizing such relations comes with risks, as it could lead to domestic unrest in Saudi Arabia.

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Economically, the normalization drive is crucial, as China’s increased engagement with the kingdom could impact the US economy. Moreover, the deal may serve as a strategic move for the Biden administration, showcasing foreign policy successes and enhancing its standing in the region. Nevertheless, the pursuit of this deal may not entirely align with Saudi interests, and bureaucratic inertia from the previous administration’s normalization policy could play a role.

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In this complex landscape, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman emerge as potential winners. Netanyahu could gain a more favorable image amidst domestic challenges, while MBS might receive concessions from the US without significant gestures on his part. Nonetheless, the prospects of a successful normalization deal remain uncertain, given the internal political situations in both countries and other factors at play.

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