Palestine question could still be the make-or-break factor
The key issue in the calculations of Saudi Arabia and Israel to combine their forces to fight an expansionist Iran is the Palestinians and what Israel is prepared to give them in exchange for abandoning their quest for an independent homeland in war-won lands controlled by the Jewish state.
The intrigue deepened on November 6 when Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas was summoned to Riyadh by King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud to discuss the thorny Palestinian issue, which must be settled if the anti-Iran campaign is to get off the ground.
Scant details have emerged since that meeting, but the Saudis are reported to have given Abbas an ultimatum: Accept the terms of a US blueprint for countering Iran with Saudi Arabia and Israel or resign.
There has been no official confirmation of that from Saudi Arabia, Israel or the Palestinians.
But it is becoming clear that serious discussions are under way in Riyadh and Tel Aviv, as well as Washington, on what could be an alliance between Saudi Arabia and Israel.
Majdi Khaldi, Abbas’s adviser for diplomatic affairs who accompanied him to Riyadh, told Voice of Palestine radio on November 5, the day before the Riyadh meeting: “Saudi Arabia has always stood with us, provided us with all the political and financial support we needed, and the time has come for us to stand with it in the face of great challenges.”
The Palestinians are sure to be asked to make major concessions, although to what extent is not publicly known, and that will complicate the negotiations.
Ibrahim Habib, dean of scientific research at Ribat University College affiliated with Gaza’s Interior Ministry, observed: “Abbas is under Arab and international pressure to settle the Palestinian question. But he’s smart, stubborn and elusive.”
Securing the settlement of an issue that has long been at the centre of Middle East turbulence would be a major — and badly needed — foreign policy achievement for US President Donald Trump’s administration.
Ed Blanche has covered Middle East affairs since 1967. He is the Arab Weekly analyses section editor.