Amb.(ret.) Ettinger
Amb.(ret.) EttingerHezki Ezra

The Saudi order of priorities

The State Department and the Western foreign policy establishment have contended that the Palestinian Arab issue features prominently on the Saudi order of national priorities. Saudi officials have repeatedly said that a Palestinian state with eastern Jerusalem as its capital is a prerequisite for Saudi Arabia normalizing ties with Israel, and Prince Faisal’s comments this past Thursday are in line with that.

Therefore, the Stae Department has maintained that a substantial enhancement of Israel-Saudi cooperation - and certainly, the attainment of an Israel-Saudi Arabia peace treaty – would be preconditioned upon substantial Israeli concessions to the Palestinian Arabs, including the establishment of a Palestinian Arab state.

However, contrary to the State Department's worldview, Saudi Arabia's strong man, the Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS), does not really consider the Palestinian Arab issue a top priority, although he gives it lip service.

Moreover, conversely to State Department assessments, MBS is aware that the Palestinian issue is not the crux of the Arab-Israeli conflict, neither a crown-jewel of Arab policy-making, nor a core cause of regional turbulence.

Furthermore, unlike the State Department, MBS accords critical weight to the Palestinian intra-Arab track record, which is low on moderation but, top heavy on subversion, terrorism, treachery and ingratitude (especially the Palestinian Arab collaboration with Saddam Hussein's 1990 invasion of Kuwait); as well as, the deeply-rooted Palestinian Arab collaboration with international terror organizations, Muslim Brotherhood terrorists and Iran's Ayatollahs' regime (which constitute lethal threats to the House of Saud), North Korea, Cuba and Venezuela.

Simultaneously, MBS is absorbed with the strategic goal of evolving Saudi Arabia into a modern regional/global superpower, by reinforcing regional stability, minimizing the threat of existing rogue entities (e.g., Iran's Ayatollahs and Muslim Brotherhood terrorists), preventing the rise of additional rogue entities (e.g., the domestic Shiite subversion in the oil region in eastern Saudi Arabia, Yemen's Houthis, the proposed Palestinian state and Hezbollah), and bolstering investment, infrastructure development and economic diversification (e.g., hightech).

Irrespective of MBS' deep Islamic beliefs, and notwithstanding the 280-year-old alliance between the House of Saud and the fundamentalist Wahhabi establishment in central and southwestern Saudi Arabia, MBS has recognized the value of Israel's military, technological capabilities, and Israel's special standing among most US voters and Capitol Hill legislators, as well as Israel's reliability and effectiveness in the pursuit of MBS' game-changing strategic goal.

In fact, under the leadership of MBS, Saudi Arabia has forged unprecedented defense and commercial cooperation with Israel, and has served as the most critical engine behind Israel's peace treaties with the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Morocco and the Sudan, independent of the Palestinian Arab issue and in the service of their own order of national priorities.

Contrary to the State Department's position, these countries – just like Egypt and Jordan before them – do not sacrifice Middle East reality and their national security interests on the altar of wishful-thinking, oversimplification and the Palestinian Arab issue.

Israel-Saudi Arabia peace treaty?

An effective Israel-Saudi Arabia peace treaty must be a derivative of the national security interests of both countries.

The Saudi interest in expanding its defense, counter-terrorism and commercial cooperation with Israel – and possibly concluding a peace treaty – has not been a byproduct of the Saudi appreciation of Israel's peaceful intention and concessions to the Palestinian Arabs. It has been a byproduct of the high regard for Israel's posture of deterrence and muscle-flexing in the face of Iran's Ayatollahs, Israel's determined war on Palestinian and Islamic terrorism, and its defiance of US pressure and US policy on Iran.

On a rainy day, MBS would prefer a deterring and defiant Israel on his side.

A deterring-Israel is a cardinal national security asset for Saudi Arabia. A retreating Israel would be irrelevant to Saudi Arabia's national security.

An Israel-Saudi Arabia peace treaty would be rendered impractical if it required Jerusalem
to give up the most critical historic, geographic and topographic high grounds of the mountain ridges of Judea and Samaria (the 'West Bank'), facilitating the establishment of a Palestinian Arab state. It would transform Israel from a terror and war-deterring force multiplier for the US and Saudi Arabia to a terror and war-inducing burden.

Israeli retreat from the mountain ridges of Judea and Samaria to the pre-1967 8 to 15-mile-wide sliver along the Mediterranean would emit short-term congrats from Foggy Bottom. But, it would devastate Israel's long-term posture of deterrence, eliminate Israel's value for Saudi Arabia, reduce Israel's economic and defense boon for the US, and doom Israel to extinction.

Contrary to the State Department's view of Israel-Arab peace treaties as pillars of national security, the unpredictably-violent Middle East features a 1,400-year-old reality of transient (non-democratic, one-bullet, not one-ballot) Arab regimes, policies and accords. Thus, Middle East reality stipulates that as desirable as Israel-Arab peace treaties are, they must not be preconditioned upon a sacrifice of Israel's most critical national security feature: the permanent topography of the mountain ridges of Judea and Samaria, which dominate 80% of Israel's population and infrastructure.

In June and December of 1981, Israel bombed Iraq's nuclear reactor and applied its law to the Golan Heights, in defiance of the State Department warning that such actions would force Egypt to abandon its peace treaty with Israel. However, Egypt adhered to its national security requirements, sustaining the peace treaty. Routinely, the State Department warned that construction in Jerusalem (beyond the "Green Line") and in Judea and Samaria would trigger a terroristic volcano and push Egypt away from the peace treaty.

None of the warnings materialized, since Arabs act in accordance with their own interests; not in accordance with the rogue Palestinian Arab agenda.

Notwithstanding the State Department's worldview, and independent of the pro-Palestinian Arab talk, Arabs have demonstrated an indifferent-to-negative walk toward the Palestinians. They have never flexed military (and barely financial and diplomatic) muscles on behalf of the Palestinians. They have acted in accordance with their own – not Palestinian – interests, and certainly not in accordance with the State Department misperceptions of the Middle East.

Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman will conclude a peace treaty with Israel when he deems it beneficial to his game-changing, grand vision of Saudi Arabia, and when it's possible to overcome domestic Wahhabi opposition, regardless of the Palestinian issue.

Ambassador (ret.) Yoram Ettingeris author of "Second Thought: a US-Israel Initiative." He is available for speaking engagements in the US during January 2023: