In recent days, some details surrounding the negotiations to prepare the way for a normalization agreement between Israel and Saudi Arabia have been published, and the picture is becoming clearer.
At the recent G20 conference of the largest economies in the world, which took place in India, President Joe Biden announced an ambitious infrastructure project that will connect India to Europe through the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Israel.
The true meaning of this project is to be in direct competition with the Chinese Belt and Road Initiative, a route modeled on the old Silk Road, connecting China and Europe through Central Asia, Iran, Turkey, and Russia, bypassing India and most of the Middle East. This project forms a central component of Chinese President Xi Jinping’s “Major Country Diplomacy” project of significant economic and geopolitical importance for China and its partners.
The US project is a significant geopolitical response, which has several components.
The first and most significant element, as mentioned, is competition for the European market against China and Russia.
The second element, just as important, is bringing India closer to the United States and thus cutting India off from China and Russia. This is while taking advantage of the competition between China and India, when in the last year India overtook China as the most populous country. It aspires to become the largest economy in Asia and replace China as the world’s largest producer and the largest supplier of goods to the West.
The US-initiated project will speed up this goal.
A third component is the separation of oil-rich Arab countries from the Sino-Russian axis, bringing them closer to Europe and the West while taking advantage of the competition and tension with Iran, which is strengthening its position as a central part of the Sino-Russian axis.
The current conference of the 20 largest economies is an important milestone for US intentions. As evidence, for the first time in the history of the G20, the presidents of China and Russia boycotted it and did not attend.
Israel has a significant role in these geopolitical machinations, for several reasons.
Israel is a technology powerhouse in a variety of fields, including security, increasing its necessity for all the players mentioned above. But its geographical location is also of significant value, in the land connection between India and Europe. It is the closest country to Europe – which is developed, Western, and stable, and through which it is possible to reach through the port of Haifa.
To the north are Syria and Lebanon, failed countries from a security and economic point of view, which are not loyal to the US, and are closer to the Iranian-Russian axis. To the south of Israel is Egypt, which will oppose the land connection, because it will harm the profitability of its Suez Canal, the connection to which requires crossing the Red Sea, which will make the project significantly more difficult. Furthermore, Egypt is also further away from Europe and the project will become much less profitable.
This makes Israel a much-needed critical player in this plan, which has strategic significance for the US and India, and undoubtedly for Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Jordan.
This explains the eagerness of the United States to bring about an agreement between Israel and Saudi Arabia that would allow this type of cooperation and other forms of collaboration that would benefit the United States and the other players, not least Saudi Arabia itself.
Asking Too Much
Nonetheless, the price demanded from Israel for normalization is high.
According to recent publications, Israel is agreeable to a civilian nuclear power plant in Saudi Arabia, concessions to the Palestinians, a renewal of significant funding by Saudi Arabia to the Palestinian Authority, a freeze on settlements in Judea and Samaria, and even a pledge not to apply sovereignty to Judea and Samaria in the future.After understanding all of the significant interests of the players involved, it seems that an Israeli agreement to such a high price is not required at all.
The State of Israel is in an advantageous position and the necessity of its role in this project is extremely high, which allows it to hold a stronger position and not give up so easily.
It is clear that the Saudis have no real interest in the Palestinian Authority and they merely require lip service and not really sweeping concessions to the Palestinians. This is probably also the case in the US, and the current White House needs to be seen to benefit the Palestinian Authority in order to soften domestic criticism, because it will be able to contain the criticism from Europe or the Arab countries.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Strategic Affairs Minister Ron Dermer: Do not let Israel give up again. This week we commemorate 30 years since the Oslo Accords.
We should not rush again to reach an agreement at any cost, so that in 30 years we will realize that we were wrong and sold ourselves too cheaply. The world needs us enough to accept our conditions. It’s time to reevaluate, understand our true geopolitical value, and make our demands accordingly.
The writer previously served as an adviser to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, as a member of the Board of Governors of the Jewish Agency, a member of the Executive Board of the World Zionist Organization, and the CEO of the World Yisrael Beytenu movement. He is currently a lecturer in the Department of Politics and Communication at Hadassah Academic College, a member of the Israel Victory Project, and a major (res.) in the IDF.