February 24, 2024

General Studies Paper 2

Context

  • As Hamas launched its lethal attacks on Israel on October 7, the assault has firmly overturned Israeli efforts, supported by the United States, to promote a normalisation of relations with Arab states without conceding anything to the Palestinians. Specifically, the Gaza war has dealt a mortal blow to the efforts for Saudi Arabia to normalise ties with Israel.

Saudi-Israel relations:

  • In September 2023, Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu waved two maps to embellish his speech at the United Nations General Assembly: one depicted an isolated Israel in 1948, while the other showed Arab neighbours that now had peace agreements with Israel — Egypt, Sudan, the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, and Jordan. It also showed all the occupied Palestinian territories — the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem — as integral parts of Israel.

U.S. backed diplomacy

  • S. officials pushed for diplomatic relations between Israel and Saudi Arabia, possibly within this year. The normalisation deal had hinged on three conditions that the kingdom had placed before the U.S.:
  • S. approval for a civilian nuclear programme that provides for uranium enrichment within the country
  • An “ironclad” U.S. security guarantee for the country

Sales of advanced weapons.

The Americans were said to be insisting that Saudi Arabia return the favour as follows :

  • Back U.S. interests on oil prices
  • Dilute its political, military and technological ties with China
  • Deepen strategic engagement with the U.S.

Issues with the new US- Saudi Arabia deal:

  • Saudi Arabia’s three conditions for normalisation were contentious in Israel and the U.S. Several U.S. politicians opposed the idea of giving security guarantees to an authoritarian state. They also warned the U.S. President against Saudi Arabia developing its own nuclear programme, believing that it poses an unacceptable proliferation risk — a concern shared in Israel as well.
  • There were also obstacles to the U.S. sales of advanced weapons, largely due to Saudi Arabia’s poor human rights record at home and in Yemen.
  • Finally, there were concerns about Saudi insistence that arms supplies be accompanied by a transfer of technology to develop its arms industry.
  • Despite these obstacles, the U.S. was confident the deal would go through. Palestinian interests and concerns did not figure in these normalisation discussions.
  • At that time, Israel made provocative incursions into the Al Aqsa mosque complex, while the Jewish settlers in the West Bank increased their activities.

Impact of the war on Indian interests in the region:

  • The conflict in Israel and Palestine will not dampen plans for the India- Middle East- Europe Economic Corridor (IMEC), Finance Minister recently said. However, violence has brought concerns about fuel and food security to the fore again.
  • Indian government has condemned Hamas’ attack on Israeli civilians. This marks a departure from the traditional Indian foreign policy, which was supportive of Palestine till recently. India also supports the Two State solution to the Israeli–Palestinian conflict, which envisions an independent State of Palestine alongside the State of Israel, west of the Jordan River.

Saudi- Iran ties

  • The Gaza war has once again placed the Palestinian issue at the centre of West Asian politics. Some writers are blaming Iran, arguing that the Islamic Republic has instigated the Hamas attacks to block Saudi Arabia’s normalisation initiative with Israel. This argument has little credibility.
  • Saudi-Iran ties have already been normalised under Chinese mediation: embassies have been reopened in both capitals, high level visits have been exchanged and economic cooperation is being expanded.
  • Now, following the Hamas attacks, the kingdom has recognised that peace and stability in the region are not possible without Palestinian interests being addressed.

Palestinian interests in focus

  • Again, the Saudis have abandoned recourse to insincere verbal assurances to the Palestinians that were under consideration during the normalisation negotiations. The search now is for concrete action to serve Palestinian interests.
  • Looking ahead, it has been obvious over the last three years that the kingdom had shrugged off the American yoke and was pursuing its foreign policy engagements in terms of its own interests, without any U.S. involvement. The kingdom rejects the U.S. interest in building an anti- China coalition globally and an anti- Iran cabal regionally.

Conclusion

  • Regardless of the U.S.’s wishes there is no question of Saudi Arabia accommodating the Americans on oil prices or diluting its comprehensive strategic ties with China. They exemplify its assertion of strategic autonomy and are an integral part of its quest for diverse, multifaceted, and substantial ties across Asia. Promoting the Palestinian cause will now form an important part of this foreign policy approach.
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