Despite Saudi Arabia’s denial, it is definite that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu visited the Kingdom on Sunday, where he met with Crown Prince Mohammad Bin Salman and US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. This, though, is not the most dangerous aspect of Saudi Arabia’s stances towards the Palestinian issue.
The Kingdom has a long record of shifting away from the Palestinian cause in favour of relations with Israel. It allows Israeli aircraft to use Saudi airspace, buys spy technology from Israeli companies and allows Saudi citizens, some of whom have semi-official status, to meet Israelis or visit Israel and meet with security and political contacts. This is at the same time that Saudi citizens dare not express opinions which conflict with Riyadh’s approach to the blockade of Qatar, for example, or escalation with Turkey.
There has also been talk about official pressure on the PA leadership from Saudi Arabia to accept Donald Trump’s deal. The Saudis were present at the Bahrain finance workshop earlier this year which was intended to be the economic introduction to Trump’s plan to liquidate the Palestinian cause. Moreover, the analysts who linked the development of the cross-border city of Neom in Saudi Arabia with the issue of the islands of Tiran and Sanafir at the mouth of the Gulf of Aqaba and a relationship with the Israeli enemy were not far off the mark.
However, despite everything, the most dangerous thing that Saudi Arabia has ever done in this regard is to organise an intensive media campaign calling blatantly for normalisation with Israel based on dark propaganda against the Palestinians. The Saudis accused Palestinians of selling their land to the occupation; being ungrateful to the Arab countries that stood by them; and destroying Arab countries. They incited hatred and created racism against Palestinians in order to humanise the Israelis and ultimately say that while they cannot trust Palestinians and coexist with them, they can trust Israelis because they are people, like everyone else. More recently, the Saudi media has taken on the task of defending the UAE’s normalisation with the occupation state, as if it were Saudi normalisation and the UAE’s move did not violate the Arab Peace Initiative — which was originally a Saudi initiative — thus eliminating its existence.
This dark propaganda has reached levels unimaginable in the past in terms of adopting the Zionist narrative and denying the Palestinians’ right to their land. Those pushing it have escalated it through well-known online figures as well as Saudi-funded media, some of which are based within the Kingdom. This is meant to provide the so-called “electronic flies” engaged in this propaganda some moral legitimacy before switching to real people with an online presence.
Two things are immediately noticeable about this propaganda, which has been pumped out for over three and a half years. The first is that it originally coincided with the Trump summit in Riyadh. One of the summit’s recommendations was to establish a Middle East alliance, which can only be understood as including Israel.
It also coincided with Netanyahu’s statement that, “The greatest obstacle to the expansion of peace today is not found in the leaders of the countries around us. The obstacle is public opinion on the Arab street, public opinion that has been brainwashed for years by a distorted and misleading presentation of the State of Israel.” Netanyahu used similar words when he spoke about “expanding the circle of peace” after his groundbreaking visit to Saudi Arabia.
This propaganda appears to conform completely to Netanyahu’s vision of reformulating Arab public opinion to accept Israel. It was not linked to the idea that an alliance is needed to counter the perceived threat from Iran. Instead, the promotion of normalisation appeared in and of itself, separate from the conflict with Iran, and has adopted Zionist propaganda. Indeed, it sometimes even outdoes the latter by denying the rights of the Palestinians. The matter is much deeper than an alliance with Israel to confront Iran.
It is true that Iran is a major factor in Saudi Arabia’s strategic policies. However, from the aforementioned we can see that the relationship with Israel is based on other factors, not just Iran. One of these is the UAE, which was the key to this new phase with its regional and international alliances and the need for supporters who are influential in Washington in the fight over succession.
If the coalition was woven from such threads, then it generated an agreement on how to reformulate the region in a way that serves the alliance members, but according to Israel’s vision. This required the liquidation of the Palestinian cause and the pursuit of Islamic movements, including the required re-interpretation of religious issues. It also requires Turkish and Iranian influence to be challenged, and the elimination of mass activism in the Arab world that has increased in the context of the “Arab Spring” revolutions.
In a political analysis, we can limit the goals of Netanyahu’s visit to Saudi Arabia within the context of arranging a confrontation with Iran and managing normalisation relations in the time remaining for the Trump administration. We can say that the meeting brought together those who are losing as a result of Trump’s departure so that they might agree on the next phase. This is of immediate importance, but it is a part of a greater context; such an alliance must have been put together in previous meetings, between the same people and at other levels. Netanyahu’s visit to Saudi Arabia has serious implications for the Middle East.
This article first appeared in Arabic in Arabi21 on 24 November 2020.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.